By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor
Here are five keys for Sunday’s wild-card playoff game between the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens:
>>The Ravens must exploit the Colts’ shaky run defense with a heavy dose of Ray Rice. Having touched the ball only three times against the Bengals last week, Rice should be well rested and ready for a heavy work load. He is the engine that drives the Ravens’ offense, and should see plenty of action as a runner and receiver.
>>Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, whose tendency to force throws has resulted in too many interceptions, needs to be particularly careful with the ball with safety Ed Reed ready to pounce on any errant pass. The Colts love to throw the ball deep, and, with aggressive offensive coordinator Bruce Arians expected to look to exploit the Ravens’ vulnerable secondary, they’ll no doubt take their shots.
>>Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has to make his share of plays with his strong passing arm. As much as the Ravens will want to run the ball early and often, they’ll also ask Flacco to contribute significantly through the air – especially if the Colts get their passing game in gear. The Ravens have a pair of receivers with separate skill sets capable of doing a whole lot of damage to a secondary: powerful Anquan Boldin, who excels at racking up yards after the catch, and speedy Torrey Smith, a constant big-play threat.
>>The Colts’ dangerous pass-rushing duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis has to make life miserable for Flacco. Freeney and Mathis should present a tremendous challenge for a Ravens offensive line that sometimes must maintain its blocks longer than it would prefer because of Flacco’s tendency to hold the ball too long.
>>The Ravens’ pass rush must take advantage of the Colts’ leaky pass protection. Baltimore’s defense is more than capable of generating pressure by a front led by Paul Kruger. The Ravens also do a good job of controlling the edges with Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw. Although Haloti Ngata has been slowed by injuries, he can still be a disruptive force, especially when the Ravens move him around in search of favorable matchups.
>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.
>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/browns_daily, Twitter.com/viccarucci, e-mail: Daily@ClevelandBrowns.com, or by calling 855-363-2459.
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