In Week 6 of the NFL, the Cincinnati Bengals welcome the Indianapolis Colts to Paul Brown Stadium. The Colts are looking to finally pick up their first victory of the 2011 season. The Bengals enter the game itching to leave 4-2, in the midst of their first winning streak of the year and in the middle of the early season playoff picture.
The game is blacked out on local television, but if you head down to PBS, watch the following matchups because they will determine the winner of this I-70 showdown.
Second year Indianapolis tackle Jeffrey Linkenbach could be in for a long, long Sunday afternoon. Linkenbach, who played his college football for the University of Cincinnati, will spend the day trying to best Carlos Dunlap.
Dunlap, also in his second NFL Season, has seven tackles on the year, but is looking for his first sack of 2011 after recording nine-and-a-half sacks in 2010. Dunlap will certainly have his opportunities to find that elusive first sack, as the Colts have given up ten sacks this season.
The Indianapolis Colts’ pass defense is in the basement of all NFL teams, ranking 25th. If they wish to improve this statistic, they will need a big game from cornerback Jacob Lacey.
So far in 2011, Lacey has 25 tackles (tied for 35th among NFL DBs) and one pass defended. Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, Lacey will have to shut down wide receiver Jerome Simpson.
Simpson, the Bengals’ second option at receiver, has just 16 receptions (tied for 35th among NFL WRs), but averages nearly sixteen yards per reception. Simpson is looking for his first touchdown of the 2011 NFL Season and has an advantage Lacey can do nothing about: height.
Listed at 6’2”, Simpson is three inches taller than Lacey. Simpson’s height advantage will allow Andy Dalton to toss the football high where only Simpson can reach it, particularly in the red zone.
Colts passes to Reggie Wayne are like Federal Income Taxes; everyone knows they are coming, and everyone will do what they can to minimize their damage. Like most teams, the Bengals are likely to double cover Wayne with their top cornerback Leon Hall and a safety. This will leave Colts receiver Pierre Garcon in a one-on-one battle with cornerback Nate Clements.
Garcon has enjoyed a steady, solid season in 2011, even without Peyton Manning to throw him the ball. He ranks eighth in the NFL in receiving yards (420), and is tied for fourth in receiving touchdowns with four. Garcon is the benefactor of single coverage, but it is up to defenders to keep him from making plays. So far this season, they haven’t.
At 31-years-old and in his 11th season in the NFL, Nate Clements has enjoyed something of rebirth in his short tenure with the Bengals. He is seeing significant time on the field and has 18 tackles and four passes defended.
Clements also adds a dynamic the entire Bengals locker room needs: veteran leadership. A pro’s pro, Clements had to be helped to the sideline after he was nicked up in Week 4 against Jacksonville, but he returned to the game and played well. He is setting an example for the young Cincinnati D.
The key to this matchup is speed. If Nate Clements is fast enough to keep Garcon in front him, he will neutralize Garcon’s effectiveness in the passing attack. If the younger and quicker Garcon beats Clements down the field, quarterback Curtis Painter will sling the rock to Garcon all over Paul Brown Stadium.
Indianapolis Colts middle linebacker Pat Angerer is the leading tackler in the NFL. That’s right. Not Ray Lewis. Not Troy Polamalu. Not Brian Urlacher. Angerer leads the League with 65 tackles in 2011, 16 more than his teammate Kavell Conner who ranks second in the league in tackles. Despite two linebackers that mow down ball carriers, the Colts are second to last in run defense in the NFL.
Angerer and Safety Antoine Bethea will be responsible for stopping the Bengals running attack led by Cedric Benson. The Colts will attempt to stop the run by loading up the box with safety help as they have for years. Bob Sanders rose to stardom playing the run, and Bethea has taken his place, racking up 39 tackles through the first five games of the 2011 NFL Season.
Stopping Benson may prove to be a tall order for Angerer and Bethea, as Benson ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in rushing yards with 401, and in the top 15 in yards per game. Benson is coming off his worst statistical game of the 2011 season, but the Bengals will feed him the ball early and often to establish the ground attack.
Dallas Clark is a tight end in name and routes only. He plays like a slot receiver and relies on his quickness and elusiveness to beat the linebackers assigned to cover him.
The nine year pro is crucial to the Colts’ offense as he often finds open spaces against the defense on third down to keep the chains moving. With Joseph Addai a “long shot” to play Sunday, look for the Colts to pass to Clark in short yardage situations.
If the Bengals utilize zone coverage to slow down Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon, outside linebackers Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard must play disciplined defense to stop Clark from picking up yards after receptions. Each of them must be sure tacklers when Clark makes short yardage catches in the flat or on hitch routes on the outside.
When Clark goes over the middle, he will have to contend with Rey Maualuga. Maualuga is on a tear in 2011; his 38 tackles are 13th best among all linebackers in the NFL and he sets a nasty tone for the Bengals top-ranked defense. Maualuga doesn’t merely need to tackle Dallas Clark when he ventures over the middle, Maualuga needs to punish him.
The last thing the Bengals want is Clark feeling comfortable catching passes for first downs at linebacker depth.
FUN FACT: The Bengals LBs will likely get an assist from Indianapolis QB Curtis Painter in keeping Clark out of the offense. Clark has only 14 receptions so far in 2011, compared to over 30 receptions through the first five games of the 2010 NFL Season.
Imagine you are swimming. The sun is shining, the water is clear and you feel at peace. As you bask in serenity you notice a shark to your right. Beginning to panic, you scan to the left only to see a school of barracudas. To the right or to the left, this peaceful swim cannot end well.
This is what it must feel like to quarterback against Indianapolis defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
Freeney and Mathis are the best defensive end tandem in the AFC and have been since they began terrorizing offenses in 2003. As a duo, they have combined for 176 sacks. In 2011, Freeney has four-and-a-half sacks, placing him at sixth among NFL defensive lineman. Mathis is not far behind with three-and-a-half sacks, good enough for twelfth in the NFL.
Freeney and Mathis will each take a run at Bengals offensive tackle Andre Smith depending on down, distance and field position. Smith has yet to be tested like he will be on Sunday. At 335 lbs., Smith has an enormous size advantage over either Colts defender. However, Freeney and Mathis do not punish opposing offensive lineman with power, they kill them with speed.
To date, Andre Smith has not justified being taken sixth overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. Plagued by injuries and a failure to get himself in shape, Smith can begin to make good on his potential by keeping the Colts’ stellar defensive ends from hitting Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.
Much analysis of this game will center on the play of Curtis Painter and Andy Dalton, but each team’s offensive coordinator will handle their respective quarterbacks in similar ways.
Painter and Dalton will be asked to manage the game and complete high percentage passes as these ancillary battles wage around them. If either Dalton or Painter has the game on his shoulders, something has gone wrong for his team.