Prior to the season, this looked like a great matchup and a possible preview for late January. With a string of injuries hitting the Bengals, combined with overall "suckage", this matchup appears less exciting than initially forecasted. Nonetheless, it's still a game with significance for the postseason.
When the Colts Run the Ball:
Colts Run Offense: 16th - 115.3 YPG
Bengals Run Defense: 29th - 141.4 YPG
For the third week in a row, Cincinnati faces a mediocre rushing offense with a suspect offensive line. Despite an uninspiring couple of weeks - combined with those aforementioned injuries - this defense can win the line of scrimmage against the Colts and blank Indianapolis' running game. In terms of yards-per-game, the Colts are right smack in the middle (16th), but, when you take a look at yards-per-attempt, the Colts (3.7) rank closer towards the bottom (25th). Trent Richardson continues to prove that he never belonged as a former first-rounder (3.2 yards per carry) and though he’s had a better start to the 2014 season, that isn't saying much. The real concern for the Bengals has to be Ahmad Bradshaw. Bradshaw doesn't generate a ton of carries in the running game (60), but he is effective when he gets the ball (4.7 YPC). Bradshaw doubles as a threat in the passing game with 21 receptions, 176 yards receiving and five touchdowns -- the most by any running back in the NFL.
When the Colts Throw the Ball:
Colts Pass Offense: 1st - 328.7 YPG
Bengals Pass Defense: 22nd - 257.4 YPG
The Colts possess the league's best passing offense, led by Andrew Luck, who is having a monstrous season -- first in touchdowns (17) and yards passing (1,987). Luck will present problems for the Bengals, not only his arm, but his legs as well. The Bengals have surrendered 205 rushing yards to quarterbacks in five games, including 107 to Newton last week. Luck doesn't look to run, but will (and can) when needed. Luck has a good mix of young (T.Y. Hilton) receivers, along with veterans Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks.
The key for Cincinnati is generating pressure with their defensive linemen. When opposing defenses blitz Luck, he is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes (69.7) with a passer rating of 117.9. On the other hand, when opposing defenses generate pressure (via blitz or not), then Luck's passer rating drops to 84.2 with a pedestrian 55.6 completion rate.
When the Bengals Run the Ball:
Bengals Run Offense: 12th - 127.4 YPG
Colts Run Defense: 11th - 107.5 YPG
The Colts rushing defense is a bit deceiving. Despite four of the Colts six opponents ranking 15th or lower in the run game, the Colts are allowing a staggering 4.8 yard/rush average. Cincinnati's physical offensive line should establish control against Indianapolis' front-seven. The Bengals offer a one-two punch in the backfield with Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, who appear more dangerous than any backfield that the Colts have faced. With A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert out this weekend, the working theory is that Cincinnati will run and run a lot. This is an area where the Bengals can really exploit the Colts, but by establishing the run, the Bengals control the clock and indirectly control Indianapolis' time on the field. With Bernard getting a little banged up last week, Hill may see more carries.
When the Bengals Throw the Ball:
Bengals Pass Offense: 8th - 269.6 YPG
Colts Pass Defense: 14th - 233.0 YPG
Despite the losses in the passing game, the Bengals pass offense keeps chugging along - a testament to how deep the team is at receiver and how well Dalton and his line are playing. With how thin the Bengals are at receiver this week, I expect a lot of short passes and look for Bernard catching a lot of balls out of the backfield to help neutralize the Colts pass rush. Like last week, Gresham should see some more opportunities as well. I still like this Bengals passing attack, but without their top three targets, I can't say the Bengals have the advantage here. I think this will be a pretty balanced matchup.
Kickoff Returns: Colts - 27.4 Avg (5th); Bengals - 28.5 Avg (4th)
Punt Returns: Colts - 6.7 Avg (20th); Bengals - 20.7 Avg (1st)
Adam Vinatieri: 12/12 (100% - t-1st) - Long 48 yds
Mike Nugent: 11/17 (64.7% - 31st) - Long 49 (1 blocked)
Colts - Pat McAfee: NET 45.8 (2nd); Inside 20 - 11 (52%)
Bengals - Kevin Huber: NET 41.2 (16th); Inside 20 - 8 (47%)
Kick Coverage: Colts - 24.5 Avg (t-20th); Bengals - 25.5 Avg (24th)
Punt Coverage: Colts - 4.0 Avg (4th); Bengals - 3.4 Avg (2nd)
If Adam Jones returns kicks and punts, the Bengals have a clear advantage in the return game. In terms of coverage and punters, the teams are pretty even. Pat McAfee is one of the best punters in the league and is having another good season, but so is Huber. However, this game could very well come down to field goals, and if that happens, the Colts will win. Adam Vinatieri - one of the all-time greats - is having another solid season and Mike Nugent is currently the least accurate employed kicker.
I believe that since taking over the Colts, Chuck Pagano's teams have outperformed their talent level. Some of that could be the poor division they play in, but the Colts always seem prepared and make good adjustments (see the 2013 playoff game against the Chiefs). I would say the opposite for Marvin Lewis. I believe the last two seasons Marvin's teams have underperformed their talent level and consistently seem underprepared...and adjustments? I am not sure the Bengals have ever made those.
Key to the Game:
Turnovers. It sounds like a cop out, but the Bengals cannot afford to give Andrew Luck additional opportunities if they want to win this game. Likewise, if the Bengals can take the ball from the Colts a few times - something they have failed to do the last two weeks - they can steal a game in a tough environment, despite missing a lot of key pieces.
My head says the Colts win, but in my preseason predictions, I took the Bengals, and I will stick to it. I say the Bengals win in a close, but high scoring affair.
Bengals 31, Colts 27