The Indianapolis Colts have allowed just 15 sacks this season, the fewest in the league while the Ravens had four players with 9.5 sacks or more, were second in the league with 60 sacks and first in sack yards (418). No team in the league is as versatile on defense as Baltimore, and coordinator Rex Ryan loves to mix it up with disguises, a ton of different personnel groups, fronts and blitzes.
LT Tarik Glenn vs. ROLB Adalius Thomas is one particular matchup that should be of great interest. These two 2006 Pro-Bowl selections are both having phenomenal seasons. Tarik Glenn has negated some top-line pass rushers this season like Aaron Schobel, Jason Taylor and Osi Umenyiora. This week the challenge is possibly his toughest to date.
Adalius Thomas has proven to be one of the best linebackers in the NFL and has everything you want in an intimidating pass rush threat. Size, quickness, intelligence, and power; the guy has it all. He shows an explosive first step and initial quickness, can bend the edge and close on quarterbacks. He also does a good job using his active hands to grab to get on a blocker's edge.
Baltimore will want to pressure Colts QB Peyton Manning into mistakes. How they use Thomas to do that will be interesting to watch. The Ravens’ outside linebacker has lined up at every position in the Ravens' defense at one time or another. So while it’ll be LT Tarik Glenn who blocks him when he rushes the edge from Manning’s blind side, every member of the Colts line will likely be called upon to block Thomas at one point or another.
Take this example, where the Pittsburgh Post Gazette detailed a play in which the Ravens constantly moved the versatile Thomas around, confusing the Steelers and forcing Ben Roethlisberger into a bad decision. “During Roethlisberger's cadence, he [Thomas] ran over to the right side, then moved back toward the middle. When the ball was snapped, he rushed around the left end -- his original spot -- and pressured Roethlisberger into a bad throw.”
| Ravens LB Adalius Thomas forces Vikings QB Brad Johnson to fumble (Nick Wass/Getty Images)|
Manning and the Colts O-line better get prepared for a lot of disguises, stunts, and blitzes from all directions. Besides that, you better believe Rex Ryan and the Ravens defense will seriously be examining three recent game tapes -- the Colts vs. Chargers from last season, the Colts vs. Steelers playoff game and this year’s Colts vs. Cowboys game. All three of those teams, just like Baltimore, were 3-4 base defenses that successfully pressured Manning.
Those teams were able to do that by creating inside pressure and collapsing the pocket, which as a result would flush Manning out of the pocket and led to a lot of "happy feet" during the game, which is never a good thing.
Another problem the Colts have had from time-to-time against the 3-4 is picking up blitzing linebackers. Sometimes it’s been the guards who have failed to get to the edge to block the blitzing OLB when Glenn stays inside to block the RDE, and other times it was the OTs that have failed to move inside to help seal the interior.
When matched up against Glenn, Thomas will have success if he is able to use his speed to get into Glenn’s upper body quickly, thus getting the big tackle off balance and making it difficult for him to anchor quickly.
Another thing to watch out for is that against speed, Glenn also has a tendency to get beat to his outside shoulder at times. He's occasionally guilty of being too patient in pass protection and as a result will struggle to cut down pass rush angles. But even when beaten to the outside, he still doesn't give up many sacks and is rarely run over or even ran-by. His wingspan and lateral movement makes him extremely hard to get around.
In the end, it’s Adalius Thomas’ diversity that Brian Billick is counting on to create problems for Peyton Manning and the Colts. Thomas is the most versatile player on the Ravens. He’s an outside linebacker, who can play defensive end or even safety. He knows how to rush the quarterback or read the quarterback when dropping back into coverage. Baltimore will use him to rush Manning and they’ll even use him to help take away inside routes from outside receivers.
Despite all of those other tremendous skills that Thomas possesses, I’m pretty sure it’s the 11-sack pass rusher that worries the Colts the most. And that’s why it’s crucial for Tarik Glenn to play like the Pro Bowler he is again this week.