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'Monday Night Football' preview: What to watch for in Colts-Ravens

Indianapolis Colts
2021 · 1-3-0
Baltimore Ravens
2021 · 3-1-0

8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) | M&T Bank Stadium

Autumn winds. Andy Reid impersonators. A Ravens victory celebration. These are a few of the things NFL fans have come to expect in the two Octobers since Lamar Jackson burst onto the scene in 2019. The former MVP QB is a perfect 7-0 in games played at this time of year, and enters Monday Night Football coming off one of the best passing performances of his career. How's that for momentum? The Colts, meanwhile, come into the matchup looking less like the 11-5 playoff team they were in 2020 and more like one that stumbled out the gate and has yet to get up. Another loss, even with their division going up in smoke around them, would do zero favors for their hopes of again reaching the postseason.

Here are four things to watch for Monday night when the Ravens host the Colts:

1) Rushing toward history. Greg Roman's run-heavy scheme has won B-More plenty of games in recent years, and it has a good chance of doing the same Monday night while simultaneously making history. Much to the chagrin of Vic Fangio, a 100-yard rushing effort on MNF would mark the 44th consecutive time the Ravens have crossed this threshold, breaking their tie with 1974-77 Steelers for the longest such streak in NFL history. Maintaining this level of consistency after losing their starting running back, his backup and the backup's backup before the season began is a testament to Roman and the organization at-large. Latavius Murray, Ty'Son Williams, Devonta Freeman and, of course, Jackson, who's drawn well-documented ire and praise for his contributions to the ground game, have been doing just fine despite the setbacks. The Colts, who earned a spot on this running list in a loss last season, have talent up front but don't profile as the "chosen ones," having already given up 100-plus in three of their first four games.

2) Waiting to prevail. Indy's Week 4 victory served as a sorely-needed get-right game; Week 5 will be about getting better. Against the Dolphins, Carson Wentz posted his best game as a Colt, completing 75 percent of his passes for 228 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. He also looked much less hindered by the sprained ankles he sustained in Week 2. Given the way Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale likes to dial up pressure, Wentz’s feet, along with his ailing O-line, absolutely cannot fail him now if he hopes to vanquish a team he’s yet to beat in two meetings (2016, 2020). The former No. 2 overall pick has averaged a 52.4 completion rate with 4.7 yards per attempt in those contests -- his lowest marks against the 22 teams he’s faced at least twice. The narrow losses featured Wentz leading furious comebacks that fell short after a failed two-point conversion. Perhaps this supporting cast will be the one that gets him over the hump and earns he and Frank Reich the first notable win of their renewed partnership.

3) Ravens D rounding into form. Long revered for its stout defenses, Baltimore had some questioning if it can live up to that reputation when it surrendered totals of 896 yards and 68 points against the Raiders and Chiefs. The past two weeks have seen Martindale's bunch slowly but surely return to form. Facing the Lions and Broncos on the road, the Ravens allowed 24 total points and 539 yards while logging seven sacks (5 vs. DEN; 10 total). Calais Campbell and Marlon Humphrey have been their usual Pro Bowl selves as anchors for their respective units while corner Anthony Averett (aka Marcus Peters’ replacement), safety Chuck Clark and rookie edge Odafe Oweh have also made a notable impact. Colts supporters may remember Clark for his crucial 65-yard TD return following a Jonathan Taylor fumble in the last meeting. Taylor, who's coming off his best game of 2021, Michael Pittman, and are going to have their work cut out for them in this one.

4) Locked in on defending the long ball. As if this year couldn’t get any wilder, how’s this for a stat? Jackson – yes, him --- has been more effective on downfield passes (10-plus air yards) than short passes. In fact, all four of his TD tosses have come on such throws. According to Next Gen Stats, 39.5 percent of Jackson’s attempts have been downfield; he’s completed 33.3 percent of those throws. Both marks are the second-highest in the NFL. Against Denver’s promising secondary, Jackson connected with four different targets for completions of 20 or more yards en route to a 316-yard day. No disrespect to James Rowe but his crew, which will again be without Rock Ya-Sin (ankle), isn’t quite as formidable. Through four games, Indy has allowed the highest completion percentage (60.6) on downfield passes. Heads up, Colts secondary: Marquise Brown is faster than he looks on film. Oh, and who can forget Mark Andrews, a tight end who’s more than just a security blanket? He’ll keep Darius Leonard plenty busy when he’s not keeping an eye on Jackson.

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