Carroll County Times

Ravens pose challenge to porous Colts run defense

OWINGS MILLS - They yielded 96 yards to Houston Texans running back Arian Foster a week ago, surrendered a combined 327 yards to Kansas City Chiefs running backs Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis a week earlier and were gashed for 165 yards by Foster the week before that.

In all, the Indianapolis Colts have allowed 632 rushing yards in their last three games, the continuation of a season-long struggle to slow down opposing running games.

And now, the Colts will be saddled with the task of slowing down Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce and a Baltimore Ravens rushing attack that accumulated 224 yards on the ground in a 33-14 victory against the New York Giants two weeks ago.

"We talk about [the run defense] every week," Colts head coach Chuck Pagano told media in Indianapolis earlier this week. "Every single week, it's the first thing we go into the room and say, 'We've got to stop the run and set the edge of the defense.' This week is no different than the past 16.

"This team and this defense have faced great runners. It seems like every week you bring up another name. Ray is the next one and the guy that backs him up, Bernard Pierce, is a heck of a runner ... so stopping the run is paramount."

But it was something Indianapolis struggled to do during the regular season.

The Colts had issues with other facets of their defense as well - they ranked just 21st against the pass and had the fourth-fewest sacks in the AFC - but they especially struggled versus the run.

Indianapolis allowed an AFC-worst 5.1 yards per carry during the regular season and gave up an average of 138 yards per game on the ground, the second-highest such mark in the AFC.

Rice and Pierce combined for 1,675 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns during the regular season. They averaged a combined 4.6 yards per carry.

Rice had 1,143 yards and nine scores on the ground.

He played only sparingly in the Ravens' regular season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals but carried the ball 20 times or more in five of Baltimore's eight games prior to that, including two of the previous three.

"The teams that have beaten [the Colts] have run the ball well, or with a lot of success," Ravens center Matt Birk said. "And we're like most teams - we like to run the ball, and how well we run the ball will probably have a lot to do with dictating how well we do on offense."

Indianapolis has been stingy in the red-zone, tied for eighth best in that area, but ranked third-worst in the AFC in total defense, allowing an average of 374 yards per game.

The Colts yielded a league-high 21 runs of 20 yards or longer during the regular season.

"They give up big plays," Baltimore fullback Vonta Leach said. "But, at the same time, when it's key plays in the red zone, they stop teams. A lot of teams make a lot of plays on them but don't score a lot of points. They're bend but don't break, sort of like they've always been."

Rice was one of several offensive starters Baltimore rested against the Bengals last week, but the Ravens' offense posted a season-high 533 yards amid the win against the Giants the week before.

Rice (107 yards) and Pierce (121) both gained more than 100 yards on the ground and quarterback Joe Flacco threw for 306 yards and two scores while completing 25 of his 36 pass attempts.

It's been an uneven season for Flacco. But while he was limited to 188 yards or less in seven of the Ravens' final 12 games, he did throw for a career-high 3,817 yards - as well as 22 touchdowns - and will be matched up against an Indianapolis defense that's allowed an average of nearly 240 yards per game through the air.

But, to Pagano, "it all starts with Ray Rice."

"We've got to shut down the run."