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The key to beating the Colts ... run the ball

Mike Preston

5:02 PM EST, December 31, 2012

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When Ravens fullback Vonta Leach was able to walk off the field Sunday after suffering an ankle injury minutes earlier, the offensive coaching staff breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The Indianapolis Colts (11-5) are coming to town Sunday for a wild-card playoff game, and the Ravens know they have to run the ball to win.

There are many story lines and sub plots in this game. Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano, with his leukemia in remission, is coming back to Baltimore where he used to be the defensive coordinator. Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell gets to go against his old club where he was the quarterback coach and later head coach.

And of course there will be some poor reporter hustling throughout the bars of Baltimore writing for the millionth time about how the old Colts left under the cover of darkness almost 30 years ago.

But as far as the Ravens are concerned, there should be only one story line: run the ball because the new Colts look a lot like the old Colts.

They still don't play good defense, and they can't stop the run.

It's a minor miracle that the Ravens are 10-6 this year because they have trouble stopping the run, and it's an even bigger miracle because the Colts are worse than the Ravens.

Indianapolis is ranked No. 29 out of the 32 teams in the NFL in run defense allowing 137.5 yards a game. They have allowed almost 40 yards on 11 different runs from the line of scrimmage. Against Kansas City earlier this year, Indianapolis allowed 352 yards rushing.

That's unbelievable. That's pathetic.

If the Ravens can't figure out a game plan against the Colts, then there should be another Black Monday in Baltimore as far as hiring or firing coaches.

Heck, even former Ravens offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh could figure this one out.

When Caldwell looks over the Indianapolis two-deep roster on defense, he will barely recognize some of the names up front. Even some of the projected starters that were brought in after Caldwell was let go aren't playing anymore because of injuries to starting defensive linemen Brandon McKinney and Josh Chapman.

Even end Cory Redding, the Ravens most dominating lineman from a year ago, hasn't escaped the injury bug and been in and out of the Indianapolis lineup this season.

The Colts have been so desperate to find players that they brought in guys off the street, like defensive end Lawrence Guy, and fellow defensive end Fili Moala.

On Sunday, the Ravens rested star running back Ray Rice and starting right guard Marshal Yanda, the team's top offensive lineman. So, there should be no excuses for not running the ball.

In fact, the Ravens should have oxygen masks ready for Rice, backup running back Bernard Pierce and Leach because they should run them until their tongues hang out. To make it even worse on the Colts, the Ravens should throw in some Wildcat offense with Tyrod Taylor replacing starting quarterback Joe Flacco occasionally just to pound the Colts into submission.

The Colts aren't that strong in pass defense either, but they keep getting better every week. Outside linebacker Dwight Freeney is close to 100 percent after nursing a high ankle sprain most of the season, and fellow outside linebacker Robert Mathis has played well despite numerous nicks and bruises.

In the secondary, Indianapolis has two solid cornerbacks in Vontae Davis and Darius Butler who can make plays. So, why allow Freeney and Mathis to have free shots at Flacco when they can be slowed by running the ball?

Also, rookie quarterback Andrew Luck isn't Peyton Manning but he makes plays. The Colts are productive on offense and have a talented receiver in Reggie Wayne. Like the Ravens, the Colts find ways to win games.

Few thought they could beat top-seeded Houston on Sunday, and Indianapolis was impressive doing it. With a 28-16 lead and 9 minutes and 41 seconds left in the game, the Colts finished off the Texans with a drive which consumed every second of the remaining time.

The Ravens can't allow that to happen. They have to treat Luck like they treat Manning. The best way to beat them is to control the clock and keep the ball out of their hands.

And that means running the football.

mike.preston@baltsun.com