RAVENS: Through the first four games last year, Joe Flacco had thrown five touchdown passes, seven interceptions and was sacked 12 times. This year, he has seven touchdowns, two interceptions and he’s been sacked just three times. Flacco has directed 12 drives of 10 plays or more and converting on third down will be vital in keeping Andrew Luck off the field. Without tight end Dennis Pitta, Flacco threw to eight different receivers last week. Steve Smith already has three 100-yard receiving games.
COLTS: Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is playing at an extremely high level, leading an offense that ranks first in the NFL in points per game (34.0), yards per game (444.0), passing yards per game (326.0) and touchdown passes (13). The ageless Reggie Wayne is one of seven Colts’ receivers with 10 catches or more. T.Y. Hilton is a legitimate deep threat while Hakeem Nicks is tough in the red zone. If Luck gets time — he’s been sacked just five times this season — he has endless options.
RAVENS: The resurgence of the running game continued last week with the Ravens gaining 127 yards on the ground in the blowout of the Panthers. Veteran Justin Forsett and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro complement each other well with Forsett bringing shiftiness and Taliaferro offering physical downhill running. Where Bernard Pierce fits in and whether he’s healthy enough to contribute this week remains to be seen. Guards Kelechi Osemele and Marshal Yanda have been dominant in run blocking.
COLTS: Colts running backs Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw won’t be a primary concern for the Ravens, but they have been effective. The Colts are the only team in the NFL this season with two running backs with at least 300 all-purpose yards. Bradshaw has four touchdowns, all on passes. Center A.Q. Shipley, who the Colts picked up after he was released by the Ravens, has started four games, but he’ll have his hands full against Haloti Ngata and Brandon Williams.
RAVENS: The Ravens haven’t allowed 100 yards rushing in a game yet and the 82.5 rushing yards they are surrendering on average is the seventh lowest in the NFL. They’ve also given up just two rushing touchdowns, both to the Cleveland Browns in Week Three. Defensive linemen Haloti Ngata and Brandon Williams are doing a solid job plugging the middle and occupying blockers, which allows Daryl Smith and C.J. Mosley to roam free. Mosley had his best game as a pro last week with 11 tackles.
COLTS: Indianapolis comes into this game allowing 356 yards per contest and ranked 19th in total defense, but the Colts have fared pretty well against the run. Teams are averaging just 104.8 rushing yards per game against the Colts who have surrendered four rushing touchdowns. Former Maryland and Browns standout D’Qwell Jackson leads the Colts with 46 tackles. Former Raven Cory Redding is also a factor against the run.
RAVENS: Impressive play by cornerback Jimmy Smith, who will probably shadow Reggie Wayne, has been the one constant on the NFL’s 24th-ranked pass defense. Starting safeties Darian Stewart and Matt Elam have been shaky. The Ravens’ pass rush has been inconsistent, but it had an impact last week. Not wanting to be exploited by the Colts’ cadre of receivers, the Ravens will need to generate a pass rush with their front four. But being disciplined is key as Luck is a running threat, too.
COLTS: Injuries and suspensions have taken a toll on this group, which is allowing 251.3 passing yards per game. Robert Mathis was suspended for the first four games and then he tore his Achilles. Former Raven defensive tackle Arthur Jones has been sidelined with a high ankle sprain. Starting safety LaRon Landry was suspended by the NFL earlier this week and he’ll be replaced in the lineup by Sergio Brown. Vontae Davis is the Colts’ top corner and he’ll probably be matched against Steve Smith.
RAVENS: Kicker Justin Tucker has missed two field goals, one fewer than his total number of misses in each of his first two seasons. Both misses, however, have been from beyond 50 yards and Tucker continues to nullify the opposition’s return games with long kickoffs. Sam Koch has punted just 10 times all season, the second fewest among current punters. Teams continue to avoid speedy return man Jacoby Jones with a variety of long and angled kickoffs.
COLTS: Kicker Adam Vinatieri and punter Pat McAfee have played the past six seasons together and are the longest tenured kicker/punter combination in the NFL. Vinatieri is 8-for-8 this year and has made 14 consecutive field-goal attempts dating back to last year. McAfee, who also handles kickoffs, leads the NFL in net punting average and touchbacks. Thanks largely to Griff Whalen, the Colts rank third in the NFL in kickoff return average (28.8).
RAVENS: Despite several injuries and numerous off-the-field issues, the Ravens have improved just about every week. They have turned the ball over once in the past three games and they’ve been penalized just 16 times all season, second lowest in the NFL. They’ve even overcome some of their defensive deficiencies by having the NFL’s top-ranked red-zone defense. They beat the Browns on the road, but they are now facing a better team in a louder stadium.
COLTS: After starting 0-2, Indianapolis couldn’t be any hotter, having posted consecutive 40-plus scoring games for the first time since 2004. The 1,027 net yards the Colts have gained over the past two weeks is the highest total in back-to-back games in franchise history. The NFL’s top-ranked offense also leads the league in time of possession, which takes some pressure off of a vulnerable defense. Since Chuck Pagano took over in 2012, the Colts are 14-4 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Colts defense isn’t very good, so the Ravens shouldn’t have too much trouble putting up points in this game. But how often will the Ravens be able to stop the Colts? After watching the way Brian Hoyer effortlessly moved the Browns down the field against the Ravens two weeks ago, it’s hard not to see Luck having a big afternoon. The Colts are loaded on offense with two complementary running backs, three accomplished receivers and two talented tight ends. If the game morphs into a shootout, the Colts, with the higher-powered offense and the home-field advantage, are much better equipped to win.