Can Joe Flacco and/or Andrew Luck lead their teams to the playoffs after an 0-2 start? (Photo courtesy of Thomas J. Russo/US Presswire)
The Indianapolis Colts and the Baltimore Ravens are two teams that many pegged as playoff teams before the season. The Colts went out and added veterans Frank Gore at running back and Andre Johnson at wide receiver this offseason. And defensively, they signed Trent Cole at outside linebacker to help their defense. And as far as the Ravens, they brought back the same offensive line and defensively were set like they were last season. The expectation was that Colts quarterback Andrew Luck would continue to drive this team right out of the blocks and they would come out with a purpose. For the Ravens, the veteran savvy of their team was expected to show in their resolve and will to win. So far, both teams have not been able to get into the win column, coming out of the blocks at 0-2. Both now stare into long odds to make the playoffs as the percentages are not in their favor. But anything is possible with these two. They both can and have made the playoffs with difficult circumstances around them. But which one has the better shot this season?
The Colts have truly stumbled out of the blocks this season. They were largely uninspiring in their loss to the Buffalo Bills, getting manhandled on both sides of the ball. And in the Monday Night Football game against the New York Jets, the team looked like they could never get on track despite the Jets not exactly running away from them. Going forward, the Colts have a few issues to resolve. The first one has to be holding on to the football. The first person that is responsible the most for protecting the football is quarterback Andrew Luck. The former Stanford quarterback was ordained as the next great quarterback in the NFL, but he has looked far from that so far this years. So far this season, he has thrown three touchdowns and accumulated five interceptions. And to top that off, he has a career-low QBR of 28.5. That was not to be expected of Luck coming into this season. For him, he has to value the football more and use the weapons around him. But is not the only guy that has disappeared for this team. Former All-Pro Andre Johnson was brought in to be a dynamic player for the Colts this season. So far, he has been missing in action, only accounting for seven receptions and 51 yards. The Colts need him to be the force that he had been for Houston for most of his career instead of the guy that looked like he was done last year in Houston. Johnson and Luck are good players and are expected to get it going eventually, but the biggest question mark offensively is the offensive line. Luck has been under siege every single year he has been the quarterback in Indianapolis and this year has not been any different. He can be seen standing in the pocket taking hits or ducking free defenders because his offensive line is missing assignments or flatout getting whipped up front. And when it comes to run blocking, the Colts are pretty soft up front. Frank Gore is running like he usually does, but it seems those holes he used to have are not there. Gore is not as quick to the hole, but where do you run when there is no hole to run thru? That falls on the offensive line. They need to get it together. Defensively, the Colts are holding up in their secondary pretty good. For a team that has not been healthy at corner, they are not doing terribly there. But where this team lacks strength is their pass rush. Trent Cole was brought in to help, but he has been invisible for the most part. Robert Mathis just came back this week versus the Jets, but he was also invisible. In order to help their depleted secondary, the Colts need to find a way to make it happen up front. If they don’t find a way to make it happen, then there is no way the Colts can run the man scheme they run in the secondary. And that means the Colts will have to adjust not only their scheme up front but their coverage schemes as well. And that could be something that is hard for them to do on the fly.
But for all the bad things that are hampering the Colts, they have some good things that they can draw on from this experience. The Colts were in this same exact position last season. They were 0-2 and many wondered would they get it together. But little did we know that this team was getting ready to explode and make a run to the playoffs. Andrew Luck would recover from a shaky start to throw for 35 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. And with him, receiver TY Hilton had his best year to date. So there is precedent for them to come out of this hole. One of the things that helped them last season come out of their hole was their division. The Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars have not exactly been the biggest deterrent to the Colts taking over their division. This year those teams appear to be better, but the Colts are still the more talented team of all of them. The Colts could be solid against all three and it is very possible they could only lose one to maybe two games against these divisional foes. That would be good enough to get them into the playoffs. And also, let’s take a look at their schedule outside of the division. The Colts have the NFC South to play against this season. The Panthers are solid and so are the Falcons, but both are teams that the Colts can beat this year. Add to that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints and the Colts could potentially only lose one game to this division. So as bad as it looks for them, the Colts are not as bad off as it seems right now. But of course this all depends on how they play going forward.
