Colts vs. Bengals: What to Watch For

The Colts will face the Bengals in their final 2013 preseason game tonight at 7pm ET. 

While the third game is the most "usable" from an analysis standpoint, the fourth game offers one last look at players fighting for a roster spot (or a practice squad spot). 

No, it's not a game to evaluate starters. We honestly don't even know which starters will be playing, and those who do likely won't play more than a series or two. 

But for fringe players, this is their last chance to make a lasting impression. While some cases have already been made (see Rayford, Caesar), other players in that 48-60 range have yet to separate themselves from the pack, in either a good or bad way. 

So who are we (and the coaches) watching this week? Coincidentally, the three biggest battles all come on defense. 

Cornerback: Marshay Green and Josh Gordy

The battle for the fifth and final cornerback spot is still alive and well. 

Gordy has the clear advantage with a year in Pagano's system and the flexibility to play safety if necessary. But Green has looked to have a bit more upside (improving each week in the preseason), and Gordy's ceiling looked to be reached last season. 

Right now, the battle likely goes to Gordy. Green needs a big game tonight in order to have any shot at the final roster. If he has an average game, it's back to the waiver wire for Green.

Safety: Delano Howell and Sergio Brown

Another toss-up in the secondary, and another case of newcomer vs. 2012 special teamer. 

Howell has impressed this preseason, especially when given extra playing time as Brown sat with a hamstring injury. The undrafted free agent has earned PFF's highest grade for Colts' defenders this preseason, showing up strong in both run defense and coverage. 

Unfortunately for Howell, his playing time has dwindled as the other safeties (namely Brown and Lefeged) have healed. 

Brown's biggest advantage over Howell is his special teams prowess: Brown was one of the team's top special teamers in 2012. Of course, Howell hasn't looked bad on special teams this preseason either, leading the team with three special teams tackles. 

Like the cornerback battle, the incumbent has the advantage, but an impressive performance in this final game could flip the two. 

Defensive Line: Ricardo Mathews and Drake Nevis

How many 3-4 defensive ends can the Colts afford to keep? That's the question as the team ends the regular season with one of the deepest groups of interior linemen they've had in years. Somebody talented is going to be cut either way. 

The starters are set: Ricky Jean Francois and Cory Redding. After that it's a bit more difficult, as Fili Moala, Drake Nevis, Ricardo Mathews, Montori Hughes and Lawrence Guy are all contending for what is likely three spots (at most). 

While Hughes has arguably been the worst performer so far, the Colts also have the most to lose with him. As the only Grigson draft pick of the group, and one that the second-year GM traded next year's fourth-round pick for, Hughes isn't going to be let go so easily. Although he has been injured for much of the preseason, Fili Moala played well last season prior to injury, and the coaches like him. 

So with one spot open, Nevis, Guy and Mathews are left. I have Mathews and Nevis a notch above Guy, and I think it comes down to them. Nevis is probably a better fit in a 4-3, but has played well in the preseason, with his always-strong run defense and a few penetrating sacks. 

But Mathews has played extremely well in his own right, and has more ideal length for the scheme. I wouldn't be surprised to see either make it (or get cut), and am a fan of both players. If one player stands out against Cincy, it could make the coaches' decision for them. 

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.