Colts at Bengals – Week 6 Game Preview

The Indianapolis Colts (0-5) found a new way to lose in their Week 5 match up with the Kansas City Chiefs. Not content with merely playing a close, competitive game, as they did in Weeks 2, 3, and 4, the Colts raced out to a 17-point lead, only to watch Matt Cassel and the Kansas City offense score the final 21 points of the game. Now, with what most observers considered to be the easiest part of their schedule out of the way, many are wondering when the Colts will finally notch their first win of the 2011 season.

The Cincinnati Bengals, a young team led by rookies QB Andy Dalton and WR AJ Green, were picked by most experts to be in contention for the number one overall pick in the 2012 draft. The Bengals, however, were able to do what the Colts could not – take advantage of an easy opening schedule – and find themselves at 3-2 and in the hunt for a playoff spot in a down year for the AFC.

Will the Colts defense be able to hold up for four quarters? Will they find a way to force the Bengals rookie signal caller into a few costly mistakes? And will Curtis Painter be able to continue his surprisingly good play and lead the Colts to their first win of the season? At least 10,000 fans will be there in person to find out Sunday.

Tale of the tape

How do the Colts and Bengals measure up against each other on offense and defense? Let us take a look. NFL.com conventional rankings are listed first, with FootballOutsiders.com advanced stats (DVOA) in parenthesis.

Indianapolis Colts

Cincinnati Bengals

Offense Defense Offense Defense
Passing 25th (25th) 19th (29th) 24th (20th) 3rd (5th)
Rushing 30th (19th) 31st (21st) 18th (18th) 7th (11th)
Total 30th (24th) 26th (24th) 22nd (20th) 1st (4th)


When the Colts have the ball

 

Indianapolis Colts Offense Cincinnati Bengals Defense
87 WR R. Wayne 91 DE R. Geathers
44 TE D. Clark 94 NT D. Peko
72 LT J. Linkenbach 97 DT G. Atkins
76 LG J. Reitz 50 DE M. Johnson
63 C J. Saturday 99 SLB M. Lawson
78 RG M. Pollak 53 MLB T. Howard
67 RT M. Tepper 58 WLB R. Maualuga
17 WR A. Collie CB 29 L. Hall
85 WR P. Garcon 42 SS C. Crocker
7 QB C. Painter 20 FS  R. Nelson
31 RB D. Brown 22 CB N. Clements

 


QB Curtis Painter and offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen did everything right for two quarters on Sunday: they executed a nice mix of short passes and deep shots, along with a good dose of the running game behind an offensive line that performed better than expected. The second half was a different story as the offense failed to not only score points, but also sustain drives with multiple first downs. There was plenty of blame to go around: Painter missed throws he had to make, the offensive line failed to open holes in short-yardage situations, and the Colts skilled players – particularly TE Dallas Clark – did not do anyone any favors with multiple dropped passes. Regardless of who is to blame, the entire Colts offense will have to be sharper if they are to have any success against a Bengals defense that is among the best in the league.

When Painter drops back to pass, he will have to deal with not only one of the better defensive lines in the league – 11 sacks and 2 intentional grounding penalties on the year – but also one of the best cornerbacks in the league, Leon Hall. The bad news for Painter is that the Bengals will likely choose to use Hall to lock down Painter’s big play target WR Pierre Garcon. The good news is the Bengals #2 CB is Nate Clements, whose name is bigger than his game at this point. WR Reggie Wayne, though he is a step slower, should still be able to take advantage of Clements enough to be an effective target for Painter.

The big issue in the passing game will be the lack of production they have gotten from their inside receivers, WR Austin Collie and TE Clark. Collie, who seemed poise to become one of the most dangerous players in the league before suffering concussions in 2010, has struggled all season to get open, especially on 3rd-downs. Clark, on the other hand, has been getting open, but is dropping balls at an alarming rate, including 3 drops in week 5 (all of which would have been first downs). If Painter cannot rely on these inside receivers to take advantage of mismatches in coverage, the Colts offense will continue to produce inconsistently.

In the running game, the Colts suffered a big blow when they lost RB Joseph Addai to a hamstring injury against the Chiefs. Much-maligned RB Donald Brown will step into the starting role for Addai, and all eyes will be on the 3rd-year player out of Connecticut, eager to see whether he can be effective both as a runner and a pass blocker in the starting role. Though Brown has struggled for much of his young career, he is clearly a talented player, and there is still a hope that he can translate his talents into production on the field. If he can, his combination of speed and open-field ability could help elevate the Colts offense to another level. If he continues to struggle, it could make the Colts offense one dimensional and predictable.

