Nobody predicted the Cincinnati Bengals having a better record than the Indianapolis Colts when when the 2011 schedule came out. A lot has changed since then and even more since the Colts defeated Cincinnati last November.
The Bengals have remade their offense with new coordinator Jay Gruden along with draft picks Andy Dalton and AJ Green. The Colts changes haven't been planned, though. Injuries struck the Colts hard last season, but Peyton Manning was there to guide them through the storm and into the playoffs. Without Manning, who had two neck surgeries in six months and whose career is even in jeopardy, the Colts have struggled mightily, beginning the season 0-5. But aside from the season opener in Houston, Indianapolis has played well enough to win every game, so the Bengals can't be too overconfident heading into Sunday.
Plan A for the Colts Manning replacement plan was bringing in Kerry Collins whom the Bengals saw make his debut against them in the final preseason game. Collins struggled to grasp the offense, however, and when he left the Pittsburgh game in week three with "concussion-like symptoms" Curtis Painter took over and it's now his job to lose. Painter has completed less than half of his passes in two starts against Tampa Bay and Kansas City, but has thrown four touchdowns and has not been intercepted. The Colts receivers haven't' done Painter any favors either by dropping passes, especially tight end Dallas Clark.
The Colts running game had been one of the bright spots of the offense until Joseph Addai left last week's game with a hamstring injury. He is doubtful for this week's game. In his place, Donald Brown should see the majority of the carries while rookie Delone Carter will also see action. Neither has the game breaking or pass receiving skills that Addai brings.
The defensive side of the ball has been beaten up too. The Colts lost DT Eric Foster for the year with a dislocated ankle. Fili Moala should be back for the first time in two weeks this weekend. Rookie Drake Nevis played impressively in his absence, but is likely out Sunday with a back injury. Defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney are still mainstays though and will challenge the Bengal tackles. One thing in Andy Dalton's favor is the Bengals scheme which is predicated on getting the ball out quickly. Cedric Benson also should have some running room against the Colts' depleted line.
Pat Angerer has been a pleasant surprise at middle linebacker filling in for Gary Brackett who is lost for the year. Angerer leads the NFL in tackles. The Indianapolis linebackers have been weak in pass coverage, however, which could mean a lot of action for Jermaine Gresham or Brian Leonard out of the backfield.
It's the Colts' secondary that has been the Achilles' Heel of the defense. David Caldwell has struggled replacing Melvin Bullitt at safety and Jacob Lacey has been picked on all season, especially last week when Matt Cassel led the Chiefs back from a 17 point deficit. To make matters worse, Jerraud Powers will miss this week with a hamstring injury. Andy Dalton hasn't seen a secondary this porous since week two against Denver when he threw for over 300 yards.
The Bengals are in an unfamiliar spot. For the first time this season they are actually expected to win handily. They'll need another solid effort though because the Indianapolis Colts, though bruised and battered, aren't yet broken and know how to win.
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