When the Colts Run the Ball:
Colts Run Offense: 100.8 YPG (22nd); 3.9 YPA (t-22nd); 9 TDs (t-24th)
Bengals Run Defense: 116.3 YPG (20th); 4.2 YPA (t-15th); 16 TDs (27th)
In their first matchup, the Colts ran wild on the Bengals - 171 yards on 34 attempts (5.0 YPA). However, things have changed drastically since that day in October and this matchup now favors the Bengals big time.
From a Colts perspective, Ahmad Bradshaw is out for the year, Trent Richardson has fallen back off the face of the earth and to make matters worse, they are already down their starting right tackle (Gosder Cherilus). Additionally, it sounds like they will be missing two more offensive lineman and starting their 11th line combination of the season.
Prior to breaking his leg in Week 11, Bradshaw was having a solid season as a runner and a career-year catching balls out of the backfield. At the time Bradshaw went down, he was on pace for a career high in catches (61), receiving yards (480) and was leading the NFL in receiving touchdowns among running back (6). I spoke with Josh Wilson of Stampede Blue earlier this week and he described the loss of Ahmad Bradshaw as "absolutely huge." According to Wilson:
Ahmad Bradshaw had established himself as one of the most important players to the Colts offense and was one of the most complete backs in football this season when considering rushing, receiving, and blocking. He was a true difference maker and the offense was playing its best when he was in the game. Since he was injured, however, the Colts really don't present a threat in the run game - I mean, against Dallas they rushed for one yard on ten carries all game. One yard.
Against the Bengals, Bradshaw accounted for 88 all-purpose yards and 2 touchdowns and his absence will be a welcomed sight from a Bengals' perspective.
Another change in the running game is Trent Richardson. The last time these two hooked up, Richardson looked like he was going to have a bounce back year. Richardson went for a game high 77 yards on 14 carries, for a season best 5.5 YPA. In his first seven games, Richardson had 358 yards and 2 touchdowns on 101 carries (3.5). In his final eight games, despite the absence of Bradshaw, Richardson had just 161 yards and 1 touchdown on a mere 58 carries (2.8) - including a six carry, zero yard effort against New England and a two carry, one yard effort two weeks ago in Dallas.
As a result, the Bengals will be seeing a familiar face, Daniel "Boom" Herron getting most of the carries behind a decimated Colts offensive line. While Herron (78 carries, 351 yards - 4.5 YPA) has played better than Richardson, he has just 17 carries for 38 yards in his last two games (2.2 YPA).
According to Josh Wilson of Stampede Blue, the loss of Ahmad Bradshaw has been "absolutely huge."
The Bengals, on the other hand, are a different team for the better. In their first matchup, the Bengals were without defensive tackle Brandon Thompson and all three starting linebackers (Burfict played for just 10 minutes). In their place, the Bengals were forced to play Devon Still at tackle, a rookie outside linebacker (Marquis Flowers) and a second year undrafted middle linebacker (Jayson DiManche). This Sunday, the Bengals will have all but Burfict back - and it has made a huge difference. Since Rey Maualuga and Thompson returned in Week 11, the Bengals have held six of their seven opponents to under 85 yards rushing, including just 29 yards on 18 attempts last week in Pittsburgh.
When the Bengals Run the Ball:
Bengals Run Offense: 134.2 YPG (6th); 4.4 YPA (t-10th); 19 TDs (2nd)
Colts Run Defense: 113.4 YPG (18th); 4.3 YPA (t-19th); 14 TDs (t-21st)
Much like things have changed drastically for the Colts' running attack since the first matchup, the same can be said for the Bengals' rushing attack.
The last time these two met up, the Bengals ran the ball just 12 times for 32 yards and Jeremy Hill was the backup - carrying the ball just 4 times for 15 yards (3.8 YPA). Since that game, Hill has assumed the starting role, put up five 100+ yard games and four 147+ yard games. In fact, since Week 9, Hill's 929 rushing yards are the most in the NFL (Marshawn Lynch - 824, LeSean McCoy - 824, DeMarco Murray - 791). In three consecutive weeks, Hill torched the Browns' 31st ranked run defense for 148 yards, the Broncos' 2nd ranked defense for 147 yards and the Steelers' 6th ranked defense for 100 yards. Over his last three games, Hill is averaging 23+ carries, 132 yards (5.6 YPA) and 1 touchdown. In games where Jeremy Hill gets 10+ carries, the Bengals are 8-2. In games when Hill carries it less than 10 times, the Bengals are 2-3-1. It's safe to say Hill will get more than four carries this time around in Indianapolis.
Also, don't sleep on the impact of Giovani Bernard - especially with Green likely out. Since Hill was named the starter in Week 15, Bernard has been running better and has been more involved in the passing attack. Bernard found little running room the first time around (7 carries, 17 yards), but with Hill softening up the defense and pulling up the safety, look for Bernard to have some success outside.
As for the Colts defense, the 32 yards they surrendered in the first matchup was by far their best outing of the season. The Colts have not held another team under 80 yards rushing the rest of the year. In fact, in their last four games, the Colts have allowed an average of 130 yards on the ground, including 142 last week against a Tennessee team that ranked 26th in rush offense, gaining an average of just 90.4 on the ground per game.
The good news for the Colts is if Green does not go, they can key in on the run like they did last time. However, in three of their last four games, the Colts faced Brian Hoyer, Tom Savage and Charlie Whitehurst - one would assume they were keying in on the run in those games - yet they still surrendered 115, 137 and 142 yards respectively.