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THE BALTIMORE SUN

INDIANAPOLIS

Gary Brackett broke into a slightly mischievous grin when he was asked how his Indianapolis Colts intended to stop Ravens running backs Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain.

"I've definitely got my big-boy pads," the linebacker said Tuesday with a hint of sarcasm. "I got them shipped in. So I'll be ready to go."

Limiting the Ravens' run offense is not usually a laughing matter. Just ask the New England Patriots, the third seed in the AFC playoffs that was bounced from the postseason by the Ravens' 234-yard, four-touchdown performance during Sunday's wild-card game.

So now the Colts get to take a crack at the Ravens, and the players promise to be up to the task.

"It is definitely going to be a challenge," defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "I think we are up for the challenge."

A traditionally solid unit against the run, the Colts have missed the presence of two-time Pro Bowl strong safety Bob Sanders, who was placed on injured reserve Nov. 6 with a torn left biceps.

This year, the run defense finished the regular season ranked 24th in the NFL, surrendering an average of 126.5 yards. An opposing running back has reached at least 100 yards in four of Indianapolis' past five games, including 212 yards by the Buffalo Bills' Fred Jackson.

The Colts are aware of the challenge posed by Rice, who took the opening handoff against the Patriots 83 yards for a touchdown.

"He is the workhorse," cornerback Kelvin Hayden said. "He does a great job in the passing game. He does a great job running the football. You can't stop a guy of his caliber completely. You have to contain him.

"We have to know he's their guy. When he gets the ball in his hands, he breaks tackles and does a great job in the open field. We have to step up, make the tackles and get off the field."

McGahee's bruising style presents opposing defenses with a contrast, and coach Jim Caldwell said limiting the rotation of Rice and McGahee is an arduous assignment.

"They're a great tandem," Caldwell said. "They have a lot of ability, and certainly their offensive line has been able to control the line of scrimmage. So what you hope to do is keep them contained. They're too good to think that you're going to shut them out. They're going to get some yards, and they're going to make a few runs. But the object is to contain those runs and not let them have the big ones. Those are the ones that hurt you."

The Colts were effective in doing just that during the teams' first meeting Nov. 22. Rice gained 71 yards on 20 carries and caught seven passes for 64 yards, and McGahee rushed six times for 25 yards, but the Ravens were unable to score a touchdown, and the Colts were able to escape with a 17-15 victory.

"Everybody was on the same page," linebacker Clint Session recalled. "We had a real good game plan coming in. It was very simple. We just got after them on defense. We had the mind-set of, if we stopped the running game, we had a better chance of winning. That's what we were able to do."

With quarterback Joe Flacco hobbled by a bruised right hip and sore right quadriceps, Indianapolis figures that the Ravens will try to run the ball to preserve Flacco and keep the Colts' offense on the side- line.

"I think what they want to do is ball control," Freeney said. "I believe they want to keep the ball in their hands and run and pound the ball. That will keep the ball out of our offense's hands.

"If the score is close, anything can happen in the fourth quarter. I think they have some real good running backs. McGahee and Rice are both patient runners. They are also power runners."

Putting the ball into Flacco's hands - and the game onto his shoulders - is the defense's goal. Rice was Flacco's favorite receiver this season, leading all running backs with 78 catches.

"If you have a good game plan, that's making a team do something they don't want to do," defensive end Robert Mathis said. "So that's what we've got to make them do. We've got to make Flacco beat us rather than McGahee and Rice."

Avoiding big gains on the ground would likely play into Indianapolis' favor, punching the team's ticket to the AFC championship game. Brackett said that is the defense's priority.

"Obviously, we'd like to stop the run and make them one-dimensional and go after the passer, but first and foremost, they're going to be running the ball," he said. "They've got a three-headed monster, so we definitely need to get after those guys."

RAVENS @COLTS

Saturday, 8:15 p.m.

TV:

Chs. 13, 9

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Colts by 6 1/2

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