Colts can get a true sense of self against the Ravens

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Colts head coach Chuck Pagano and receiver Reggie Wayne stand together before a game at Lucas Oil Stadium.

INDIANAPOLIS – Guarded optimism is something that’s become a part of most NFL fans vernacular, especially here in Indianapolis in 2014.

Yes, the last two games the Colts played the role of world beaters as they took both the Jaguars and the Titans down in dominant fashion, scoring 40 points in each game and winning by more than 20.

But it was the Jaguars and the Titans-a pair of professional football teams in a college-type rebuilding mode. They followed losses, albeit close, to the AFC favorite Denver and NFC contender Philadelphia that gave the Colts a rare 0-2 start.

See the hesitation to declare the Colts a Super Bowl contender after the past two weeks?

We’ll fans that are anxious to declare their team a favorite for Arizona in February may have a better argument this weekend if the Colts can take care of business against the Ravens-a major step up in competition from their AFC South foes. They have started the season with a 3-1 record with all of those victories coming consecutively after a loss to the Bengals-one of the few teams left undefeated in the NFL.

The always optimistic Chuck Pagano admits his team can gauge where they are and might be headed over the course of 60 minutes against Baltimore.

“I think this is a good time. We’re playing a really good football team,” said Pagano when asked if this was a “Measuring Stick” game for the team. “They’re 3-1 and they’ve got a bunch of good players on that squad. Extremely well coached and play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. Really good football team. I guess if you listen to everybody, which we don’t, everybody’s talking about them being one of the teams.

“This is one of the teams in the AFC that I guess if you can find a way to win the game and knock them off, you might get back in the conversation, so to speak. They all are but this is certainly one of them.”

Certainly for the offense it will be as they face the Ravens’ defensive unit that Pagano once led before coming to Indianapolis. True to form Baltimore is second in the NFL points allowed, giving up an average of just 15 a game even with names like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed being replaced over the years.

“You don’t see 52 and you don’t see 20. What you do see is a bunch of really good football players and a bunch of game-wreckers front-to-back. They’re an excellent defense,” said Pagano-and Andrew Luck will get a good look at them on Sunday.

During the past two weeks Luck has dazzled with his performance and has jumped to the top of a number of statistical categories for quarterbacks in the league. He leads in the NFL in passing yardage (1,305 yards), completions (115) and touchdowns (13) but knows his team will be under the microscope on Sunday.

“It’s a great test for everybody on our side of the ball. It’s a fearsome defense.  I think consistently, you go back to since I’ve been watching football, the Baltimore Ravens have had a tough, nasty defense,” said Luck. “Those are the type of teams you look to play. They give you a great challenge, and you know it’s going to be a 60-minute battle with them.”

This will be the first of three in what figures to be a playoff positioning stretch for the Colts. After the Ravens game they will have the quick turnaround for Thursday’s game against the Texans-who are at the top of the AFC South with a 3-1 record.

After that the team faces the Bengals who at 3-0 seem the greatest challenger at the moment to the Broncos for the AFC crown. While sometimes overly preaching their “one-game” mentality, for veterans contests like Sunday can stir up a little extra determination.

“Whenever you get games like this, you do get excited because you want to go up against the best. Baltimore’s coming in at 3-1, they’re one of the best teams out there especially in the AFC,” said receiver Reggie Wayne. “We know they’re going to come in and make us have to put our best foot forward, so we need to make sure we’re focused and ready to go out there and play. We do understand what they can bring to the table when you’re not prepared.

“They can really embarrass you. Hopefully we can continue to ride that wave that we’ve been riding and continue to play good Colts football.”

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