Although the Bengals currently rank 24th in the league against the run (131.6 yards per game), they have allowed only two 100-yard individual rushing performances this season, in Week 2 against the Titans' Chris Johnson and in Week 7 against the Steelers' Mewelde Moore.
DE Antwan Odom
Right end Antwan Odom is an excellent two-way defender, but is certainly more of a force against the run. Left end Robert Geathers was held out of the game against Baltimore with a knee injury and might not be able to play Sunday against the Colts.
In addition, nose tackle Domata Peko is a very active player that attacks gaps, uses his hands well, and can get on the wrong side of the line of scrimmage more often than not. For this reason, Indianapolis should not run between the tackles, especially early in the game when the defensive line is still resolute.
Due to the fact that the Bengals offense has been largely ineffective thus far this season, this defense has already faced 795 plays. They have held the line early in the game, but have yielded late, giving up the bulk of their rushing yards after the contest has already been decided.
Since their pass rush has tallied up only 15 sacks through 12 games, it makes sense to match Tony Ugoh against Odom in a pass rush situation, where Odom is less effective and Ugoh can use his natural skills to create space for Peyton Manning.
Ryan Diem will take Thornton, who is accustomed to rushing from the inside and out of place in a relatively new position, and the interior of Jamey Richard (assuming Jeff Saturday is going to be unable to play), Mike Pollak, and Charlie Johnson can block against either reserves or men that are not suited to rush the passer.
The matchups do not favor opening in running formations, either against the front four, or against the linebackers.
Rashad Jeanty, Brandon Johnson, and Dhani Jones are very fast, athletic, and active linebackers that excel at pursuing the football. When the defensive line opens up holes for them, they are able to attack the line of scrimmage and get to the ball carrier.
However, they are very limited in coverage and would not be able to work effectively against Joseph Addai or Dallas Clark in man coverage. They can be exploited both underneath and in the intermediate area of the field, so they should be attacked and exploited.
Leaving Addai or Dominic Rhodes at the mercy of these men shooting the gaps would be an exercise in folly — particularly since there are such favorable match-ups to attack in the secondary.
Cincinnati's secondary has been set back this season by injuries to key players and former first-round selections, but, even without the injuries, this unit would still be a work in progress.
The Bengals have focused on trying to build up their offense and their front seven through the draft in the Marvin Lewis era, and the fact that the administration has concentrated on other areas is definitely showing through.
CB Leon Hall
All four of their starters in the back four are second-year veterans, with cornerback Leon Hall, a first round pick in 2007, being the most lauded player of the four. However, Hall is also the most inconsistent and the one most prone to giving up big plays — both long passes the Ravens completed in Week 13 were Hall's responsibility. He will draw Reggie Wayne and that does not bode well for him.
Although Cincinnati may try to match Hall up with Marvin Harrison, it is important that the Colts vary their formations and use motion as frequently as they need to in order to isolate the Hall-Wayne matchup.
Not every connection between Manning and Wayne will be a long touchdown, but Indianapolis will succeed far more often than they fail, and should be able to go to the well against Hall as often as they like. Without much safety help over the top — Chinedum Ndukwe and Marvin White are also inexperienced players that take far too many chances and take far too many poor angles to the ball, making the Bengals miss the departed Madieu Williams even more — Wayne and Manning should be able to attack Hall at all levels, but should focus on the short and intermediate areas of the field early, as Cincinnati will be expecting the deep ball. More on that in a moment.
David Jones represents less of a talent disparity on the other side of the field, matched up against Harrison, but that is another favorable draw for the Colts, since Jones can turn and run with a receiver, but his change of direction skills are lacking. Harrison should be able to put enough moves on Jones to cross him up and make himself an open target for Manning.
Add in Anthony Gonzalez against either Jamar Fletcher or Simeon Castille, and the end result is that the Bengals are thoroughly outmanned and outclassed in the passing game. One of the reasons that the Bengals are 1-10-1 is that they have had their fair share of injuries and lacked the depth, experience, and coaching to overcome those injuries. The secondary was particularly effected and the depth was challenged to the breaking point.
Though the Colts still hold an edge when they run the ball, they are also the 29th-ranked run offense in the NFL and the 7th ranked pass offense, whereas Cincinnati is 20th against the pass and 24th against the run.
The matchups and the numbers are too weighted in the Colts favor for them to pass, but teams have seemed to run the ball on the Bengals early — then late — which would account for the number of yards they have given up.
Game plan. The Bengals have played eight games against offenses ranked 16th or worse in passing. Two of those games were against the 27th-ranked Ravens and two were against the 19th-ranked Steelers. For the most part, they have faced running teams, were able to stop the run, and stay in the game until their opponent decided they needed to pass the ball to win.
Basically, the other team wore the defense down, because Cincinnati's offense was unable to stay on the field. The Bengals have given up 193 points in the second half of games, with 118 of those points coming in the fourth quarter.
Given the fact that they've only given up 113 first-half points, the Bengals have been in every game at the half so far this season. Where teams start to pull away is after the defense has already given up late. As the Colts proved against the Browns last week, letting an inferior team hang around is a poor strategy.
By coming into the game with a standard game plan that involves a nice mix of intermediate and short passes, as well as a few run plays mixed in for good measure, the Colts can move the ball consistently on this defense through the air and score a lot of points early. By resisting the urge to run the ball or go for the quick strike and exercising patience, Indianapolis should be able to end this game by halftime.
However, if they take too many chances and arrogantly assume that they can plow the Bengals defenders under foot in the running game, the Colts could find themselves needing to pull away in the fourth quarter.
Though the Cincinnati defense is particularly generous in the last stanza, there are only so many games a team can win at the buzzer and Indianapolis has used all of those up this season.