October 25, 2014

Preview: Colts @ Bengals

After another gritty win, the frustration and apathy that has had a stranglehold on Bengals fans everywhere is giving way to hope. We will always have some of those beloved You-Just-Wait killjoys, but their ranks are suddenly dwindling as Andy Dalton grits out another comeback win. So when will the bandwagon fill up enough for wallets to open up and sell out a  game? (I think we have a few blackouts left before that happens.)

The Colts are 0-5. How weird does that look? Without Manning, a game that looked like an impossible win for the Bengals now looks to be as much of a sure thing as the Bengals will get this year. But don’t get over-confident. This game will be another defensive slugfest.

When the Colts have the ball…

Don’t be fooled by the Colts’ 0-5 record. In the last three games (since they benched Kerry Collins), they have held the lead in the second half of each, and they lost all three by a combined total of 14 points. By no means have they been out of any game except for the debacle of an opener in Houston. They just have not been able to close out games. With Indy’s propensity to blow leads and the Bengals’ penchant for comeback wins, this could be an interesting one all the way to the end.

QB Curtis Painter v. pressure to win. Colts fans are not used to losing five games in a season, let alone the first five. Now in his third season, Painter is taking his rookie lumps and getting the chance to show if he can justify Bill Polian’s faith in him. He has some nice skills, and much like Carson Palmer, with a little time in the pocket he can beat you. But under pressure he is apt to make mistakes.

Reggie Wayne was an outspoken proponent for Painter when the Colts coaxed Collins out of retirement. And with each start, Painter has shown improvement with each game. He seems to have established a nice rapport with Pierre Garcon, but oddly he has struggled in connecting with potent weapons in Dallas Clark and Austin Collie.

Offensive Line:

The Colts’ O-line has never been anything great, just good enough to give Manning the few seconds he needs to make a read and get the ball out. Unfortunately, neither Collins nor Painter can make reads or deliver the ball as quickly as Manning can.

LT Anthony Castonzo v. RDEs Michael Johnson and Jonathan Fanane. The rookie Castonzo is going to have his hands full with Johnson and Fanane. Castonzo will likely hold his own for a while against the duo, but the Bengals ability to rotate these two should create an advantage late in the game (when the Bengals may need it most).

LG Joe Reitz v. RT Geno Atkins. The Colts largely run up the middle, behind Pro-Bowl center Jeff Saturday. While Peko works to contain Saturday, Atkins can disrupt the running game if he can beat Reitz and make some tackles for loss/no gain. A stalemate here will give Addai decent numbers for the day.

Running Game:

Football Outsiders ranks the Colts’ O-line as #13 in run blocking, yet they rank #30 in rushing yards. Odd? Not really after factoring in that Addai is averaging 11.2 carries per game. His highest number of carries in a game so far this year was 17 against Pittsburgh.

The Colts have not been a running team in a long time, and Addai is just not built to be a workhorse back like Cedric Benson. If they did try to run him a lot and he got injured, there are no real answers behind him.

RB Joseph Addai v. LB Rey Maualuga. Would you believe that Addai had only 6 carries for 19 yards in last week’s loss to KC? That is despite the fact that Indy was up 21 at one point and up 10 at the half! (The Bengals gave up on the running game last year, but never like that!) Addai is averaging 50 yards/game over the first 5 games. And Indy has yet to face a run defense on the level of the Bengals’. Indy should try more than 6 rushes against the Bengals, but the sledding will be tough.

Passing Game:

The Colts’ passing game is nothing like we are used to. The current stats rank the Bengals as the #24 passing offense (212.6 yards/game) and the Colts at #25 (205.0 yards/game). But the Colts’ numbers are skewed downward by Kerry Collins. Painter has thrown for over half of those yards in just the last two games. No wonder Reggie Wayne was so vocal in favor of Painter!

WRs Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon v. CBs Leon Hall and Nate Clements. Garcon is producing on the level of A.J. Green. He is the type of vertical threat that the Bengals’ secondary has not seen in a while. And while Reggie Wayne may not have the numbers he usually does, he is still a dangerous threat. Help from safeties will be a must, as Indy will want to stretch the field to make room for the running game. Reggie Nelson, no busted coverages!!

TE Dallas Clark v. LB Thomas Howard. I regard Dallas Clark as the best TE in the game, but he and Painter have yet to click together. (He only has 6 catches for 65 yards in the last 3 games.) No doubt the Colts’ OC is eyeballing Clark, given how the Bengals have struggled with TEs.

When the Bengals have the ball…

(summary)

QB Andy Dalton v. speed. Indy likes speed over size. Andy had his first exposure to this kind of speed against SanFran, and it ultimately led to 2 late picks. He will need to be prepared to face that kind of speed up front for much of the game.

Offensive Line:

Speed means pass rush, the weakness for this group. Freeney is in his 10th season and Mathis is in his 9th, but this duo has shown no signs of slowing down. They are a fearsome tandem, and they will test the mettle of the line.

RT Andre Smith v. DE Robert Mathis. There is no other way to say it: this matchup frightens me. I would feel a lot better if Anthony Collins were starting this week.

LT Andrew Whitworth v. DE Dwight Freeney. Whitworth took on Freeney as a rookie and held up well in the matchup. But Freeney is always a beast, and it is not safe to just assume a repeat performance. Especially not with the way he struggled at times last week (although the Jags got into and through the neutral zone more than once last week without getting flagged).

Running Game:

The Colts have not defended the run well this year. They have surrendered 726 yards on the ground this season. The Bengals’ O-line must dominate up the middle, because the yardage will be there with some push from the line.

RB Cedric Benson v. LB Nate Triplett. Cedric has to be excited about playing the Colts, especially after being held to a season low last week. He must also be solid in pass protection. I am seriously concerned that Andre Smith will be completely overmatched this week.

Passing Game:

Giving Andy Dalton enough time to set up the big pass will be a challenge. But Indy is vulnerable in the secondary, so Jay Gruden must choose his plays off of the favorable match-ups he gets and allow his guys space to run after the catch. Quick throws will largely be the order of the day.

WRs A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson v. CBs Jacob Lacey and Jerraud Powers. The Colts are giving up 60 yards/game more than the Bengals through the air. Pittsburgh sliced up this crew for 364 yards passing. The Bengals will not get that many yards, but if they can exceed their 209 yards/game average so far, they have a good shot of winning this game.

TE Jermaine Gresham v. LB Pat Angerer. Gresham continues to emerge into a serious threat this year. He will continue that trend this week, as the need for quick passes keep him on Dalton’s speed dial.

Special teams…

P Pat McAfee v. P Kevin Huber. This is largely an even matchup. Both guys are really good. McAfee does spend a lot less time working in the elements, though.

K Adam Vinatieri v. K Mike Nugent. AV is one of the greats in the game. I would hammer Nugent for clunking that PAT, but the long field goal into the wind took him off the hook.

The Bengals are a 7 point favorite in Vegas right now, and that sounds about right to me. The Bengals won’t walk all over Indy, and a fourth come-from-behind win is entirely possible. Ultimately, Indy’s inability to run the ball will not allow them to control the clock or to keep the Bengals off balance, while the Bengals maintain a balanced run-pass punching pattern.

Two predictions for the game. 1) Brian Leonard has one of best games as a Bengal. 2) The Bengals’ back 7 finally gets their first interception of the season.

Final Score: Indianapolis 20. Cincinnati 27.