Ravens-for-Colts swap: nice steal or raw deal?

December 18, 2004|By JOHN EISENBERG

WITH THE Orioles busily not making trades or doing anything interesting, I'm going to throw a potential deal out there for discussion.

How about trading the Ravens to Indianapolis for the Colts? Would you do it, if you could?

On an emotional level, most Baltimore fans probably would choose heartburn over a horseshoe; even now, 20 years later, they would rather see the hated Redskins or Steelers win the Super Bowl than the team that jilted their city.

Bring the Colts back? That's an outdated plot. Baltimore has grown to love all things purple, especially the Ravens' punishing defense.

But putting loyalties aside, let's face it, for sheer entertainment value, the Colts are hard to beat these days. It would be fun to have them in town.

With quarterback Peyton Manning in charge, they have run up 12,082 passing yards since the 2002 season started. That's almost three more miles of air yardage than the Ravens have accumulated in the same period. Three miles!

To catch up at their paltry 2004 pace of 138.4 passing yards a game, the Ravens would need to play 37 more games while the Colts twiddled their thumbs and forfeited every week until a few weeks into the 2007 season. Talk about a head start.

The disparity wasn't so glaring in 2002, when the Colts totaled 27 passing touchdowns to the Ravens' 20. Even last season, the Colts had 29 air touchdowns to the Ravens' 16, an average difference of less than one a game.

This season? The Colts have 46 passing touchdowns and the Ravens have, ahem, 11.

True, the Colts have won only two more games than the Ravens this season, and just seven more since 2002 - not so many considering the three-mile advantage.

It helps to have a defense, as the Ravens do in reality and the Colts do only theoretically.

But you're wrong if you don't think Ravens coach Brian Billick gazes enviously at the Colts' spectacular offense as it whizzes, clangs and motors up and down the field. Billick, remember, is fundamentally a five-guys-wide, offensive-minded coach who has been forced to field conservative, defensive-oriented teams for years.

Envisioning himself in charge of such firepower, he just might trade for the Colts right now, at least in his heart. Not that he would admit it.

Oddly enough, Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy might also agree to the swap, giving up his record-setting offense for Ray Lewis and the Ravens' mostly impregnable defense. Dungy, after all, is a defensive guru who was so focused on that side of the ball at his prior job that he got run out of Tampa Bay because he forgot to put together a capable offense.

Now that he is winning with the NFL's top offense, his defense is among the worst in the league. To his dismay, no doubt.

Both head coaches deserve credit for playing the personnel hands dealt them, as opposed to trying to force their philosophies on situations where those philosophies wouldn't work. That's a sign of a quality, winning coach.

But as their teams prepare to play tomorrow night in Indianapolis, it could be argued that the Colts are Billick's ideal team, while the Ravens represent Dungy's ideal.

And the fans' ideal?

A few weeks ago, I was on my couch watching the Ravens trudge through another low-scoring game when the network cut in with a highlight from the Colts' game - another Manning touchdown pass, his second or third or fourth of the day. It's hard to keep track.

"I wish we played games like that," sighed the 13-year-old hardcore Ravens fan who lives in my house.

The same complaint has been aired on radio talk shows, Internet bulletin boards and elsewhere, and while it's mostly standard-issue kvetching, it's grown loud enough that the Ravens might want to listen.

At a fundamental level, games need to be entertaining, especially given today's high ticket prices. The Ravens' consistent success effectively quashes most discontent, but it's clear they have reached a point where they need more offensive juice.

Colts, anyone?

There would be advantages to a swap. The Colts' history and tradition belong here. And Manning is a natural descendant of Johnny Unitas, similarly humble, instinctive and prolific.

Of course, then Indy could start claiming the Super Bowl trophy the Ravens won in January 2001. That would be annoying. So would the idea of Ed Reed playing elsewhere.

OK, we'll stop. Enough with the theoretical swap. Fans here don't really want the Colts.

Just a couple of their touchdown passes.

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