The Baltimore Ravens have been known to be gritty and tough for the majority of their existence. They, like the Indianapolis Colts, are expected to compete for the AFC crown. They started off with a tough loss against the Denver Broncos on the road and then followed that up with a puzzling loss to the Oakland Raiders. The teams is now in a position they have rarely been in and will hope their leadership helps bring them out of it. But there are some issues they really have to address moving forward. For one, the Ravens are not able to run the ball consistently like they thought they were. Coming back into the season, the Ravens were thought to have a solid offensive line. The return of every single starter from last season along with leading rusher Justin Forsett gave many reasons to think the Ravens would have a dependable running game. Well, unfortunately it has not been that way so far. The Ravens are 21st in the league rushing this season and Forsett has not been as productive as last season. This is a direct result of not having anywhere to run. The line simply is not opening up the holes they did last season for the diminutive running back. And as a result, the Ravens are depending more on the passing game. The passing game in itself is something that needs some work for the Ravens as well. The team is depending on wide receiver Steve Smith to be the bellcow for them once again. And they were hoping to have rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Dennis Pitta to help him out. The bad news for the Ravens is Perriman and Pitta are not healthy and Smith has been out there on his own. That basically limits the Ravens passing game right there. And even though there are other players on the team, the Ravens need more weapons to make it happen. With the running game being limited, they need someone to step up outside of Smith badly. And for Smith, he has to quit dropping the catches that hit him in the hands. Smith has had cases of the dropsies before in his career, but he has to be even better with that right now because he is it in the passing game essentially. Defensively, the Ravens have one big issue that is not going away anytime soon. The Ravens have no pass rush. When Terrell Suggs went down with a torn Achilles, the pass rush left with him. The result is opposing quarterbacks now having all day to throw to their weapons. And that can be dangerous for a Ravens team that is solid but not strong without the pass rush. Going forward this season, the Ravens need someone to step up in that area to make it happen. Courtney Upshaw has a perfect opportunity to step into a starring role with the unfortunate injury to Suggs. But so far in his career, he has not shown the propensity to consistently rush the passer. And there are others that are unproven on this team that will be trying to fill Suggs’ role. And while they are doing so, the secondary will be working a little harder to try and keep it together.
The doom and gloom is something that will not be around all the time in Baltimore. As bad as it looks for them, they still have a quarterback that is pretty capable of carrying them in stretches in Joe Flacco and a receiver that seems to thrive when things don’t look so good. But looking at their schedule, there may be some other things out there for them as well. The Ravens will eventually get Perriman back in their wide receiver corps. That will allow Smith some breathing space provided Perriman is as good as advertised. And hopefully with a boost in the passing game, that will allow for the running game to get itself on track. The schedule does not do the Ravens any favors at all. They play the tough NFC West and they also have to see the Steelers and Bengals a combined four times. Of course right now the schedule looks daunting along with the task, but the team will find a way to get some pressure on the quarterback. One of those weapons they will use is linebacker CJ Mosely. He was outstanding as a rookie and has been solid so far this season. Look for the Ravens to move him around with a lot of other pieces to cause some confusion for offenses. If they are able to create mismatches and issues for opposing offensive lines, their secondary will get some help and the defense will be better. And let’s not forget that they have to play Cleveland at least two more times this season. Another thing to notice on their schedule is they play the San Francisco 49ers this season when they play the NFC West. And over the years, the Ravens have had their number and that could potentially continue. The task does not look easy, but if anyone can come back from this one then it’s the Ravens.
Both teams have tough tasks ahead of them. But if any team can do it, these two are capable. But the schedule and how they adapt to their situations will be critical for them. It will be interesting to see how they make it going forward and what adjustments they make to try to win. Baltimore has the tougher task and Indy has the tougher road. But the thing about the NFL: it is unpredictable. It will be interesting to see what happens going forward.
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