If Indianapolis Colts want to win Monday, they'll likely have to snap Baltimore Ravens' historic rushing streak

If the Indianapolis Colts are going to improve to 2-3, they'll have to contain Lamar Jackson (8) and likely snap the Baltimore Ravens' historic rushing streak. Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts didn't start game planning to try to stop the Baltimore Ravens' potent rushing attack this week. It started a couple of months ago during the hot, humid days of training camp in Westfield, Indiana.

That’s how challenging it is to slow down a Ravens run game that uses a lot of read, pass option and has a quarterback who runs like a running back and is also a threat to throw the ball.

“Just more about how unique their offense is -- and there’s a lot of college stuff in there,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “Then they still have pro stuff in there, and then the unique threat that [quarterback] Lamar [Jackson] poses. It’s just a different scheme. During the offseason, you spend a couple days, a period here, a period there – and it’s all planned out in advance.”

The early planning was a good idea for defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus because slowing down the Ravens’ ground game, which is currently third (164.5 yards a game) hasn’t been easy for any team.

The Ravens have rushed for at least 100 yards in 43 straight games, which ties the 44-year-old NFL record set by the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1974-77. They’ll set the record if they hit the 100-yard mark on the ground in Monday’s game against Indianapolis. Baltimore rushed for 110 yards in a 24-10 victory over the Colts in Indianapolis last season.

“I just really will focus on our guys and execution with the plan,” Eberflus said. “I won’t talk much about those other outside forces, to use those as motivation. I just think our guys are really focused on us and focused on the plan that we have going forward for this week.”

The Colts have given up at least 101 yards rushing in three of their first four games. Tennessee’s Derrick Henry – 113 yards in Week 2 – uses the combination of power, strength and speed to be arguably the best running back in the NFL. The Ravens will present a different challenge for the Colts because of the different formations, use of motion and duel-threat ability of Jackson.

“They built the entire running game around him,” Colts defensive lineman DeForest Buckner said about Jackson. “Whether he keeps it or gives it off or whatever it is – the majority of the runs are pretty much an option. That makes a lot of defenses be a little hesitant in their run fits and little things like that. You never know when he’s going to pull it. So, if you’ve got the quarterback, get the quarterback. If you’ve got the dive, get the dive.”

"Discipline" is the word that’s been used all week.

Not staying in your assigned lane could lead to be a big play on the ground. Falling for the fake could lead to a big play off the edge or play-action pass that gains a lot of yards through the air for Jackson.

“They’ve got that option going," Buckner said. “Lamar, obviously, we all know he’s an elite quarterback, but I mean he’s an elite runner. We’ve got to treat him obviously like a running back. This week is all about assignment football.

"It’s really going to be off the D-ends this week and knowing their keys and knowing when they’ve got quarterback and knowing when they’ve got dive.”

Jackson’s running back skills while playing quarterback are often the first thing talked about with him. But his throwing ability deserves credit too.

He’s completed at least 60% of his pass attempts in three of his first four seasons, including a career-high 66.1%, when he threw for 3,127 yards with 36 touchdowns and only six interceptions during his MVP season in 2019.

“I do think Lamar Jackson’s passing skills are underrated,” Reich said. “I love the way he throws the ball. From a quarterback standpoint, fundamentally, his upper-body mechanics are really clean and crisp. He’s got a very strong arm. He’s got a quick, compact release. This year, it just feels like to me they’re throwing it down the field a little bit more, and he’s doing an excellent job.”