Every week, I hope to bring you a quick Q&A with someone who covers the Ravens' opponent that week. This week, I chatted with reporter Mike Chappell, who covers the Indianapolis Colts for The Indianapolis Star.
MV: Chuck Pagano was well-liked in his time here, and fans quickly fell in love with his energy and one-liners during his one year as defensive coordinator. It is encouraging to see him return to the sideline after getting treatment with leukemia. What was the coaching dynamic like when Bruce Arians was the interim head coach, and how has it been in the past week or so with Pagano back with the team?
MC: Arians was Pagano's choice to run the team in his absence. He had total faith that Bruce would carry on, and he did. But while he was away and receiving treatment for leukemia, Pagano kept in constant contact with Arians. He reviewed practice tape, sent text messages to players. Now that Pagano is back, it's back to normal. He's overseeing the entire operation and Arians is able to focus solely on the offense. As much as possible, Pagano has settled back into his old role.
MV: At what point did rookie quarterback Andrew Luck first show you that he was the real deal, and in what ways has he grown from his first days with the Colts until today?
MC: It's been evident from the very start that Luck was the real deal. He stepped into the huddle for the first minicamp practice and took command of the huddle. He wasn't arrogant about it, but his quiet demeanor commanded the huddle nonetheless. Luck said he's made the most progress in what he called "situational awareness.'' That's basically just being exposed to various situations and learning from them. I get the impression he's recognizing things better, quicker and not being fooled as much.
MV: Drafting Luck first overall was the most notable change, but how surprised are you to see this team in the playoffs with so much roster turnover and so many young players playing big roles?
MC: It's really been entertaining to watch. Only 17 of the 53 players on the active roster were with the team last year. It's been a complete makeover. Also, there are 14 rookies and first-year players. Injuries have forced general manager Ryan Grigson and his staff to plug one hole after another. One of the biggest reasons for the dramatic turnaround has been the incredible contributions from the rookie draft class. That obviously starts with Luck, but running back Vick Ballard, receivers T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill and tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener also have been huge factors. The rookies have contributed 3,108 yards from scrimmage. That's the most in the NFL since the 1970 merger.
MV: Two of the many newcomers were former Ravens defenders Cory Redding and Tom Zbikowski. How helpful were they at first when Pagano arrived in Indianapolis with a new 3-4 scheme?
MC: Again, huge. Cory Redding was one of the first free-agent acquisitions by Grigson and Pagano. Zbikowski was one of the next pick-ups. Each was very familiar with the hybrid 3-4 Pagano brought with him from Baltimore. Redding has been one of the more vocal veteran leaders in the locker room and on the field.
MV: Looking at the matchup between the Ravens and Colts, where are the Colts most vulnerable against the Ravens and what do the Colts do well that they might be able to exploit against the Ravens, too?
MC: The Colts' run defense has been hit and miss. There are times it has played at a winning level. Other times, it's been totally ineffective. Two weeks ago at Kansas City, the Chiefs piled up 352 yards on the ground. Injuries have played havoc with the defensive line, which has contributed to the occasional ineffective play. It's critical for the defense to at least contain Ray Rice and now allow him to control the game on the ground and in the short passing game. As for the Colts, if they can give Luck time in the pocket, I like his chances of getting plays down the field. Arians is an aggressive play-caller and I expect him to take his shots. If Luck has time, he'll connect on a few.