|Running back Ray Rice (left) and linebacker Ray Lewis go hand-in-hand for the Ravens. (Gail Burton/Associated Press)|
OWINGS MILLS, Md. - Playing keep-away from Peyton Manning is always a priority against the Indianapolis Colts.
Just ask Bill Belichick.
Holding the football and a 6-point lead at Indianapolis in November, Belichick kept the Patriots on the field for a fourth and 2 at the New England 28 with just over two minutes remaining. The fourth down try failed, and Manning quickly produced a touchdown and a 35-34 victory.
The Baltimore Ravens hope to avoid a similar situation tomorrow night in their playoff game against the Colts. Their plan is to deprive Manning of the ball early enough so it won’t matter if he gets it late.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has the personnel to make the plan work - especially against an Indianapolis defense that ranks 24th in the NFL against the run. In last Sunday’s 33-14 rout of the Patriots, Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and Le’Ron McClain helped Baltimore total 234 yards rushing in 52 attempts.
The yardage the Ravens gain on the ground will be significant, but time of possession is even more important.
“My favorite thing is to look up at the clock and watch it go tick, tick, tick,’’ Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. “You know what? I can’t be a real bad coach when I’m not out there calling defenses, right? So when Cam’s running the football, I’m the most excited guy there on that sideline.’’
Rice should be getting plenty of touches in the first half. Baltimore won’t entirely abandon the passing game, but establishing a ground attack is a top priority.
“This is the time of year when the run game tends to emerge a little more. Everybody knows that,’’ Rice said.
“I believe that’s [Baltimore’s] strength,’’ All-Pro defensive end Dwight Freeney said. “I think what they want to do is ball control. 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.’’
Two weeks ago, the Raiders prepared for the 5-foot-8-inch Rice. They ended up getting run over by McGahee, who scored three touchdowns. Rice did most of the damage against the Patriots, beginning with an 83-yard score on the first play from scrimmage. That leaves the Colts with no option but to prepare for both.
“That’s a tough thing to do. Obviously, you know it’s a great tandem,’’ Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. “They have a lot of ability. And, certainly, their offensive line has been able to control the line of scrimmage. What you hope to do is keep them contained. They’re too good to think you’re going to shut them out.’’
Yet, that is precisely what happened when the teams met in late November. Baltimore ran for 98 yards but failed to reach the end zone in a 17-15 defeat. Most galling was a sequence in which the Ravens got a first down at the Indianapolis 1 in the fourth quarter, then failed to score on three straight runs.
A field goal gave the Ravens a 15-14 lead, after which Manning moved the Colts into position for the winning kick.
“You’ve got to score 7 against that team. You give Peyton Manning any kind of chance, he can light the scoreboard up,’’ Rice said.
Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, who threw only 10 passes against New England, wouldn’t mind spending another 60 minutes handing off the football. But that ploy won’t produce a win if the Ravens can’t score touchdowns.
“When we get down there inside the 5, we’re going to have to rely on our run game to get the ball in the end zone,’’ Flacco said. “That’s what we’ve done all year, and that’s the kind of team we are. The last time we played each other, they did a good job of stopping us. So we’ve got to make sure to come up big and get some scores down there.’’
With Rice leading the way, the Ravens went up, 24-0, in the first quarter against the Patriots and coasted. Having watched film of that game, the Colts know they’re going to have to be physical up front at the outset.
“You have to be disciplined from the first snap,’’ linebacker Clint Session said. “You can’t wait around to try and catch a groove with these guys because they can come down on you early, and that would set them up for their overall game plan. It’s up to us as a defense to stop them early and not allow the big plays to happen.’’