Baltimore Ravens Week 9 Preview: Indianapolis Colts

The Baltimore Ravens will meet a ghost of football past in Week 9, as they travel to face the Indianapolis Colts.

Entering Sunday with matching 5-2 records, both defenses are mirror images, as the Colts and Ravens both rank top-five in yards allowed. On the other side of the ball, however, Indianapolis’ 26th-ranked ground game has struggled, while Baltimore’s 31st-ranked aerial attack has flatlined.

Complicating matters is the absence of Ravens Pro Bowl CB Marlon Humphrey, placed earlier this week on the COVID/Reserve list. Baltimore’s fifth-ranked secondary may see early action from veteran Colts QB Philip Rivers, statistics be damned.

In turn, both teams’ strengths will collide, as the Ravens’ top-ranked rushing unit will test the Colts’ No. 1 run defense.

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Baltimore has historically been a run-first team, despite offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s desire to silence critics of his passing scheme.

For just one week, Roman will need to swallow his pride and force-feed his stable of talented running backs, featuring the duo of Gus Edwards and rookie J.K. Dobbins.

Without veteran starter Mark Ingram (ankle), the pair of young runners rumbled, contributing to a team-total 265 rushing yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers’ top-five defense.

Heading into kickoff, Ingram remains doubtful to play, but the Ravens should have no issues filling his absence. More in doubt than Ingram’s health is Roman’s willingness to stick to the offense’s strength, especially if Baltimore trails early.

Play callers are prone to panic in a deficit. Confidence in the ground attack is key, or a different type of panic will run rampant with a second-straight loss.

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Though young Madden players are forgiven if Lamar Jackson’s in-game ability comes to mind, the true X-factor may be newly-activated practice squad receiver Dez Bryant.

That’s former All-Pro, first-round veteran Dez Bryant, playing in his first game in nearly three years.

Football sense suggests that Bryant won’t have an immediate impact due to his age and inherent rust. However, he’s fully recovered from his injuries, and has stayed in tremendous shape during his unemployment.

It is hyperbolic to say that Bryant will immediately return to form, but he hasn’t forgotten how to play. Even on a limited snap count, his size and skill set will encourage teams to play him honestly, for fear of allowing him space to operate. Bryant has never been a deep burner, but he plays with such violent physicality that defenders regret contact.

At worst, Bryant offers the Ravens another blocker and decoy. At best, Bryant becomes a trusted veteran who will make clutch receptions on his road to redemption.

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The Ravens’ offensive line is in shambles. After a season-ending ankle injury to Pro Bowl LT Ronnie Stanley, the next contestant in his stead is RT Orlando Brown, Jr.

Despite Brown’s natural gifts, however, the chemistry of the offensive line has invariably been disrupted. The additional loss of rookie RG Tyre Phillips to an ankle injury of his own, will result in a new strong-side duo of Patrick Mekari and D.J. Fluker. Pro Bowl RG Marshal Yanda’s retirement left an under-the-radar question mark heading into the 2020 season. The answer remains undetermined as to Baltimore’s ability to overcome this hole.

The gap is now an abyss that the Ravens must quickly fill, or risk continued issues in protecting their prized MVP QB.

Against the Colts, Baltimore needs to scheme unique protections to keep Lamar Jackson’s jersey clean, as Indianapolis ranks eighth in percentage of QB pressures per dropback. Though Jackson’s elusiveness is a mitigating asset, a collapsed pocket is a liability for a passing offense that ranks second-to-last in yardage.

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As the undefeated Steelers remain in full control of the AFC North, the Ravens need this victory to tread water in the division.

With upstarts like the Las Vegas Raiders and Cleveland Browns close behind, a Wild Card berth isn’t a safe bet in a crowded field of AFC contenders.

If the Baltimore Ravens are to live up to their preseason billing, they’ll need to stack wins to punch their ticket to the postseason dance — and it starts this week in Indianapolis.

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