Five to Watch: Bengals at Colts

With the Colts and Bengals set to square off in a backyard brawl, ColtPower's Greg Talmage suggests five players and matchups to keep an eye on during today's game. Can Dwight Freeney continue to terrorize quarterbacks? Will Joseph Addai or Dominic Rhodes break out? What about new middle linebacker Buster Davis? Check out Greg's analysis inside!

Dwight Freeney: It has been quite a month for Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney. The Indianapolis Star's Mike Chappell details the big difference between November of 2007 and this November for Freeney.

Chappell writes, "What a difference a year makes. Last November, Dwight Freeney was out of action, dealing with a season-ending injury to his left foot. Now, the Indianapolis Colts' veteran defensive end has been named AFC Defensive Player of the Month.

Freeney's contributions to the Colts' 5-0 record in November: five sacks and two forced fumbles, the second coming in the fourth quarter at Cleveland last Sunday and resulting in Robert Mathis scooping up Derek Anderson's fumble and returning it 37 yards for a touchdown in a 10-6 victory. 'Completely two different months,' Freeney said. "Obviously last year was the worst month, I think, of my life. This is a very good November.'"


Dwight Freeney was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month for November
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Can Freeney keep it going into December? This week he'll be matched up against a rookie left tackle in Anthony Collins. Collins, a fourth-round selection out of Kansas, expected this season to be an apprentice year behind left tackle Levi Jones. But a back injury knocked Jones out of action.

Collins has surprised some with his solid play in pass protection. In his first start two weeks ago, Collins held the Steelers' James Harrison sackless and last week the Ravens' Terrell Suggs earned a combined half sack. Not a bad two-week run against two of the AFC's better pass-rushing outside linebackers.

This week, Collins faces his most formidable challenge of the season in Freeney. Cincinnati knows the rookie needs help and will give the youngster plenty of it. Freeney can expect an afternoon of double-teams and chips.

Watch the run directions closely for the Bengals what Collins has shown in pass protection, he hasn't in run blocking. The Bengals feature the 32nd-ranked running offense with Cedric Benson averaging 2.9 yards per carry and Chris Perry at just 2.6 yards per attempt. Collins has not helped improve that number at all.

Buster Davis: Who? Didn't he shock the world and knockout Mike Tyson? No, that was Buster Douglas. This Buster has appeared in just two games and been inactive for eight others this season. Sunday will mark his first career start when he starts in MLB Gary Brackett's spot.

Davis is with his third team in two seasons and has been waived twice, by the Arizona Cardinals, who selected him in the third round of the '07 draft, and the Detroit Lions. The Colts claimed him after the Lions waived him in August.

At 5-feet-9 and 238 pounds, conventional wisdom is that Davis, like the 5-foot-8 Gary Brackett, is too small. Davis explains why he's perfect for the type of defense Tony Dungy operates: "People who actually know football know you don't have to be 6-5 to play in the Tampa Two defense," Davis said. "It's all about knowing what you're doing, knowing the game of football and playing ball. You don't have to get 20 yards deeper in coverage because you're not 6-3. That's not how things work."

Dallas Clark: The influx on the Colts offensive line most of this season has resulted in Dallas Clark doing a little more blocking that usual this season. But the talented tight end should be able to find some spots in the secondary to take advantage of.

Bengals starting safety Marvin White is out, so CFLer Kyries Hebert will start in his place. Clark is still a dangerous downfield tight end and Indianapolis will want to test the new Bengals safety.

Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes: The Bengals give up an average of 131.6 rushing yards per game. Rhodes and Addai will be looking to take advantage of this porous defense. The Colts running game has shown signs of life of late and this game should be a great opportunity.


Big games have been few this season for Joseph Addai
AP Photo/Amy Sancetta

If the Bengals are playing their safeties deep in a Cover 2 shell in hopes of eliminating Indianapolis' downfield passing attack, look for QB Peyton Manning to check into plenty of run calls.

The Colts will likely bounce most runs outside. Bengals DT Pat Sims, a third-round pick, is having a solid first season. He anchors the point of attack and clogs the middle well. If running on the edges, it'll be key that the Colts offensive guards Charlie Johnson and Mike Pollack pull quickly and get to the second level.

Tim Jennings: At times this year it has seemed that Colts corner Tim Jennings has been a marked man. Expect that again this week as Cincinnati really likes the matchup between T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Jennings.

Watch this matchup closely in the red zone. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will want to see if he can take advantage of Houshmandzadeh's 5-inch height advantage over Jennings. T.J has developed into one of the league's best red zone threats. He shields defenders really well and is a terrific route-runner who is intelligent in how he sets up defenders and sells specific routes.

Besides the red zone, Houshmandzadeh knows how to move the chains. He isn't a burner, but knows how to use his body and how to get separation due to his route-running prowess. He will not run past many cornerbacks in this league and isn't a top deep threat. But when you're looking to move the chains and keep Peyton Manning off the field, T.J. is your guy.

In addition to Tim Jennings, all Colt corners will likely get a look at T.J. on Sunday. Cincinnati moves Houshmandzadeh all over the field. He explained that in his media call this week and notes that's likely why his numbers are not down as much as Chad Ocho Cinco's: "My numbers are down, his numbers are down. Mine are not as down as his are, but it's because I'm able to move from different spots on the field and Chad just doesn't do that. "I can play the ‘X', the ‘Z', the ‘Y', I can play every position on the field and Chad just doesn't do that, and so that's why it's different."

Houshmandzadeh is third in the NFL with 81 receptions and 15th with 810 yards. His style of play is exactly what can give the Colts secondary, which generally allows underneath completions but nothing deep, problems.

Still, the Colts can live with Houshmandzadeh getting his seven or eight receptions, but need to limit the damage from Cincinnati's top offensive threat.


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