OWINGS MILLS – Accustomed to bullying defenses with their punishing ground attack, the Baltimore Ravens’ offense had no answers for the Indianapolis Colts’ speedy defense.
One game removed from rushing for 234 yards and four touchdowns against the New England Patriots, the Ravens were limited to just 87 rushing yards while being expelled from the postseason.
During a 20-3 AFC divisional playoff loss Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Ravens (10-8) struggled to block the Colts’ swarming group of fast linebackers and defensive linemen.
Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice was held to 67 yards on 13 carries, losing a fumble and dropping a Joe Flacco pass that was intercepted in the fourth quarter.
It was six days after Rice rushed for a playoff franchise-record 159 yards in a 33-14 win over the Patriots that included an 83-yard run on his first carry.
In Rice’s opinion, the Ravens’ unfamiliarity with such a fast front seven was the primary reason that caused the offense to stumble.
“They’re different than any defense we’ve played,” Rice said. “We’re used to 3-4 fronts and big guys. These guys move the entire game, they move around. They’re based on speed. We struggled a little bit against faster defenses.
“So, that’s something we’ll have to get used to in the offseason. Get used to playing fast fronts, getting guys moving around. We don’t see this on a regular basis. We play in the AFC North. Every team we play is a 3-4 front. We’re a power football team.”
Scheme aside, the top-seeded Colts didn’t enter the game with a formidable reputation for run defense.
During the regular season, the AFC South champions ranked 24th against the run as they allowed 126.5 rushing yards per contest.
It marked the second time that the Colts solved the Ravens’ ground attack.
Rice was limited to 71 yards on 20 carries during a 17-15 loss on Nov. 22 to the Colts.
This time, his longest run was 20 yards.
Backup Willis McGahee rushed for seven yards on only two carries.
“They just wanted it more,” McGahee said of the Colts.
And Pro Bowl fullback Le’Ron McClain rushed for three yards on two carries.
“We ran the ball well at times,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I think they played good defense. They played good defense all year, and they played exactly what they’ve always played. They just played it very well.”
One reason why the Ravens were unable to get the running game cranked up was an offense that consistently went three-and-out while falling behind 17-3 at halftime.
For the third consecutive game against Indianapolis, the Ravens failed to score a touchdown.
“We were just off, man,” wide receiver Mark Clayton said. “They mixed it up well and collectively we just didn’t really hit like we needed to, to win the game. We just got dry, man. We didn’t make plays.”
After Flacco completed his first five passes for 55 yards, he went 1 for 4 for minus-1 yards in the second quarter where the game was decided when Peyton Manning threw a pair of touchdowns.
Following their first scoring drive, the Ravens went three-and-out three times in row with no first downs gained during the next 19 minutes of the game.
Flacco completed only 20 of 35 passes for 189 yards and two interceptions for a 48.4 passer rating.
“We were just never able to click the way we needed to in order to get back into the game and win the game,” Flacco said. “They are able to react quickly and defend quickly. That’s what they say about this group of guys. They play with speed and react to the ball.”
The Ravens finished the game with just a dozen first downs and 270 yards of total offense while going 0 for 2 in the red zone.
Rice caught nine passes for 60 yards, but the Ravens didn’t get much production out of their wide receivers.
Derrick Mason caught four passes for 64 yards, but Clayton (no catches), Kelley Washington (one catch, 11 yards) and Demetrius Williams (one catch, 12 yards) were non-factors.
“It really is a game of inches,” Clayton said. “There’s a couple players here and there that you can go back and point to and say if that hit or a miss there or whatever it may be, we would’ve been right there in the game. But we didn’t get it done and unfortunately we’re going home.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.