Colts at Ravens: what to watch for Saturday

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JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 03: Jacoby Brissett #7 of the Indianapolis Colts throws the football in the second half of their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on December 3, 2017 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Logan Bowles/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Saturday against the Ravens Saturday at Baltimore’s at M&T Bank Stadium.

Kickoff:  4:30 p.m.

Broadcast: CBS4

  • What’s on the line?: Franchises that forever will be linked are headed in opposite directions. The 3-11 Colts have lost five straight and eight of nine. Each additional loss increases the likelihood of securing a top-3 pick in next April’s NFL Draft. The 8-6 Ravens have regained their balance after a 4-5 start and find themselves in the thick of the AFC wild-card chase. They’ve won four of their last five, and the only misstep was being on the short end of the Dec. 10 39-38 shootout at Pittsburgh.

The Ravens are tied with the Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills at 8-6, but are seeded No. 7, one spot out of the postseason picture. It’s hard to imagine them not giving the injury-plagued, wobbly Colts their full attention. Baltimore closes at home Dec. 31 against the 5-9 Cincinnati Bengals.

  • Not returning ‘home:’ Let’s get one thing straight. The Colts called Baltimore home until that snowy night March 29, 1984 when the Mayflower vans whisked them to Indy. Understandably, there remains an angry segment of the NFL fan base in Baltimore that never will forget or forgive what transpired, but the novelty of the Colts playing in Baltimore has worn off. Long ago. Saturday marks the ninth time since 1998 they’ve played in Baltimore, and they’ve fared quite well.

The Colts have come up short in their last two visits, but are 4-4 overall, including the playoffs. The meeting that undoubtedly frustrated/infuriated the old guard occurred Jan. 13, 2007 when the Colts rode Adam Vinatieri’s five field goals to a 15-6 win in an AFC Divisional game. It was their second step on a trip that ended with a win over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.

And don’t bother asking Colts players their feelings about playing in Baltimore. The only ones alive when the Baltimore Colts were part of the NFL: Vinatieri and Frank Gore, and Gore had yet to celebrate his first birthday.

  • Bad matchup: This appears to be another of those bad matchups for the Colts, similar to the two meetings with Jacksonville. Despite yielding the 39 points to the Steelers, the Ravens’ calling card is a disruptive defense. It ranks 1st in the NFL in total takeaways (33) and interceptions (22). It’s tied for 7th with 38 sacks behind the one-two punch of ageless Terrell Suggs (11 sacks) and second-year linebacker Matthew Judon. The Ravens are a league-best plus-17 in turnover differential. They’ve benefited from five defensive touchdowns – three pick-6s, two fumble returns – which is second in the league.

To their credit, the Colts generally have taken care of the football. They have 15 turnovers, tied for 4th-fewest in the NFL. They’re also a plus-4 in turnover differential. However, the latter stat is a reflection of Jacoby Brissett being ultra-safe with his throws and not forcing things. The Colts’ overall inefficiency has wasted the plus-4 turnover figure. Of the 10 teams at plus-4 or better, they’re the only ones with a losing record. They rank 31st in yards per game, 32nd in yards per play, 32nd in red-zone efficiency and 31st in scoring.

A major key Saturday will be the Colts’ ability to keep things close. If the Ravens are able to create separation on the scoreboard, they’ll disregard whatever Gore and Marlon Mack are able to do on the ground and turn up the pressure on what has been Brissett’s unreliable pass protection. Brissett has been sacked a league-high 49 times.

  • Second-half fades: Did we mention this was a bad matchup? The Colts have lost seven games after holding a halftime lead, one short of tying the NFL record. They’ve been outscored after halftime 223-91, a league-worst minus-132. They’ve scored an NFL-low 35 points in the fourth quarter, which includes only two touchdowns. Two touchdowns.

The Ravens, meanwhile, have scored 118 points in the fourth quarter. Only Seattle (125) and Tampa Bay (121) have flashed a better closing kick. Baltimore, with that solid defense and the Joe Flacco-led offense doing just enough, has outscored the opposition 174-119 after halftime. That’s a plus-55.

  • And the winner is: Ravens 24, Colts 6. Again, just a bad matchup. We don’t envision the Colts doing much on offense, other than trying to establish Gore and Mack against the Ravens’ No. 14-ranked rush defense. Vinatieri must convert at least three field goals over the final two games – and have zero misses – to earn a $500,000 bonus for hitting the 90 percent mark. We’ll give him two against the Ravens.

 

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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