-- Baltimore Ravens linebacker Jim Nelson spent the past two seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, lining up against quarterback Peyton Manning every day in practice and watching him from the sidelines each game. So Nelson's new teammates have been asking questions about Manning, searching for any detail, any clue that could help them as they prepare to face the Colts in the season opener at home on Sunday night.
Nelson, who signed with the Ravens in the offseason, has answered the questions the best he can. But the former McDonough High standout also admits, "If teams could figure him out that easily, they would've done it already."
Last season few teams stopped Manning, who put together one of the best statistical seasons for a quarterback. The NFL's most valuable player completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 4,557 yards and set league records for touchdown passes (49) and passer rating (121.1).
The Ravens' defense held Manning and the Indianapolis offense largely in check when the teams met last December, a 20-10 Colts win. Baltimore limited the Colts to season lows in points and total offense (316 yards), excluding the regular season finale when they rested many of their starters. Manning threw one touchdown pass, the only time during the regular season that he did not throw for multiple touchdowns.
"He's like no other quarterback in the league. That's what makes him so dynamic," Baltimore Coach Brian Billick said. "There's so much they do at the line. They don't do a lot personnel-wise. They don't do a lot formationally. Everything he does, he calls the entire offense from the line basically."
Manning, in his eighth season with the Colts, watches a tremendous amount of film -- "He's almost a football nerd," Nelson said -- and that helps him recognize coverages and adjust his offensive personnel. He yells and gestures in the moments leading up to the snap.
"Peyton comes to the line, and he checks to a pass or a run, and I come to the line, and I check from a blitz to a zone," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "I think it's great for the fans to see, but it's actually more stressful when you're on the field, because you're actually trying to figure out truly their next move. He's good at it."
When the teams met last season, Baltimore's defense switched in and out of formations prior to the snap. Safety Ed Reed said he'll occasionally try to give Manning a false read, but at the same time he has to be careful he doesn't over-think and get caught up too much in disguising.
"The Ravens have their identity," Manning said during a conference call. "They have excellent players and a number of veterans who can do a number of different things. The key is trying to be smart in your decision-making and trying to be smart with the football."
New defensive coordinator Rex Ryan has promised the Ravens will pressure more than they have in the past, and he's installed the 46 defense, which his father, Buddy Ryan, created to apply tremendous pressure to the quarterback. The Ravens recorded 13 sacks in four preseason games.
Manning, with his quick release, was sacked only 13 times last season, a remarkable figure considering how often he threw. Last season, the Ravens pressured Manning but never sacked him. It was one of only two games last season the Ravens did not record a sack.
"You don't want [Manning] to just sit back there and have a field day," Lewis said. "I think first and foremost you have to do a lot of moving around so he doesn't understand where you're coming from. And you have to get to him. That's our strategy; our strategy is to come at him."
"That offense is based on timing," defensive end Terrell Suggs said. "You have to throw that off, and you've got to get there real fast and get him out of his rhythm. You've got to frenzy Peyton Manning, and that's how you beat him He's a very composed quarterback, that's why he's the best at his position, the best at what he does. I have a feeling that if you get at him enough, it'll start to shake him a little bit."
Billick has one other strategy in mind. Every time he has stepped in front of a microphone this week, he has implored Ravens fans to be as loud and passionate as possible, particularly when Manning is at the line trying to communicate with his offense.
"I'll say it again: It's the Indianapolis Colts that are coming into our stadium with a mentality that our quarterback is going to run his offense at the line 80 percent of the time," Billick said. "I can't imagine what that means to Baltimoreans to see that Colts helmet in this stadium and them thinking they can run their offense on the line. Fans, the challenge is there. Keep up the noise because we can wear them out."
Ravens Notes: The Ravens signed kicker Robbie Gould to the practice squad and terminated the practice squad contract of running back Alex Haynes. . . .
Lewis and owner Steve Bisciotti, through their respective charitable foundations, purchased helmets for each of the 18 Baltimore city public high school football programs. Earlier this year, the Ravens' All-Community Team Foundation purchased home and away uniforms for each of the city schools; the helmets, which are similar to the ones Lewis uses, complete the set.
"This is safety; it's not just beauty," Bisciotti said. "We kind of realized that we had them dressed up, but they weren't wearing their seatbelts. It was a great opportunity for us to finish off this deal."