The Colts offense has used big plays to score in recent weeks, with WR Garcon scoring on three long catch-and-runs. Those plays will most likely not be there against a talented, disciplined Bengals defense, which means the Colts will have to be patient and crisp as they execute long scoring drives. Dropped passes and penalties will put the Colts in undesirable situations and will likely lead to punts and field goals, and more than likely, their sixth loss of the season.


When the Bengals have the ball

 

Indianapolis Colts Defense Cincinnati Bengals Offense
93 DE D. Freeney 89 WR J. Simpson
99 DT A. Johnson 84 TE J. Gresham
95 DT F. Moala 77 LT A. Whitworth
98 DE R. Mathis 62 LG N. Livings
53 WLB K. Conner 64 C K. Cook
51 MLB P. Angerer 63 RG B. Williams
50 SLB P. Wheeler 71 RT A. Smith
27 CB J. Lacey 18 WR AJ Green
30 SS D. Caldwell 14 QB A. Dalton
41 FS A. Bethea 36 FB C. Pressley
23 CB T. Johnson 32 RB C. Benson

 


The Bengals offense is filled with young, inexperienced players — including their leader, rookie QB Andy Dalton. The Bengals offensive staff hasn’t allowed that fact to influence their style of play – they have run nearly the same ratio of pass to run as they did in 2010 when they were led by veteran QB Carson Palmer. Dalton, while inconsistent, has been good enough to lead them to three victories. He has completed over 60% of his passes in three games (59% for the season), with a 6-to-5 pass-to-interception ratio, and has taken 10 sacks on the season, and his ESPN TQBR Rating is 9.5 red-haired clutch out of 10 red-haired clutch (made this stat up, much like TQBR).

When Dalton does throw, his favorite target is WR AJ Green, towards whom Dalton has directed 24.9% of his passes. Green’s 2011 stats are impressive – he has caught 24 passes (18 for 1st downs) for 402 yards and 3 touchdowns this season. The Colts, meanwhile, have struggled with opposing number one receivers – allowing big days to Andre Johnson, Mike Wallace, and Dwayne Bowe – and, minus CB Jerraud Powers, could be in for a long day against Green. Green, who will use his size to overpower an undersized Colts secondary, and his speed to pull away in the open field, may be able to create multiple big plays.

On the ground, the Bengals rely almost exclusively on would-be suspended RB Cedric Benson. Benson, who has carried the ball 101 times for 401 yards (3.97ypc) and 1 touchdown, has had limited success in his career against the Colts (2.67 YPC). What Benson lacks in great athletic moves, he makes up for with his ability to shoulder a large number of carries, having averaged over 20 carries per game in his time with the Bengals. The Bengals will watch how the Buccaneers and Chiefs used the running game to wear down a depleted Colts defense until, like a dam, they broke, and the running game began to gash them for large chunks of yardage. Look for RBs Benson and Bernard Scott to combine for almost 40 carries to repeat the efforts of those teams.

The Colts ability to deal with an offense that has limited weapons will come down to defensive coordinator Larry Coyer. Will he choose to be aggressive and force Dalton into mistakes? Or will he sit back and passively wait for the Bengals to make a mistake? If he chooses the latter, the Colts defense may suffer the same fate they have the previous two weeks – good play early, followed by a quick unraveling as they are forced to deal with a steady dose of runs, quick slants, and uncontested first downs.


Five key match ups

1. The Colts secondary vs. A.J. Green -  As with their previous two games, the Colts will once again be facing a single-threat passing offense. Unlike their last two games, defensive coordinator Larry Coyer will not have the luxury of ignoring the match ups in the secondary. Both the Buccaneers and Chiefs featured an offense with one dynamic wide receiver, Mike Williams and Dwayne Bowe, respectively, and in both games Coyer refused to shadow the opponents number one threat with his best cornerback, Jerraud Powers. Now, with Powers nursing an injury and likely to miss the game, Coyer will do what he does best: not a whole lot.

While one might argue the proper way to handle a rookie quarterback and wide receiver would be to offer multiple looks and blitz packages, Coyer will almost certainly opt to play his vanilla, base package, allowing CBs Jacob Lacey and Terrence Johnson their usual 10-yard cushion in an attempt to prevent them from getting beat deep. If that happens, watch QB Andy Dalton have the highest completion percentage of his young career, as he finds his receivers open underneath. And watch the plan backfire as Johnson and the cornerbacks lower on the depth chart have shown an inability to quickly close the cushion and make sure tackles, allowing short passes to go for long gains.

