The Indianapolis Colts are looking for their first back-to-back wins in the Shane Steichen era after getting their first victory of the 2023 season over the Houston Texans in Week 2.
They will be on the road against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 3 against a franchise that they haven’t beaten since 2014 and in a place they haven’t won since 2009.
An offer for Colts fans
This will be a tough test for this young Colts team who will be in a rough environment against one of the better teams in the AFC.
Here are five things to watch for on Sunday afternoon:
Containing Lamar Jackson
The biggest task for the Colts’ defense on Sunday is to not let Lamar Jackson take over this game. When Jackson is moving the chains with his legs or being a threat with his arm, he can quickly make it a two-plus-score game or erase a lead like he did the last time he faced Indianapolis.
The previous matchup between the two franchises came in 2021. Indy blew a 25-9 lead that was led behind the effort of Jackson. He ended that game going 37/-of-43 passing for 442 yards and four touchdowns. Jackson also led the Ravens with 62 rushing yards on 14 attempts.
Jackson is coming off a strong performance in a 27-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2. He went 24-of-33 passing for 237 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 54 rushing yards on 12 attempts.
The Ravens’ passing attack has a different look this year under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken. They are looking to attack the field more with deep shots and we got glimpses of what this offense is building to under Monken last Sunday.
— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) September 18, 2023
Gus Bradley’s defense will have to accept that there will be moments when Jackson creates explosive plays. But if they can keep the Baltimore offense out of the endzone and make them settle for field goals then they can put the team in a position to win the game in the fourth quarter.
Slowing down Jackson will come down to the defensive front collapsing the pocket on him. Kwity Paye and Samson Ebukam have to contain the edges and not let Jackson get outside of the pocket. That’s where he can kill a defense with his arm or legs.
But they can’t just keep him in the pocket because Jackson can carve up a defense with time to throw. DeForest Buckner and the rest of the interior defensive linemen will need to collapse the inside of the pocket into his lap to keep him from getting into a rhythm.
If the Colts can limit Jackson’s impact on this game then the outcome could be in their favor when the clock hits zero in the fourth quarter.
Keep the Ravens offense on the sidelines
It’s the defense’s job to keep Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore offense in check but the offense can also help them out by controlling the clock and of course, turning drives into touchdowns. Regardless of who is at quarterback for the Colts, the offense has to build off the performance from their rushing attack in Week 2 and carry that success into Week 3.
Shane Steichen will likely want to lean into his running game more if Ryan Kelly (concussion) is out of the lineup. The starting center hasn’t practiced this week due to a concussion and if he gets ruled out then it will be Wesley French making his first career start.
French played 19 snaps against the Texans and those are the only reps he has gotten with an offense in the NFL. Since French doesn’t have the experience, there is a concern over him communicating the correct pass protection calls.
This is why Steichen may want to keep it simple for his offensive line and dominate with the run. The Ravens have only given up 138 rushing yards in the first two weeks but part of that was because the Texans and Bengals were down two-scores throughout the games which caused their offenses to lean into the pass.
The offensive line dominating in the trenches and Zack Moss feeding off it is a big key to the Colts pulling off the road upset.
Can the cornerbacks step up?
There was an expectation that the Colts were going to see some low moments from their cornerbacks who entered the season with little to no experience outside of Kenny Moore II. The first two weeks of the season haven’t been pretty for the secondary.
Trevor Lawrence and C.J. Stroud combined for 731 passing yards, four touchdowns, and an interception. For context, Stroud’s production did come in a pass-happy game script because Indianapolis was up two scores for the entire second half.
Not only have quarterbacks found success, but each team’s No. 1 receiver gave the defense fits. Calvin Ridley had eight receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown in Week 1. Then in Week 2, Nico Collins finished with seven catches for 146 yards and a touchdown.
There is some pressure on Darrell Baker Jr. entering this matchup. He struggled in coverage and tackling against the Texans. This is making people wonder why JuJu Brents has been a healthy scratch in the first two weeks as a second-round pick.
Gus Bradley did give some context on why Brents hasn’t made his season debut.
Gus Bradley was asked today about rookie CB-JuJu Brents.
Brents, who missed a ton of the offseason, has been a healthy scratch in each of the first two weeks.
