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Early strikes a key for Manning

Facing a tough road game Saturday against a rugged run defense in Baltimore, the Colts quarterback is expected to go to the air quickly.

January 09, 2007|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning has acquired a can't-win-the-big-one reputation because the Colts have been bounced from the playoffs several times when they were favored to win.

But this Saturday, Manning and Co. will be underdogs at Baltimore against the Ravens' intimidating defense.

Manning, who had three passes intercepted in the Colts' wild-card victory over Kansas City, is still looking for his first road playoff victory since Jan. 11, 2004 -- another Colts victory over the Chiefs.

For that to happen, Indianapolis' stretch running play with rookie Joseph Addai has to be effective against the Ravens' No. 1-ranked defense, which gives up an average of only 75.9 rushing yards a game and forced a league-best 40 turnovers.

After backing up Dominic Rhodes throughout the regular season, Addai started and ran for 122 yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs. He's quicker than Rhodes and his close-to-the-ground running style makes him difficult to tackle.

Pro Bowl tackle Tarik Glenn helped Indianapolis' offensive line dominate the line of scrimmage against Kansas City, but the Colts will have a much tougher time against the Ravens' front, which is led by 300-pound-plus linemen Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata.

The ability of Gregg and Ngata to get penetration and clog the middle sets the table for the rest of the Ravens' run defense. Ray Lewis has an uncanny knack of reading plays, and everyone from safety Ed Reed to underrated outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Adalius Thomas gets involved. Suggs and Thomas play important roles for the Ravens, who have not given up more than two touchdowns in a game since Nov. 12.

Suggs is a disruptive force as a linebacker and rush end, and Thomas can play every position from defensive line to cornerback.

When the Colts decide to run, Addai and Rhodes have to be patient but also run hard against what might be the NFL's best tackling defense.

The more success Indianapolis has running the ball, the better chance Manning will have with play-action opportunities, and that's important because the Ravens were second in the league with 60 sacks for a league-high 418 yards in losses.

Summary: Expect Indianapolis to pass early instead of trying to run the ball against Baltimore. The Colts' best chance to win is to get ahead to help take the Ravens' crowd out of the game. Even if Baltimore scores first, look for Indianapolis to remain aggressive in its play-calling.

lonnie.white@latimes.com

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