The Battle for I-74 will take place on Sunday as the Indianapolis Colts (5-3) take on the Cincinnati Bengals (2-6). The Colts will need a win to keep pace in both the tightly packed AFC South standings and the race for the number one seed in the AFC. The team standing in the way of a Colts victory on Sunday will not be an average, ordinary football team — they have a secret. A secret identity, that is.
Not content with only being able to wear tights during the day, the Bengals set out on a mission to find a nighttime gig that afforded them the opportunity to experience their comfort and masculinity 24 hours a day. So, led by the obnoxious diva-turned-crime-fighters duo of Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson and Terrell Owens, the Bengals entered the world of superheroes.
Unlike Owens and Johnson, the rest of the Bengals opted against going on national TV to reveal their secret identities, though an exhausted investigation has revealed the identities of two additional Bengals: QB Carson Palmer is Alfred the Butler and S Roy Williams is the invisible man. There have been unsubstantiated rumors that head coach Marvin Lewis is the headless horseman, but these are just rumors. More information will be reported as it becomes available.
Besides cool cars and fancy utility belts, what does the Justice League of Ohio, Cincinnati Chapter, bring to the table? By any measure, the Bengals are a mediocre band of heroes. They are ranked 18th overall in DVOA, while sporting the 15th overall offense and 22nd overall defense, by advance metrics. Conventional stats treat them no better, ranking Cincinnati 16th in overall offense and 15th in overall defense. Suddenly, the Bengals decision to have a second identity makes sense — their first identity is no fun.
And what of the men from Indianapolis? When they are not taking part in local swim meets, the Colts also enjoy fighting crime and standing up for truth, justice, and the American Way. Unlike the Bengals, however, the Colts do not require masks to hide their identities, thanks to their revolving door of secrecy injuries.
The medical situation in Indianapolis has become so dire that head coach Jim Caldwell was listed on this week’s injury report with headaches caused by trying to learn the names of all the new faces. While the coach says he is fine and lists himself as day-to-day, the Colts hope their luck regarding injuries turns around quickly.
Despite the injuries, the Colts remain tied for first in the AFC South and are only a game behind the AFC leaders for the number one overall seed. Statistically, they are ranked as the 9th best team in DVOA, with the 5th best offense and 20th ranked defense. Conventionally, they are ranked 6th on offense and 17th on defense.
On offense, look for the Colts, lead by their own superhero, QB Peyton Manning, to exploit a defense that has struggled to rush the quarterback this year. The Bengals have only reached the quarterback seven times in 2010, which means Manning should have enough time to pick apart a defense that boasts one of the best corner back tandems in the league.
Look for TE Jacob Tamme to continue to put up Dallas Clark-like numbers as he works the middle of the field. WR Blair White, if he is healthy enough to play, should also be able to have a good game as the Bengals devote most of their attention to covering WRs Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon. Finally, though he struggles in the running game, look for RB Donald Brown to make an impact in the passing game as he exploits the defense underneath the coverage. Brown does his best work in space, and he should have plenty of opportunities to flash his speed and agility on Sunday.
Defensively, the Colts are a different team when they play at Lucas Oil Stadium. The average, inconsistent squad we see on the road dashes into a phone booth and is replaced by the dominating Blue Blur. Look for the Indianapolis front four to dominate this game. The quartet of Freeney, Moala, Muir, and Mathis prefer the fast track at the Luke, and will get off the ball fast, relentlessly attacking both RB Cedric Benson and QB Alfred Palmer. Their speed and ferocity should force Palmer into multiple mistakes.
At linebacker, the Colts are dealing with a heavy dose of injuries, as both Clint Session and Gary Brackett seem poised to miss this week’s game. If both players sit out, the starting linebackers will be Philip Wheeler, Pat Angerer, and Tyjuan Hagler. Colts fans should feel at ease with this group, as all three have performed well when given the opportunity. Linebacker, which seemed thin to start the season, is clearly a position of depth and strength at the halfway point.
In the secondary, the Colts will receive a major boost with the return of future-person-to-be-referred-to-as-future-pro-bowler Jerraud Powers. The return of Powers, combined with the resurgent play of Kelvin Hayden, should be enough for the Colts to contain Batman (Owens) and Robin (Johnson) — or as Lorne Michaels likes to call them Ace and Gary. And if the pass rush is able to rattle Palmer, the secondary should have its fair share of turnover opportunities.
While being a superhero is great, it does not help you avoid the reality of the situation – that Batman and Robin are just men. And in the end, what chance does a mere mortal have against The Reaper?
Colts 27 (Pew Pew!) – Bengals 14