Saturday, December 7, 2013
W2W4: Colts at Bengals
By Coley Harvey
CINCINNATI -- If you plan on watching Sunday's game between the Cincinnati Bengals andIndianapolis Colts game, prepare to be glued to your television set.
It should certainly be a riveting and entertaining afternoon.
Both teams are hungry not only for playoff spots but also desire elite playoff seedings. If the season were to end today, the Colts would waltz into the postseason with the No. 3 seed, hosting Baltimore. The Bengals would have the No. 4 seed and would welcome the Kansas City Chiefs to Cincinnati.
Since 3 is considered better than 4 with these types of things, I think you know which seed the teams want the most. A win and Cincinnati can snatch No. 3 from the Colts and retain a tiebreak in the event one is needed later on this season.
The postseason push alone is good enough reason to park yourself in front of this game. But add to the fact these teams are following similar paths with a pair of young quarterbacks and are equally desperate for Super Bowl bids, and you should get a tightly contested battle. Since the cities are so close -- Indianapolis is only about an hour and a half away from Cincinnati -- both teams' fan bases ought to be well represented in sold-out Paul Brown Stadium.
Are you pumped up? Are you ready for the game yet? As you keep psyching yourself up, take a look at these items to watch for Sunday:
Weather factor: Although the drive is a short one, the idea of traveling in a soggy, slushy wintry mix might not appeal to some Colts fans who leave home the morning of the game. All week, meteorologists have predicted harrowing conditions for the weekend that include anything from ice, freezing rain, sleet and snow. Any and all of it is scheduled to hit downtown Cincinnati around noon, one hour before kickoff. Fortunately for players on both teams, the Bengals play on forgiving field turf and shouldn't have the difficulty with footing as if they were playing on grass. Still, with a potentially slick, tough-to-throw ball, the elements won't be favorable and could cause both teams to reject the pass in an effort to move the ball on the ground.
Ground-and-pound? What a segue. Mother Nature may not be the only reason why the Bengals, at least, will be sticking with their running game. After putting up 164 yards rushing against San Diego last week in sunny, 70-degree weather, the Bengals learned that they do indeed have what it takes to run the ball and to execute a more balanced offensive scheme. Veteran rusher BenJarvus Green-Ellis headed the attack, picking up 92 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Rookie Giovani Bernard contributed another 57 yards on 14 carries. It marked just the third time all year that Cincinnati had amassed more than 150 yards in a game. Since Andy Dalton became the starting quarterback three seasons ago, the Bengals are 8-1 in games in which they rush for more than 150 yards. As they go against the NFL's 29th-best rushing defense, expect the Bengals to pick up where they left off a week ago.
Fleeing Luck: Another strong segue. In addition to the running the Bengals' backs should be doing, look for Colts quarterback Andrew Luck to do his own share of tucking and going. Much like Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, Luck has a penchant for running for first downs when the pocket around him breaks down or his receivers aren't able to break away from the defenders covering them quickly enough. Among quarterbacks, he ranks seventh in the league with 304 yards rushing on his 48 carries. He's not merely an elusive quarterback trying to avoid getting hit, either. Of quarterbacks with more than 30 rushes this season, Luck ranks second in the league in yards after contact. No, it's not much, but he averages 1.56 yards after contact per run. Only Minnesota's Christian Ponder -- who comes to Cincinnati in two weeks -- has a higher average at 1.88 yards after contact per run. So in addition to respecting Luck's big arm, the Bengals have to acknowledge his feet, too.
Special teams key: Might as well close with one more solid segue. Speaking of feet, Bengals punter Kevin Huber has been among the most valuable players on the team this season. His net punting average of 41.56 yards per kick ranks fifth in the league and only one player has a longer punt than he does this season. Huber's 75-yarder in the first half of last week's game helped set the tone for a game that saw the Bengals enjoy great offensive and defensive field position. This week, Huber, Bengals kicker Mike Nugent and Indianapolis specialists Adam Vinatieri and Pat McAfee could also be victims of the treacherous weather. Colder temperatures mean harder balls. The harder they are, the tougher it is to get good distance on kicks. Getting good hangtime and proper angles will be of utmost importance to Huber and McAfee.