Colts' visit includes baggage History, revenge mark game against Ravens

November 29, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

The Colts are back in Baltimore, only this time they will play in the middle of the day instead of sneaking out of town at night.

After a 14-year absence, the old will meet the new today at Ravens stadium, as the Ravens (4-7) play host to the Indianapolis Colts (2-9) before an expected capacity crowd of 69,354.

In three seasons, the Ravens, with a 14-28-1 record, haven't given their fans much to cheer about. But if the Ravens beat the Colts, it will be their most significant victory, even more than defeating the Washington Redskins, 20-17, last season in the house that Jack Kent Cooke built.

"Let's put it like this," said Ravens center Wally Williams. "We're two teams in the league that nobody wants to play and now we're playing each other. There is a lot of fanfare in this game with the history of this move. The fans want a win, we want a win, a lot of people want us to win. We just have to go out and beat them up and give everybody what they want."

Most of the players from both teams are too young to remember the move in March 1984, but the Ravens will get a refresher course when they jog onto the field and see the crowd.

"Right now, there are probably some guys, the younger ones, who don't understand the significance," said defensive tackle Larry Webster, a native of Elkton, Md. "But the older guys, they know. And for those who don't, I think they will when they hear the crowd Sunday."

The Ravens have been cautious all week when talking about this game. But on paper, the Ravens should be able to handle the Colts easily. Indianapolis will be without two of its top defensive linemen in Al Fontenot (arm injury) and Tony McCoy (eye injury), and even if starting cornerback Jeff Burris plays, he'll be slowed by a knee injury.

Even with those players healthy, the Colts had one of the worst defenses in the league. They are currently ranked No. 29, allowing 367.5 yards a game. Their defense is similar to the Ravens' defense in 1996, when they signed such free agents as Jerrol Williams and Mike Croel.

The Colts' major weakness has been stopping the run. Indianapolis is ranked No. 29 against the rush, allowing 159.4 yards a game. Ravens running back Priest Holmes gained 227 yards last week against the Bengals, who had the league's worst rushing defense.

"That's the kind of game we prefer, no matter who we play," said Ravens right guard Jeff Blackshear. "We like to go out and mash people. What we have to do is go out and run the ball right from the beginning and then stick with it."

Holmes has yet to establish himself as a consistent runner, partly because the offensive line has been inconsistent. Holmes has 690 yards rushing, but 400 have come in two games against Cincinnati. Here's a chance for him to step up against another team.

"He doesn't have great speed, but he plays quick, which is just as important as having good speed," said Ravens running backs coach Al Lavan. "Very seldom is he knocked back for a guy his size [5 feet 9, 205 pounds]. He has a good running style, good body lean, good body form. A guy with that style can sometimes break more tackles than much bigger players."

The Colts have more big-play players on offense, starting with rookie quarterback Peyton Manning, the first player drafted last April. Manning has had the typical rookie roller-coaster season, having completed 223 of 407 passes for 2,453 yards, with 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.

The Colts have used a lot of the two tight-end formation, which allows them to provide maximum protection for Manning in pass blocking. The tactic has worked against the Ravens in the past.

"They're a young team that had to learn new systems and they keep getting better every week," said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda. "We looked at Peyton Manning before the draft and liked everything about him. Physically, he has everything you need to have tremendous success in the NFL. Plus, he has poise and confidence."

Manning won't be the biggest problem. The key to the offense is running back Marshall Faulk, who has 845 yards on 231 carries but is more dangerous as a receiver. He leads the Colts with 62 receptions for 711 yards. And if the Ravens' linebackers have a major weakness, it's one-on-one pass coverage.

Colts wide receiver Marvin Harris (57 catches, 741 yards) also has big-play potential, even though he has been more of a short- to mid-range target this season.

"I know all about Marshall Faulk," Marchibroda said. "I coached him. He is a great back capable of taking over a game, both as a runner and receiver. He makes big plays, and we'd better get a lot of people after him because he'll break tackles."

And if that happens, the Ravens could lose.

"That's not something I have thought about," Williams said. "If that happens, then I'll have a prepared statement after the game."

Colts at Ravens

Site: Ravens stadium

Time: 1:01 p.m.

Line: Ravens by 6

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Pub Date: 11/29/98

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