Week Fifteen: Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts
Location: Indianapolis, IN RCA Dome
Kick-off time: 9:00 pm EST
Cue the Sergio Leone music here.
It's a showdown between two teams that can score. It's a showdown between two defenses with significant problems: the Colts can't stop the run and the Bengals can't stop the pass. However, like all games that feature great offenses and the potential for a "shootout," it all comes down to one key stat:
Last year, Carson Palmer's lone INT to Marlin Jackson was the difference in the game. Manning and the Colts offense committed zero turnovers, and ran a more efficient offense in the shootout. This year, they must do the same. The Colts cannot afford to drop passes, commit dumb penalties, or turn the ball over. Cincinnati is too good, and they will exploit great field position.
Oh, and besides turnovers, there is another key stat (perhaps you've heard me mention it before):
Stopping the run.
I don't care what the Colts have to do: blitzing, re-scheming, voodoo magic, whatever. The run must be stopped at all costs. The Colts must go so far as to even sell out stopping the run even if it means giving up big plays in the passing game. If Palmer throws for 500 yards and 4 TDs, but the Benglas rush for 50 yards on 20 carries, I consider that a victory for the Colts defense. They WANT Palmer to throw. They should want the Bengals to be one dimensional. I don't care whose playing or what budget, scrub player the Colts have at safety, the run must be stopped at all costs.
If the Colts surrender over 100 yards rushing by halftime, they should forfeit the rest of the game because they've already lost.
Those two keys will remain the keys to every game until I see the Colts address them (ie, actually ACCOMPLISH doing one or the other). Despite my nervousness over the game, I'm very happy the Colts are in the playoffs after clinching the AFC South. This is now the fourth time in five years the Colts have won this division. It guarantees a home playoff game. It is a fine accomplishment.
Update [2006-12-18 11:6:56 by BigBlueShoe]: Mike Francesa's NFL Now radio show reported Bob Sanders will indeed play tonight. Also, it seems both Antoine Bethea and Marlin Jackson practiced some this weekend. Perhaps the Colts will be a little healthier for this game.