AL HAMNIK: No reason for Colts' playoff run to end early

2013-01-05T17:30:00Z 2013-01-07T23:24:05Z AL HAMNIK: No reason for Colts' playoff run to end earlyAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
January 05, 2013 5:30 pm  • 

The Colts really need Vick Ballard today in Baltimore.

They need the rookie from Mississippi State to run like Leatherface is chasing him with his chainsaw.

They need the 5-foot-10, 217-pound bruiser to average more than 3.9 yards per rush. The Colts can throw and catch with the best, but 3.8 yards as a team could mean elimination by the Ravens.

In last Sunday's 28-16 win against the Texans, Ballard scored once but the Colts were held to 81 yards rushing and a measly 2.5 a crack.

He's been more than respectable since taking over in Week 6 for Donald Brown, whose high ankle sprain ended his season.

Today's AFC matchup pits the Colts' 22nd-ranked rushing offense against Baltimore's 20th-rated rush defense. It just might come down to who has the best game, Ballard or the Ravens' Ray Rice.

"I love my team and I do whatever I can to help us win," Ballard said. "We're family. You're not treated like X's and O's here. We're more than that."

The trip to Baltimore is new and exciting for the 28 Colts making their first playoff appearance. But no need to apologize for going 9-1 in games decided by seven points or less.

The Colts belong here and showed it against the Texans a week ago at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Leading 28-16 with 9:46 to play and the ball at its 20, Indianapolis used the ground game to reach Houston's 17 as time expired. Ballard carried 10 times during the nine-minute drive.

"All the credit goes to the O-line and the big guys up front," he said afterward. "They pushed the D-line out of their holes and I just took the ball where it was supposed to go."

The league's No. 26 defense had beaten the No. 9 offense.

Can the Colts do it again against a team making its fifth straight playoff appearance? Yes, even with retiring linebacker Ray Lewis providing a firestorm of emotion for the home crowd.

But the Colts really need Vick Ballard to step up. He finished second among AFC rookies with 814 yards rushing and fumbled only three times, losing none.

But why I really like the Mississippi native is because he's an underdog who never got the memo and that is so typical of this young 11-5 Colts team.

Ballard was drafted as the 170th player overall, hardly a reason to brag or boast.

At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, he ran into the timer during the 40-yard dash. On his second attempt, he ran a 4.65 -- placing him 16th among the 25 running backs.

"He's where I think he should be right now," Colts' interim coach Bruce Arians said after Ballard carried 18 times for 105 yards in the Dec. 16 loss at Houston. "He has the ability to make people miss and he found some great holes. He ran the ball extremely well."

The Colts also have their own inspiration with the return of coach Chuck Pagano, who missed 12 games while battling leukemia.

Now, if Indianapolis can just somehow put it all together and knock off a Ravens team that is 21-3 at home the past three seasons.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com

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