Ravens looking to wear Colts' defense out

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens' most formidable offensive weapon has been fostered by an old-fashioned approach: the three yards and a cloud of dust theory built on unsubtle methods of rolled-up sleeves and brute force.

The strategy of wearing out an opponent could prove to be the Ravens' top option Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts' undersized, finesse-oriented front seven that ranks last in the league in rushing defense.

Plus, the Colts are missing their best run-support player with hard-hitting Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders sidelined with a high-ankle sprain.

The Ravens feature the NFL's fourth-ranked running game and would like nothing better than to pound the Colts into submission.

"It would be great if we could set the tone at the start of the game to the finish," said bruising fullback Le'Ron McClain, the Ravens' leading rusher with 266 yards and four touchdowns. "We want to run the ball and make things a lot easier for everyone. I believe we can wear people out. It's all about the mindset. It's about who delivers the first blow."

The Colts are allowing 188.5 rushing yards per contest, a total of 754 yards for a 4.9 average per carry and five rushing touchdowns.

Meanwhile, the Ravens have already gained 615 rushing yards on 161 carries for a 3.8 average with seven touchdown runs. They average 153.8 yards on the ground despite featured back Willis McGahee dealing with several injuries that have limited him to 170 yards and one touchdown on 50 carries.

"First off, we want respect," left offensive guard Ben Grubbs said. "That's huge, and that's our No. 1 goal is to be a hard-nosed offensive line. We have good backs, and we just want to execute on the line and make some holes for them to run through."

Even prior to Sanders' injury against the Minnesota Vikings, the Colts were struggling to stop or even slow down opposing runners.

In the season opener, the Chicago Bears piled up 193 rushing yards on 39 carries. Then, the Vikings gained 180 rushing yards on 35 carries.

The worst was yet to come as the Jacksonville Jaguars' tandem of Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor manufactured 236 rushing yards on 48 attempts. In a narrow escape over the Houston Texans last week, the Colts gave up a season-low 156 yards on 32 carries.

Is a Colts defense without Sanders, who's nicknamed "The Eraser," capable of halting the run?

"He's important," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "We haven't been as sharp as we need to be all the way across the board, and we've got to get everybody playing well. We can't just wait and say, 'Well, when Bob Sanders comes back all the problems are going to be solved.'

"We've got to make sure that we're on the same page, that we're doing things the right way and flying and hustling and filling our gaps the way we should. When we do that, I think we'll be okay."

Added Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron: "Bob Sanders, as we all know, is one of the great defensive players in this league. Anytime you lose a great player, that's going to affect you to some degree."

The Ravens will have a significant size advantage against the Colts.

Their entire offensive line is well over 300 pounds. Indianapolis' heaviest defensive starter is end Raheem Brock at 6-foot-4, 274 pounds. Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney is 6-1, 268 pounds, and pass rushing specialist Robert Mathis is 6-2, 245 pounds.

Defensive tackles Keyunta Dawson and Eric Foster are 6-3, 254 pounds and 6-2, 265 pounds, respectively. None of the Colts' starting linebackers are over 235 pounds.

However, Cameron believes it's oversimplifying the issue to think that the Ravens can simply run the ball all the time and not get rookie quarterback Joe Flacco involved. Despite the Colts' problems, the Ravens aren't underestimating them.

"They've been in this situation before, and they've always made some adjustments," Cameron said. "I think what we're preparing for is the different adjustments they have made. We want to run the football, and we're doing everything we can to protect the quarterback.

"This is going to be one of those games where you're not going to just go in and run the football. You need to protect the quarterback, keep them off-balance and just manage the situation, manage the noise."

Unlike the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans who squared up physically with the Ravens at the line of scrimmage, the Colts will try to use their quickness to penetrate the backfield. The key for Baltimore is overpowering the Colts while trying to keep up with their outstanding mobility.

"This week is going to be different than the previous week," Grubbs said. "Tennessee would line up and say, 'Here we are, try to beat us.' This team moves around and shoots gaps.

"They're undersized. They're quick. I just want to get my hands on them, but that's the first battle."

Right offensive tackle Adam Terry, who's questionable for this game with a lateral meniscus issue in his right knee, has a similar scouting report on the Colts.

"If you don't get your hands on them, they're running by you," Terry said. "Our job is to get in front of them. It might be a little different game than we're used to. You've got to have a physical nature, but you've got to get in front of them first."

At 6-0, 260 pounds, McClain has emerged as an important figure in the Ravens' mission to control the football. Especially while operating in a jumbo backfield lined up behind 5-11, 255-pound, four-time Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal.

McClain ranks second in the league behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Earnest Graham in fourth-quarter rushing yards with 141 gained on 32 carries. He has converted all five of his third-and-1 or fourth-and-one situations to rank second in the NFL behind the Arizona Cardinals' Tim Hightower.

"It's like a fullback and a running back mixed," tight end Todd Heap said. "The guys don't want to tackle him high. You know he's going to bring down his shoulders on them and put some hurting on them. That's fun to watch."

Could the Ravens run the football 40 or 50 times against the Colts?

"I hope so," McClain said. "I hope it comes down to that."

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