Some sports name three stars of the game after the game. I'll do that one better: I'm going to name them before the Ravens even play. These will be the three stars of the game when the Ravens play the Colts in Indianapolis.
1. Quarterback Andrew Luck
Luck has engineered the Colts to the top of the league in total yards (1,776), passing yards (1,304), and first downs (107) through the first quarter of the season, with the third-year quarterback earning the plaudits for the team's performance. He's thrown for 13 scores through that stretch, adding early-game efficiency to his repertoire after announcing himself to the league with two seasons worth of lackluster starts and frantic — but successful — comebacks.
If he keeps up this rate of play — and there's no reason he can't — Luck could challenge some of the single-season records set by the Colts' previous franchise quarterback, Peyton Manning. Luck has the variety of targets to attack a troubled Ravens secondary in a number of ways.
He's hit tight ends Dwayen Allen and Coby Fleener for a combined five touchdowns, wide receivers Hakeem Nicks, T.Y. Hilton, and Reggie Wayne for a total of three, and running back Ahmad Bradshaw for four. He has three games over 300 yards passing, and he has thrown at least two touchdowns in every game he's played. That's the baseline for his performance Sunday.
2. Cornerback Jimmy Smith
All that said, think the Colts will throw much? The onus will then be on fourth-year Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith to at least keep one of the many receiving options — likely Wayne or Hilton — under close watch.
He's been successful doing that against A.J. Green and Mohamad Sanu of the Cincinnati Bengals, Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kelvin Benjamin of the Carolina Panthers. Through the first quarter of the season, he's been targeted in coverage 19 times for 11 completions and 65 yards. Everyone can have passes completed on them, but to limit the yards after the catch the way Smith has is one of the many steps towards becoming a shutdown corner in the NFL.
I would even consider taking away safety help on Smith's side of the field and trusting him with man coverage if it adds another body for defensive coordinator Dean Pees to throw at the other side of the field in hopes that someone might find his way in between the quarterback and his target to, you know, maybe intercept a pass. Smith has been valuable, but now is the time for both him and the players who benefit from his presence to come away from a game with something to show for it against the best young quarterback in the league.
I expect Smith to again keep whomever he's charged with covering out of the end zone and to come away with his first pick in a losing effort.
3. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw
The Colts famously traded a first-round pick for top-of-the-draft flameout Trent Richardson last season, and their running game was still abysmal after that deal. Richardson is barely their leading rusher this season, with 203 yards on 61 carries. But Bradshaw, in just over half the carries (34), has 182 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and is clearly the more productive back in Indianapolis.
He's missed time this week with a foot injury but can give the Colts a game-breaker out of the backfield. The Ravens have been decent against the run this season, but where Bradshaw could hurt is in the passing game. As we've mentioned, Luck is indiscriminate as to whom he throws to, and Bradshaw is a frequent target in the red zone out of the backfield. He's third on the team with 14 catches for 134 catches, and he leads the Colts with the four receiving touchdowns.
He caught a touchdown in Week 1 against the Denver Broncos and caught a pair of touchdowns the next week against the Philadelphia Eagles.
With the Ravens likely continuing the focus on keeping the Colts' speedy wide receivers in front of them, I see a lot of room underneath for Bradshaw to sit in front of the linebackers and get into space. The projection is 120 total yards and a touchdown for the former New York Giant.
Jon Meoli is the lead writer for the Baltimore Sports Blitz blog. Go to baltimoresun.com/blitz for more.