By Tom James
For the Kokomo Tribune
INDIANAPOLIS — If there was ever a perfect wild-card playoff matchup for the Indianapolis Colts, it was the Baltimore Ravens. Fifth-place seed Indianapolis (11-5) and fourth-placed seed Baltimore (10-6) will face off at M&T Bank Stadium at 1 p.m. Sunday (CBS Sports).
Yes, the Ravens have been one of the better teams in the AFC over the last few seasons. But Baltimore has struggled some over the last month of the regular-season, losing four of their last five games. Indianapolis, meanwhile, has posted victories in five of their last six.
What’s also working in the Colts’ favor is that first-year head coach Chuck Pagano knows the Ravens very well. Pagano was Baltimore’s defensive coordinator last season and was a member of the Ravens’ defensive coaching staff from 2008-11.
“Going back to Baltimore, obviously there’s some familiarity there. We had four great years there as a family. Top-notch organization, really good football club. It’ll be a great challenge. They’ve got a great team and they’ve got great players all over the place,” Pagano acknowledged Sunday after the Colts’ 28-16 win over Houston. “It’ll be a great test for us obviously.”
One thing is certain. He knows the Ravens’ personnel very well. Especially on defense. Pagano also knows Baltimore’s offensive players from having to face them every day in practice. When asked Monday during his weekly day-after press conference if he planned to spend more time in meetings with the Colts’ offense this week, the Indianapolis flashed a wry smile.
“There’s a good chance that may happen,” Pagano laughed. “There’s going to be some things. I will be able to sit down and watch some tape with anybody on the offensive side of the ball, with the coaches.
“And if there is some questions that need to be answered based on coverages and fronts and techniques and personnel and things like that, then obviously having spent the last four years there I’d be crazy not to spend some time with them.”
Another positive for the Colts is that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians knows Baltimore’s defense very well too. Arians was Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator for the last five years and faced the Ravens twice a year in AFC North games.
“We’ve got an advantage as far as [knowing Baltimore] because of Bruce’s familiarity,” Pagano admitted. “When he pops on the tape, even though it’s a new [defensive] coordinator, that system’s been in place on defense there for a long, long time going back to 2000. There’s some new faces, obviously, but the system itself has pretty much stayed in place.
“The new [defensive] coordinator, Dean Pees, had spent a number of years as the coordinator in New England and has been there for the last couple of years. He’s probably added a few things as far as things he did [with the Patriots]. He brought some of that with him when we were together when I was there. Bruce knows that defense. He knows that scheme. He knows the personnel, other than the new guys that are there. I think going into this ball game it will really help us getting started and be able put together a plan that will give us a chance to win that football game.”
Helping the defense
Being on Baltimore’s defensive coaching staff since 2008, Pagano has seen a lot of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice.
It’s safe to say that he knows them inside and out. So as much as Pagano will be assisting Indianapolis’ offensive coaches, he’ll also be sitting in on the Colts’ defensive meetings as well.
“Absolutely, I think on both sides of the ball and on special teams. My doc said, ‘be prudent’ [in working] if you remember. But I may not be prudent this week in spending a lot of time in a lot of different areas in trying to get as much information out as I possibly can and help where I can,” he said.
“Again, these guys [the Colts defensive coaches], they’ve got the tape and they will be able to study it from a scheme standpoint what we need to do to go win a football game.”