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Four Keys for the Cincinnati Bengals to beat the Indianapolis Colts

Taking a look at four major keys heading into Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Donald Miralle

+ Stick to the running game. Four times this season, the questionably inconsistent rushing offense has dominated games by generating at least 160 yards rushing. At other times, it's the forgotten answer to a trivia question between two drunks in a beverage establishment for adults. With the weather conditions already worsening at Paul Brown Stadium Sunday morning, the team figures to apply trends that will shuffle distribution with more runs than passes.

Against San Diego, the Bengals rushing offense generated 13 first downs (a season high) and ran 15 times more than they passed; it was the fourth game this year in which they ran more, all victories against the Patriots, Bills, Browns and Chargers. Keep Luck off the field, sustain drives with run-oriented possessions and wear out Indianapolis' 28th ranked rushing defense. Good plan.

+ Be a game manager. When Andy Dalton is on his game with receivers who are equally effective, the passing offense can generate production like any passing offense in the league (except for maybe Denver). When he's not playing well, throwing punts for interceptions to receivers that are dropping passes (or having them deflect off of them for picks), the passing offense just hasn't been productive recently. One can string together a compelling case for Dalton, but right now, he's playing the lead role in Jekyll and Hyde.

During the month for when he won AFC Offensive player of the Month, Dalton threw 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions during the four games for which the award was given. In the last four games, he's thrown nine interceptions and six touchdowns and failed to complete 50 percent of his passes in two of the last three.

Dalton finally started coming around in the second half against the Chargers, completing 9 of 13 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown. But again, it was the rushing offense that powered through third down conversions in the fourth quarter that beat San Diego. If Dalton looks great early, ride that momentum. If not, don't force it. Keep it on the ground and have him manage the game instead of trying to win it.

+ Pass rush against the Colts offensive line. Indianapolis has allowed a quarterback sack in every game this year, and over the past five games, Andrew Luck has been sacked 14 times. Comparatively speaking, Cincinnati has sacked the quarterback 18 times over the last five games. As long as the Bengals defense keeps Andrew Luck on his heels, their best player on offense, it will hold the Colts from acquiring chunks of yards that a once effective, pre-Reggie Wayne injury, Indy offense can apply.

Quarterbacks at every level will struggle more under pressure than with calm seas surrounding them. Luck is no different, completing only 44.5 percent of his passes with an NFL passer rating of 67.0 and five interceptions. In the past four games, Luck has thrown two touchdowns and five interceptions.

+ Shut down Robert Mathis. The Indianapolis Colts are currently tied for 18th in the NFL with 30 quarterback sacks. Outside linebacker Robert Mathis has over half (15.5) of them. Cory Redding and Jerrell Freeman are second on the team with 3.5 quarterback sacks each. If his career were to end this year, he'd have put together a fantastic career as a pass rusher. On his next sack, he'll tie the franchise record for most sacks in a Colts career and set the record for most in a single season in franchise history -- both records currently held by Dwight Freeney.

If Anthony Collins starts at left tackle, the Bengals could be in good shape. He's a little quicker than regular starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth and of the 156 pass blocking snaps he's taken part of, he's allowed only four pressures. FOUR! On 334 pass blocking snaps, Whitworth has allowed 18, along with four quarterback sacks and three hits allowed.

Beside keeping tabs on Mathis, the Bengals could have a virtual shutdown scenario on the left side with Collins and Whitworth at tackle and guard respectively. Why wouldn't you use that?

Honorable Mention Fifth Key To Win. Score more points than the Colts.