Ravens Almost Certainly Will Try to Run on Colts, Brackett Says
INDIANAPOLIS – Gary Brackett need look no further than the numbers.
The Colts, who have allowed more rushing yards per game than any team in the NFL this season, on Sunday will play host to the Baltimore Ravens, who have run far more running plays per game than any team in the NFL.
Brackett, the Colts' middle linebacker and defensive captain, said that makes the Ravens' approach fairly obvious.
He said he figures the Ravens will run Sunday. Then, they'll run some more.
Then, he said, they'll probably run some more.
"That's their game plan," Brackett said Wednesday afternoon as the Colts (2-2) prepared to play the Ravens (2-2) in an AFC game at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 1 p.m.
"Seeing how we've been playing as of late, it just makes sense that they're going to run the football. That's what we're looking forward to this week.
"That's going to be our task – to get it stopped."
So far this season, the Colts have struggled to do so.
The Colts, who ranked 32nd in the NFL against the run in 2006 at 173.0 yards per game, improved last season to 15th in that area at 106.9, but this season, they have allowed 188.5 yards per game to rank 32nd among 32 teams.
They allowed 183, 179 and 236 yards in the first three games to Chicago (ninth in the NFL in rushing), Minnesota (12th) and Jacksonville (19th), respectively, and this past week against Houston (16th), rookie Steve Slaton rushed for 93 yards and two touchdowns as the Texans rushed for 156 yards as a team, averaging just under five yard a carry.
Colts defensive end Raheem Brock said he agreed with Brackett – that until the Colts stop opponents from running, subsequent opponents likely will have the same approach.
The Ravens rank fourth in the NFL in rushing at 153.8 yards per game, and have averaged just over 40 rushes per game, most in the NFL this season.
"Basically, they're going to try to run the ball on us like everybody else," Brock said. "They're going to try to keep the game out of passing situations and slow the game down, not give the ball to our offense. We've got to try to stop their running game."
The Ravens, Colts President Bill Polian said, provide a different challenge than the Colts' first four opponents – not only because of the style of their approach, but because of the number of backs they use to implement it.
"They run the ball as well as anybody in the National Football League and they run it with three backs, not two, who are outstanding," Polian said.
"It's more of a power-running game," Brackett said. "They're very capable guys, and at this part of the season, they're running pretty well."
La'Ron McClain, a fullback/running back, has rushed for 266 yards on 63 carries this season, and Polian said called the 6-feet-0, 260-pounder "really a tailback in a fullback's body.
"He plays fullback at times and he plays tailback at times," Polian said. "He's an amazing back. He can make you miss. He has speed. He has running instinct. If you want to call him a fullback, he is by far the most complete fullback in the league and the best runner as a fullback, but he's really a 250-pound tailback."
Willis McGahee, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher who rushed for 1,207 yards and seven touchdowns last season, has rushed for 170 yards on 50 carries despite being hampered by injuries, and rookie running back Ray Rice has rushed for 85 yards on 25 carries.
"They have a nice running game," Colts defensive end Robert Mathis said. "Pretty much every team we've played has a nice running game so far, so they have every run in the book. We just have to stay on top of the details."
"That's the luxury of having a good defense. They have the running game, so they're going to stick to their guns."
And while several of the Colts' early opponents such as the Vikings and Jaguars feature slashing runners, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said the Ravens approach is more direct.
"They're more a smash-mouth, downhill running game," Dungy said. "They have big backs and a big offensive line. They try to pound it right at you and we're going to have to bow up and get ready to play that. They're averaging 41 runs a game and all of their games have been either close or they've had the lead, so that's what they're going into expecting.
"They're playing physical on both sides of the ball. They have a lot of confidence in their defense. They feel like they can make first downs and pound it out. And they have done that. They have three backs that run it in there pretty good."
The key to countering that, Dungy said, is the same as it has been early in the season, and he said it doesn't involve drastic changes in scheme and personnel. The Colts' defense is based on speed, aggressiveness and all-out effort, something Dungy said will be crucial Sunday.
"We just have to play fast," Dungy said. "They do some things. It's a downhill running game, but they have a lot of motions and formations and shifts to try to slow you down. We can't get paralyzed by where they are. We have to be able to pull the trigger and hit those running allies. Then we have to tackle well.
"These are big guys who don't get knocked back every often and we're going to have to do that."