Sounds like Bradley likes how Jaylon Jones and Brents are coming on. Both behind Darrell Baker Jr. right now for CB3. pic.twitter.com/tFhdOrotoz
— Kevin Bowen (@KBowen1070) September 19, 2023
While I do believe Dallis Flowers has been solid in the first two games, it is time to see Brents and preseason standout Jaylon Jones start to get some work in a rotation in the secondary.
Bradley will need his cornerbacks to make some plays on Sunday against a good group of receivers in the Ravens offense. Zay Flowers already looks like a problem as a rookie. Plus they also have Rashod Bateman, Nelson Agholor, and Devin Duvernay.
Luckily for the Colts, it is trending that Odell Beckham Jr. won’t be suiting up this game. He hasn’t practiced this week entering Friday due to an ankle injury and since Baltimore has Super Bowl aspirations, I don’t see them wanting to get him on the field less than 100% this early in the year.
The Indy defensive front can only do so much against Lamar Jackson so they will need their cornerbacks as well as the safeties to make some plays to help slow down their offense.
Does Shane Steichen attack the secondary?
As I mentioned, I do believe that Shane Steichen will want to lean into his rushing attack but that doesn’t mean he should limit his passing attack. The one area of weakness in the Ravens’ defense is their secondary because of injuries.
They will be without one of their starting safeties Marcus Williams and potentially as well as their best cornerback Marlon Humphrey. This is the range where Humphrey was projected to make his return but he has yet to practice this week entering Friday.
Baltimore will also be without Ar’Darius Washington, who was placed on the injured reserve list this week. He played primarily in the slot in 83% of their defensive snaps in the first two weeks.
Assuming Williams and Humphrey are ruled out, it will be their 2022 first-round pick Kyle Hamilton, and 2020 seventh-round pick Geno Stone at the safety positions. Stone has nine career starts under his belt and came up with a huge play against the Bengals.
Geno Stone's interception of Joe Burrow. Baited him. Just a great play.
— Ryan Mink (@ryanmink) September 18, 2023
As far as their cornerbacks, it has been Brandon Stephens, Ronald Darby, and former Colt Rock Ya-Sin to start the year. The three corners work out on the boundary so it will be interesting to see who works as the nickel corner for the Ravens with Washington out of the lineup.
This could bode well for Josh Downs. He’s coming off a solid game against the Texans and showed some chemistry with Gardner Minshew on third downs.
Josh Downs with a good job turning up the field to get the first down. This was the fourth first down in a third down situation picked up by the #Colts in the two-minute drill.
Downs had two of the four. pic.twitter.com/LR0B3btmE0
— Cody Manning (@CodyTalksNFL) September 19, 2023
If Downs can take advantage of the potential mismatch, he can be a crucial part of sustaining drives and being a nuisance to the Ravens’ defense.
The last thing that Steichen will want to do is drop back and throw the ball 30+ times but he can target areas in the secondary with his passing attack to help open up things for his rushing attack. A balanced attack will help keep this game in reach towards the end of the second half.
Defensive front dominant in the trenches
The Ravens offensive line is typically great year in and year out regardless of who is in the lineup. That has been on display this season. Despite playing against the Bengals without their left tackle Ronnie Stanley and center Tyler Linderbaum, they ran for 178 yards.
Their running back tandem of Gus Edwards and Justice Hill combined for 103 rushing yards on 21 attempts. Baltimore will likely be without Justice Hill, he hasn’t practiced this week entering Friday.
Baltimore signed vet Kenyan Drake as insurance.
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) September 20, 2023
Melvin Gordon is the top candidate to get the call-up from the practice squad but Edwards will handle the majority of the workload.
The Colts’ defensive front is off to a great start this season. They’ve played a vital role in their rush defense that has only allowed 157 rushing yards in the first two games.
This will be a big test going against Lamar Jackson and the rushing attack. But something to keep in mind is that they spent the preseason practicing against Anthony Richardson. Indy should be prepped on how to handle a mobile quarterback and unique running schemes.
Gus Bradley’s defense can do its part in keeping the Ravens’ offense on the sideline if they can shut down the run and put the Ravens in long third-down situations often. The Colts can win this game if their defensive unit has a stellar Sunday afternoon.