Colts vs. Ravens: Strategies for Winning

A quick breakdown of the Indianapolis-Baltimore divisional playoff game.

The Ravens will win if ...

1. They keep the ball in the hands of tailback Jamal Lewis and allow him to dictate the offensive tempo. Despite all the credit afforded Steve McNair, the quarterback only had 16 touchdown passes, just the 15th most among the quarterbacks who started all 16 games, and Lewis remains the centerpiece. Lewis isn't the same guy who rushed for over 2,000 yards in 2003, as evidenced by his 3.7-yard average since then, but he can still hammer defenses between the tackles and could maul the undersized Indianapolis front seven. Lewis had just one 100-yard performance in 2006, but there were eight games in which he registered 20 or more carries and the Ravens were 8-0 in those contests.

2. The Baltimore defense gets Peyton Manning moving his feet in the pocket. The Ravens were second in the league in sacks (60) and first in sack yards (418), and the unit featured five players with five or more sacks, led by end Trevor Pryce, with 13. The Baltimore edge rushers -- Adalius Thomas, Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott -- are all dangerous hybrid-type defenders and the Indianapolis tackles will be tested. But Pryce is also effective when he moves inside, particularly on third down, where he will be matched up against the Colts' guards. On those occasions, the guards might need some assistance from center Jeff Saturday to help keep the very active Pryce out of the Indianapolis backfield.

3. Tight end Todd Heap can get up the seam against the Indianapolis safeties and make some plays in the middle of the field. Heap can also be a factor in the red zone, where he is a very clever receiver who knows how to uncover himself in tight spots. Heap is the guy to whom McNair most often looks to bail him out, especially on third down. Of the tight end's 73 receptions in the regular season, 46 were for first downs or touchdowns. The Ravens like to move the versatile Heap around, including playing him out in the slot, to help create mismatches. If the Colts are forced to bring free safety Bob Sanders down into the box to help support against the run, it will mean more room in which Heap can operate.

The Colts will win if ...

1. The defense can come close to the extraordinary effort it demonstrated in Saturday's wild card victory over Kansas City and has a second solid performance versus the run. The Ravens don't want to have to put the game on McNair's arm, and certainly don't want him in many third-down situations, where the Colts' outside tandem of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis can come hard at him. McNair was sacked only 14 times in 2006, but he doesn't move well outside the pocket anymore, as evidenced by his career-low 119 rushing yards. And the veteran passer certainly doesn't have the deep-ball arm strength of his youth, having averaged just 6.52 yards per attempt, so third-and-longs are imperative for the Colts' defense.

2. Peyton Manning continues to be patient throwing the ball to his secondary receivers. The big-play guys in the Colts' No. 2-ranked passing game, of course, are wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, both of whom went over the 1,000-yard mark again in 2006. But the Indianapolis passing attack is even more productive when Manning gets tight end Dallas Clark and, in recent weeks, rookie tailback Joseph Addai, in the mix. Indianapolis played virtually all of Saturday's game with Clark aligned in the slot, and he had nine catches for 103 yards. Manning is finding that he can demoralize defenses by checking down to Addai or fellow tailback Dominic Rhodes, and letting them run in space.

3. Avoid turnovers at all costs. Baltimore led the NFL in takeaways (40) and turnover differential (plus-17) in 2006. The Ravens had 28 interceptions and three defenders had five or more pickoffs. The takeaway frenzy, not surprisingly, is fueled by the Baltimore pass rush, which will come from a variety of angles. No one is better at discerning where the rush is coming from than Manning, but he has to get rid of the ball and be as accurate as possible. The Baltimore secondary features two big-play ballhawks in safety Ed Reed and resurgent cornerback Chris McAlister and if you put the ball in their hands, there's a pretty good chance that they're going to put it in the end zone.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for