2. The Colts front seven vs. fatigue - The Colts linebackers and defensive linemen have played well early in recent weeks, but have worn down late as teams have continued to lean on them with the running game. The situation has only been made worse by the lack of healthy defensive tackles available in the rotation. The Colts attempted to fix the situation by signing former Colts DT Dan Muir earlier this week, but, if you watched Muir at all in the 2010 season, you will realize that he is not much more than a fresh body. If the Colts defense can overcome the shortage of healthy players and their own fatigue, they may be able to help secure the teams first win of the season. If not, they will once again watch a team pull away late, as the Bengals will be more than happy to feed them a steady dose of RBs Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott.

3. Curtis Painter vs. The Bengals back seven - While the Cincinnati organization has been the laughing stock of the league for some time now, the Bengals defense is no joke. Featuring one of the best cornerbacks in the league, Leon Hall, the Bengals rank near the top of every statistical defensive category. After watching WR Pierre Garcon shred the Tampa Bay and Kansas City defenses, the Bengals will probably opt to have Hall lock down Garcon, forcing QB Curtis Painter to utilize his other weapons. Without the big plays Garcon has provided, Painter will be forced to lead more methodical drives, something he has proven he can do, leading longer drives against both the Steelers and Chiefs. If Painter is going to be good enough to win, however, he will have to get some help from his friends, especially TE Dallas Clark, whose multiple drops in week 5 helped deny the Colts the opportunity to win.

4. Jim Caldwell vs. Statistics -  After falling to 0-5, the chorus of boos directed at head coach Jim Caldwell has reached a fevered pitch. The problem, however, is not his “emotion-less demeanor”, which seems to be at the heart of many fans angst. Instead, the issue is Caldwell’s apparent lack of understanding when and how to be aggressive, especially as it relates to third- and fourth-down play calling. Caldwell’s decisions always fall on the conservative side of the equation, generally opting to punt or kick a field goal, even when the decision to go for it is obvious and correct. As we have stated in this space many times: the margin of error is razor thin for the Colts. In such a situation, Caldwell should be pushing his edges whenever he can, attempting to put his team in the best position to win. Instead, Caldwell chooses to punt and pick up 20 yards of field position which his defense will give back in two plays. It is not a winning formula. If Caldwell is unwilling or unable to adopt a more aggressive mindset, he should not be the Colts long-term solution.

5. This writer vs. Vacation – On Monday, Canada celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving! Though, to be fair, in Canada they do not call Canadian Thanksgiving “Canadian Thanksgiving”, instead opting for the simpler “Thanksgiving”. Long story short – too late – you may notice this week’s preview slightly shorter than previous versions, including some sections missing. I assure you, they will be back next week. For now, you get to miss out on my snark-filled musings. I guess we all have something to be thankful for now.


The injury reports

Indianapolis Colts

Player Name Injury (STATUS)
Peyton Manning NECK (OUT)
Anthony Castanzo ANKLE (QUESTIONABLE)
Kerry Collins CONCUSSION (QUESTIONABLE)
Dwight Freeney REST (PROBABLE)
Ryan Diem ANKLE (QUESTIONABLE)
Jerraud Powers HAMSTRING (QUESTIONABLE)
Drake Nevis BACK (QUESTIONABLE)
Brody Eldridge KNEE (PROBABLE)

Cincinnati Bengals

Player Name Injury (STATUS)
S Chris Crocker KNEE (QUESTIONABLE)
CB Kelly Jennings HAMSTRING (PROBABLE)
TE Donald Lee GROIN (PROBABLE)
RB Brian Leonard GROIN (PROBABLE)
LB Dontay Moch FOOT (PROBABLE)
WR Ryan Whalen HAMSTRING (PROBABLE)


Identifying the coverage

Where(Visually):  CBS

Who(Visually):   Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots

Where(Audio):   1070 AM The Fan WFNI and  97.1 HANK FM

Who(Audio): Bob Lamey and Will Wolford

Is the Game on in your area? Good question.  The people at The506 will be able to tell you.


Series notes

  • The Colts are 17-8 lifetime against the Bengals, including and 8-2 record at Cincinnati.
  • Dallas Clark has 10 catches for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns in two career games against the Bengals.
  • Reggie Wayne has faced the Bengals four times in his career and has caught 20 passes for 283 yards and 2 touchdowns in those games.
  • Donald Brown has carried the ball 12 times for 50 yards against Cincinnati.
  • Dwight Freeney has harassed Bengals quarterbacks to the tune of 6.5 sacks in 4 career games.
  • Robert Mathis has been just as successful, recording 4.5 sacks in 3 games against the Bengals.
  • The only Bengals player that has not been in jail for previous Colts-Bengals match ups is, ironically, Cedric Benson.  He’s carried the ball 30 times for 80 yards and 0 TDs against Indianapolis.


Prediction

Bengals – 21, Colts – 13

 

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