(AP) — The Baltimore Ravens have overcome numerous challenges to put together a three-game winning streak, but now must navigate the most difficult portion of their schedule.
They’ll try to continue shaking off last year’s uncharacteristic road struggles as they look to slow down the Indianapolis Colts and the league’s top offense Sunday.
Baltimore (3-1) continues to deal with controversy stemming from the organization’s handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case. On the field, the Ravens have been without cornerback Lardarius Webb – who led the team with 22 passes defended in 2013 – for three games due to a back ailment.
Baltimore also had to start undrafted rookie James Hurst at left tackle Sunday against Carolina in place of the injured Eugene Monroe.
All of that hasn’t kept the Ravens from putting together a run following a 23-16 season-opening loss to Cincinnati.
“I would have to say that I was impressed with it before all this came about,” said coach John Harbaugh, who is hoping for a return by Webb this week. “Sometimes they say football reveals character. It’s galvanized us in some ways. We’ve been through a fire. It either makes you or breaks you. I feel good about that.”
Sunday marks the first of four road games in five weeks. Though the Ravens won their lone road contest against Cleveland this season, their struggles away from home last year cost them a sixth straight playoff appearance.
Baltimore was 2-6 on the road in 2013 – its worst record since 2007 – after going 21-19 away from home from 2008-12.
“The challenge is you’ve got to go play another team in their environment,” Harbaugh said. “That takes an incredible amount of discipline and poise.”
The Colts (2-2) have bounced back from a rough start with two consecutive victories by a combined 51 points. Indianapolis leads the league with 34.0 points per game and is tied for first in total offense at 444.0 yards a contest.
Andrew Luck has helped Indianapolis top 40 points in two straight contests for the first time since a four-game stretch in 2004. He is on pace for 5,220 passing yards with 52 TDs, which would surpass Peyton Manning’s franchise records of 4,700 and 49.
Luck was 29 of 41 for a season-high 393 yards with four TDs in Sunday’s 41-17 win over Tennessee.
“He’s in the zone right now,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “Anytime you go out there and play fast and you’re not thinking, usually the result is the numbers, you know the yards and touchdowns he’s producing right now.”
First-year offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak also seems to have Baltimore in a rhythm. The Ravens are sixth in the league with 394.3 yards per game after finishing 29th last season.
With the released of three-time Pro Bowler Rice, Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro have anchored a ground attack that ranks ninth at 134.5 yards per game. The duo rolled up 124 rushing yards in a 38-10 win over Carolina last week, with each player scoring a touchdown.
Joe Flacco’s 93.5 passer rating is the second highest of his career and he hasn’t been sacked during the winning streak. He was sacked 48 times in 2013, second most in the NFL.
Baltimore is among 10 teams to commit three or fewer turnovers, while the Colts have forced three in each of their past two games while totaling seven sacks.
“Right now these last two games we’ve put together, getting off the field, getting after the quarterback, creating turnovers – it’s probably one of the best stretches I’ve been a part of,” cornerback Darius Butler said. “So hopefully we keep that going this week.”
Indianapolis’ defense, though, loses safety LaRon Landry to a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing substance policy. Landry is second on the team with 19 tackles.
This matchup also features receivers Steve Smith and Reggie Wayne, who have enjoyed strong starts to their 14th seasons. Smith’s AFC-leading 429 receiving yards are the most in the first four games by a player at least 35 years old. He racked up a season-high 139 yards and two TDs against his former club last week.
Wayne leads Indianapolis with 23 receptions and 307 yards. He has 13,873 career yards and needs 27 to surpass Cris Carter for ninth place.
The Colts had won six straight in the series prior to a 24-10 loss at Baltimore in the last meeting Dec. 11, 2011
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