Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney is approaching the career milestone of 100 sacks. Coming into the sixth week of the season, the Colts will be traveling a little over 90 miles east to face the Cincinnati Bengals where he'll take the field looking for the final 1.5 sacks necessary to make him only the third active player with 100 sacks or more. It won't necessarily be easy for Freeney though because while in Cincinnati he'll be going up against a left tackle that has quietly become one of the best in the NFL -- Andrew Whitworth.
So far this season, Whitworth has only allowed one sack, which came last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Whitworth allowed defensive end John Chick to come around the edge and sack Andy Dalton. Other than that one sacks, Whitworth has kept Dalton relatively clean, only allowing five quarterback pressures and one hit.
Despite the fact that the Bengals play the Steelers and Ravens twice a year, who historically have had some of the NFL's top defenses, Whitworth believes that the Colts' defensive line will be the most challenging line they face this season.
"They are the quickest, fastest, most agile D-line you are going to face," Whitworth said. "That is just a different challenge for guys. Just like when teams come play the AFC North and play your Baltimores and Pittsburghs that have a different type of 3-4 style than what they are probably used to. It is just changes. So they have that in their division. That is kind of their thing, they like to be the fast, agile team that kind of brings a whole new look to the offensive lines are used to. It is going to be a challenge for sure."
On the other side of the line for the Bengals is right tackle Andre Smith, who is the starting right tackle for the first time in his career. So far this season he has allowed two sacks -- he gave one up to the Broncos' Von Miller and one to the Bills' Marcell Dareus. He has also allowed five quarterback hits and five pressures.
He'll get the biggest test of his young career on Sunday when he goes up against Robert Mathis, who has 77.5 career sacks including 3.5 this season. Mathis made one sack against the Texans, the Steelers and the Buccaneers and half a sack against the Chiefs. Smith hasn't faced a defensive end of Mathis' caliber as a starting tackle yet and it will be interesting to see how he responds.
Head coach Marvin Lewis says it's going to be "a war" between Mathis and Smith.
"It’s going to be a war. Andre has got to play very, very well. He’ll play against one of the finest players in the NFL," Lewis said of Mathis. "He’s going to have to do a great job of everything they ask him to do run- and pass-wise. Over the first five weeks of the season, Andre has played more like he played in ’09 than he played a year ago. I attribute that to having been through training camp and going through the things that he’s been through. It’s been good for him. He really didn’t know what training camp and preparation for the season was all about. He’s a completely different guy. He’s what we expected, just like in drafting A.J. (Green). They can come in and have an immediate impact. Because of the injuries and the holdout and so forth, it’s taken longer than we expected, but we’re now reaping the benefits of that."
If the Bengals two tackles can limit the damage done by Freeney and Mathis, the Bengals offense, led by Dalton, should have a solid outing against the 19th ranked passing defense in the league.