There will be no shortage of intriguing story lines when the Indianapolis Colts visit the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. Following a 2-14 season in 2011, the Colts fired longtime assistant and then-head coach Jim Caldwell, hired Chuck Pagano away from the Ravens and went 11-5 in 2012, becoming just the second team in NFL history to win 11 or more games following a season with two or fewer victories. The Colts accomplished that impressive feat despite Pagano missing three months while undergoing treatment for leukemia. Pagano spent four seasons as a coach with the Ravens, who hired Caldwell last offseason to coach quarterbacks before promoting him to offensive coordinator on Dec. 10. Ray Lewis, the Ravens’ future Hall of Fame linebacker, could be playing in his final game as the 37-year-old announced that he would retire at the end of the 2012 season. Sunday could also be the last game in a Ravens uniform for future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed, who will be a free agent in 2013. When the Colts have the ball Quarterback and No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck is one of five finalists for the NFL’s Rookie of the Year Award after breaking Cam Newton’s single-season rookie passing yardage record with 4,374, a number aided by a rookie record-tying six 300-yard passing games. Luck wasn’t all that efficient, however, completing just 54.1 percent of a rookie single-season record 627 pass attempts. Luck’s completion percentage was 50.0 percent or below in seven of his 16 starts, including in each of the last five games this season. Luck also tossed 18 interceptions, which tied him with Mark Sanchez for second-most in the NFL and resulted in a passer rating of 76.5. Luck’s preferred target is Reggie Wayne, who was targeted on over 30 percent of the Colts’ passing plays this season and is headed back to the Pro Bowl after catching 106 passes for 1,355 yards and five touchdowns. However, Wayne is not the only weapon in the Colts’ passing game arsenal. GM Ryan Grigson took a flier on former St. Louis Rams second-round pick Donnie Avery, who caught a career-high 60 passes for 781 yards with three touchdowns in the No. 2 role, and used a 2012 third-round pick on T.Y. Hilton, who caught 50 passes for 861 yards, second among NFL rookie receivers this season. Hilton’s team-high seven touchdown receptions and his five 100-yard receiving games were tops among NFL rookie receivers and had a great deal to do with Hilton ranking higher than Wayne in Football Outsiders’ receiving DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) metric. The Colts used picks in the second- and third-round of the 2012 NFL Draft on tight ends Coby Fleener, Luck’s former teammate at Stanford, and Dwayne Allen. Despite the history between Luck and Fleener, Allen has emerged as the Colts’ No. 1 tight end, taking advantage of a Fleener’s mid-season shoulder injury to catch 45 passes for 521 yards and three touchdowns. Over the last month, however, Colts tight ends and running backs have become less involved in the passing offense, with those two position groups targeted just a handful of times per game as the aerial attack is funneled through Wayne, Avery and Hilton, which is certainly the way the Colts should attack a Ravens secondary that lost starting cornerback Lardarius Webb to a season-ending knee injury. According to Football Outsiders, the Ravens defense ranks 20th in defending opponents’ No. 1 receivers and 30th against No. 2 receivers, but are among the Top 10 against “other wide receivers”, tight ends and running backs. Look for Luck to test the Ravens deep with Hilton and Avery, which could open things in the intermediate passing game to Wayne, Allen and Fleener.
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