This is the sixth of 16 articles that I will post throughout the season, previewing the Colts’ upcoming matchup. I’ll attempt to analyze some strengths and weaknesses of both teams, a few areas to focus on, and a couple of key individual matchups.
Overview: Another week, another loss. After last week's embarrassment against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Colts sit at 0-5 for the first time since 1997. It's a precarious state for the Colts, as fans begin to overreact to the losses. The Colts were once again hit by the injury bug last week, as starters Joseph Addai and Jerraud Powers obtained hamstring injuries. It seems like neither of them (along with Anthony Castonzo and Drake Nevis) will be back for this week's game, so the Colts will be thin on the cornerback and running back positions. This week, the Colts face the young, surprising Cincinnati Bengals, in a game which may be the last winnable non-division game. The Bengals are currently 3-2, and are tied with Pittsburgh for second in the division.
- Pass Defense. The Bengals are currently 5th in the league in YPA (6.6), the most telling pass statistic. For what it's worth, the Bengals are also third in yards per game (191) and fourth in touchdown passes allowed (5). Led by cornerbacks Leon Hall and Nate Clements, the Bengals pass defense has been stellar.
- Run Defense. Along with a superb pass defense, the Bengals' run defense has complemented it perfectly. The Bengals have given up only 3.2 yards per carry, good enough for third in the league. Per game, the Bengals are only giving up 88.6 yards, seventh in the league. They held Maurice Jones-Drew to 85 yards, Fred Jackson to 66, Frank Gore to 42, and Peyton Hillis to 57.
- 3rd Down Defense. Because of the excellent play against the run and the pass, the Bengals are getting off the field on third down. The Bengals are only allowing teams to convert 33.3% of the time, eighth in the league. Due to these three phases of the defense, Cincinatti is only allowing 18.8 points per game.
- Forcing Turnovers. The Bengals, for all of their prowess on defense, have not been very good at giving the offense a short field. The Bengals have forced only six turnovers over the first five weeks, tied for 22nd in the league.
- Andy Dalton. While Dalton has shown poise and potential, throwing 6 touchdowns, he's also been prone to rookie mistakes, throwing 5 interceptions. His 6.7 YPA is 23rd in the league. With him at quarterback, the Bengals are only converting 31.9% of their third downs
- Pass Protection. The Bengals have allowed 11 sacks, tied for 19th in the league. Football Outsiders ranks the Bengals at 18th in Adjusted Sack Rate. While both of those numbers are just barely in the bottom half of the league, the below average numbers should be something for the Colts to take advantage of.
- Offensive Line. Before the season began, who'd have thought that we'd be saying this? The Colts are ranked 15th by Football Outsiders in pass protection, and 13th in run blocking. Although promising rookies Anthony Castonzo and Benjamin Ijalana are both injured, the offensive line still played wonderfully against the Chiefs on Sunday. The run blocking my suffer until Castonzo gets back however.
- Pierre Garcon. While he's struggled in the past, Garcon has turned it on as of late. He only has 19 catches (48th in the league), but he's put them to good use with 420 yards (tied for 8th in the league). Among receivers with 10+ catches, Garcon's 22.1 YPR is second only to Steve Smith (CAR). Garcon's been the playmaker in the last two games, scoring four touchdowns.
- Rushing the Passer. This seems to be a common theme for this Colts team, and the one consistency on this year's defense. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have been bringing it every single week, and have a total of eight between them on the season (Freeney: 4.5, Mathis: 3.5). Jerry Hughes has also gotten more snaps in the past two weeks, recording a sack and a quarterback hit.
- Cornerbacks. With Powers hurt, the Colts are left with Jacob Lacey, Terrence Johnson, Chris Rucker, and Kevin Thomas at cornerback. Lacey and Johnson were both UDFA's, and have struggled all year. Rucker (6th round) and Thomas (3rd round in 2010) both have potential, but have gotten very little game experience. The Colts defense is currently 30th in the league in pass success rate, and it is largely due to the poor cornerback play, whether that be ability or the scheme.
- Running the ball. Since losing Ryan Diem, Anthony Castonzo, and Benjamin Ijalana to injury, the Colts have really struggled to run the ball. Last week the team only ran for 2.9 yards per carry, and was a huge reason why the Colts couldn't keep the lead through the second half.
- Coaching. The Colts have struggled to make adjustments in the second half of games this year, both on defense and offense. In all of the last four games, the Colts have had leads, but have collapsed in the second half. There have also been inexplicable calls to punt, most notably at the end of the Buccaneers' and Chiefs' games. The coaching has proven itself to be a weak link on this team for 2011.
- Turnovers, again. The Bengals aren't great at forcing turnovers, and Andy Dalton has thrown his share of interceptions. If the Colts are going to have a chance to win their first game, the defense will need to provide the offense with some short fields. Conversely, the defense has struggled enough without being put in tough positions over the last two weeks. Curtis Painter has done a very good job of taking care of the ball, and we'll hope to see that carry over today.
- Young first round draft picks. It seems that the coaches have heard our plea. Jerry Hughes is finally getting some looks on defense, both from the traditional end spot and from a standing up/Joker role. It's been largely effective, and hopefully we'll see it more as Hughes develops. Donald Brown, on the other hand, only got time on the field because of an injury to Joseph Addai, but used his chance to its full potential. Brown was the best running back for the Colts last week, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. He may get the start this week, but even if he doesn't, Brown will get an increased load.
- Injuries. It's almost becoming a joke how many people get hurt on the Colts. If the Colts can emerge relatively unharmed, I'll consider it a success.
- Pierre Garcon vs. Leon Hall. With Wayne slowing, and Garcon heating up, I fully expect the Bengals to put their best corner on Garcon. Hopefully, Clyde Christensen will find someway to get the ball into his hands. Lately, when Garcon gets the ball, good things are happening for the Colts. If Garcon can have a good game against Hall, it'll be good evidence that he's turned a corner in his development.