INDIANAPOLIS -- The Baltimore Ravens have managed to push Ray Rice to the side and open the season 3-1. The Indianapolis Colts did what they were supposed to do in beating AFC South counterparts Jacksonville and Tennessee the past two weeks.
Now the Colts will try to get their first victory against a team with a winning record, while the Ravens attempt to extend their winning streak to four.
ESPN.com Colts reporter Mike Wells and Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley discuss the game:
Wells: How have the Ravens been able to focus enough on football to be 3-1 when Ray Rice's situation has constantly been talked about?
Hensley: The Ray Rice Saga has started to quiet down for now. It has actually been a week since anyone has asked coach John Harbaugh about Rice. It will become an issue again when the investigations reveal their findings. When it does, I expect the Ravens to handle the Rice situation like they have done in the past. The players just block it out. Their entire focus is on practice and meetings. Harbaugh calls it living in a "football cocoon." This is more than just coachspeak. The Ravens beat the Steelers by 20 points only four days after the team cut Rice. They won at the Browns two days after the ESPN.com report came out about the Ravens' mishandling of the Rice situation.
This week, Rice is the least of their concerns. The Ravens have their full attention on Andrew Luck. In my 14 years of covering the Ravens, I have never seen the defensive players show so much respect to a young quarterback. They are worried about what Luck can do with his legs as well as his arm.
Why has Luck played so well these past two games, compared with the first two weeks?
Wells: It would be easy to say Luck played well because they faced the Jaguars and the Titans, two struggling teams. But it’s more than that with Luck. He has complete control of the offense. Is he mistake-free? Not at all. In fact, he said Wednesday that he needs to cut back on some of the "catastrophic" mistakes he has made. Simply saying he wants to cut back on interceptions would have been good enough for me. Luck’s ability to spread the ball around has been impressive the past two games. He has completed passes to nine different players in those two games. Doing that makes it tough on any defense, no matter if it’s the Titans, Jaguars or Ravens. It’s easy to take Luck for granted at times because he is that good. And just think, he is only in his third season.
Speaking of quarterbacks, Joe Flacco obviously has been effective, but how much credit does the line deserve since he has only been sacked three times this season?
Hensley: Most of the credit goes to an offensive line, which has gone from the team’s biggest weakness in 2013 to one of its strengths this season. Jeremy Zuttah, who was traded to the Ravens this offseason, has been an upgrade at center. Right tackle Rick Wagner is playing better than Michael Oher did last season. Guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele are both healthy. The Ravens are most vulnerable at left tackle, where undrafted rookie James Hurst is filling in for the injured Eugene Monroe. The improvement in the line is the major reason Flacco hasn’t been sacked in 90 straight dropbacks.
There are other factors, as well. Flacco is getting rid of the ball quicker, cutting down the time for pass-rushers to get to him. And, as Flacco pointed out, receivers are doing a good job of getting separation, so he doesn’t have to wait to throw the ball.
Wells: I never thought I would be saying this heading into Week 5, but the Colts' offensive line has actually been effective this season. They are a big reason why the Colts are tied with Atlanta atop the league in total yards a game at 444.0 and averaging a league-high 34.0 points a game. Go back to last season and the offensive line was in shambles, constantly shuffling players in and out because of injuries. Now they are doing an exceptional job of protecting Luck after he was sacked 73 times combined in his first two seasons. He is now on pace to be sacked a career-low 25 times this season. The Colts didn’t fare exceptionally well against Denver’s DeMarcus Ware in Week 1. The challenge will be even tougher against Suggs and Dumervil.
Everybody knows Steve Smith had last weekend's game circled on his calendar, but what type of impact has he had on the offense in the first four games?
Hensley: Smith has exceeded expectations. At age 35, he is the oldest player in NFL history to record more than 400 yards receiving in the first four games in a season. Smith has made an impact on third downs (team-leading seven catches). He has made an impact downfield (eight catches over 20 yards ranks second in the NFL). And he has been clutch. His 32-yard reception late in the fourth quarter in Cleveland set up the winning field goal. The Ravens were hoping he would fill the void left by trading away Anquan Boldin two years ago. Smith has been better than Boldin. Flacco trusts Smith more than any receiver on this team, and they haven’t even played a full season together. He knows Smith is going to do whatever it takes to get open and fight for the ball. That is the reason why Smith has been the third-most targeted receiver in the NFL.
Smith and the Ravens are going to be facing a Colts secondary that will be without one of its starters. How can the Ravens take advantage of the loss of LaRon Landry to the Colts' defense?
Wells: Combine a lack of a pass rush from the front seven and an inexperienced player starting for Landry at safety, and Flacco should have plenty of time in the pocket to get the ball to Smith and his other playmakers. Fifth-year player Sergio Brown is starting in place of Landry. Brown has started three games in his career and is primarily known as a special team’s ace. There are probably a number of people inside the Colts' organization wishing they had re-signed Antoine Bethea. And for those keeping track, Bethea was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday. To say the Colts miss Bethea would be an understatement.