NFL Preview - Cincinnati (2-6) at Indianapolis (5-3)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - After the NFL schedule was released and free agent wide receiver Terrell Owens found a home in Cincinnati, the Week 10 matchup between the Bengals and Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium was pegged to be a possible playoff preview between AFC powerhouses.
That time has come, but the perceived fireworks for Sunday's showdown have morphed into just sparklers, as the Bengals are arguably the biggest disappointment in the league behind the debacle in Dallas. They began the season with a loss at New England that may have sent messages around them NFL right off the bat, but then again, it was only Week 1.
Cincinnati responded with back-to-back wins to get the good vibes going again in the Queen City, only to have those affections disappear over the Ohio River with five consecutive losses, including three in a row after a Week 6 bye capped by Monday's 27-21 setback to rival Pittsburgh.
What the Bengals did last season in sweeping the AFC North Division and reaching the playoffs was run the football and play cohesive defense. They have done neither of those in 2010, as running back Cedric Benson hasn't been the same player from a year ago. Benson has 599 rushing yards and three touchdowns this season and has reached the 100-yard rushing mark only once. He ran for a career-high 1,251 yards and six scores in 2009 and was the centerpiece to the Cincinnati offense.
Now it seems Owens is the bread-winner for the Bengals' offense, since he's on pace for his first-ever 1,500-yard season. Owens also can cash in big time on his incentive-laden contract, as he needs 14 touchdowns, 1,300 yards and 100 receptions to earn his full $4 million. The sometimes mercurial wideout has 55 catches for 770 yards and seven scores so far, and still feels this team can turn it around over the second half of the season.
"I still feel at 2-6 this is the best 2-6 team I've been on," he said. "Obviously that's a negative and a positive, but we have the guys to [win]. For whatever reason, we're just not doing it. Somehow, some way we need to pay attention to detail. I think every guy has to look in the mirror. What can we do? What can they do to get better here going forward? You never know. Anything can happen in this league. Statistically, I don't know where we are, if we can make the playoffs, but we have to start somewhere."
The odds are stacked against Owens and the Bengals on both making the postseason and coming out of Indy with a win.
Indianapolis is probably glad to get out of the hostile environment that is Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. After fighting the entire 60 minutes in a 26-24 loss to the Eagles last Sunday, the team is now back in a place it hasn't lost since a meaningless defeat to the New York Jets during December of last season.
The Colts have won five in a row at Lucas Oil Stadium and look to get back to their winning ways after having a three-game winning streak recently cut short. They rallied from a 10-point deficit against Philly, but an old foe picked off quarterback Peyton Manning for the second time in the game to seal the win. Eagles cornerback and former New England Patriot Asante Samuel ruined any plans on Manning having another fourth-quarter comeback with a pick in the game's final minute.
Manning shouldered the blame after the Colts dropped to 5-3 on the season and into a first-place tie with Tennessee atop the AFC South standings.
"The offense has to do a better job. That starts with me," he said.
Indy's offense has been banged up and mostly relies on Manning and the NFL's third-rated aerial attack. Still averaging 302.5 passing yards a contest, the Colts have lost several weapons such as wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez, tight end Dallas Clark and now wideout Austin Collie, who suffered a concussion in Sunday's loss after getting sandwiched by two Philadelphia defenders. Collie has been ruled out for this week's game, leaving Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Jacob Tamme as the main targets.
Tamme has filled in admirably for Clark, as evidenced by his back-to-back solid performances. He finished with 108 yards and a score on 11 receptions against a tough Eagles defense and has Colts fans slightly forgetting about their beloved Clark, who is done for the season with a wrist injury.
Indianapolis Running backs Joseph Addai (neck) and Mike Hart (ankle) also did not play last Sunday are both listed as questionable versus the Bengals. Second-year back Donald Brown is expected to have the starting role in the backfield for this week's matchup.
Indianapolis has a 15-8 lead in its all-time regular-season series with Cincinnati, and extended its win streak in the set to six with a 35-3 drubbing at Lucas Oil Stadium during Week 14 of the 2008 campaign. The Bengals haven't defeated the Colts since a 28-13 victory in Indianapolis on Nov. 9, 1997.
In addition to the regular-season meetings, the teams have squared off once in the postseason, with the then-Baltimore Colts securing a 17-0 win at Memorial Stadium in a 1970 AFC Divisional Playoff.
Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis is winless in three lifetime games against the Colts, where Indianapolis' Jim Caldwell will be opposing both the Bengals and Lewis for the first time as a head man.
WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL
Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco (40 receptions, 2 TD) is starting to show signs of aggravation over not getting enough looks this season. In Monday night's loss to the Steelers, he displayed some poor body language due to his disgust and finished the game with only one catch for 15 yards. Even Owens is lobbying for his teammate to get more involved, saying it starts with the coaching staff, while left tackle Andrew Whitworth was seen jawing with Ochocinco to line up for a play during Monday's outing. Defenses are going to focus squarely on stopping Cincinnati's two talented receivers, but have had trouble doing so against Owens (55 receptions, 770 yards, 7 TD) because he's simply that good. He is aiming to join Jerry Rice and Randy Moss as the only players to have at least 10 seasons with 1,000 receiving yards in NFL history. Quarterback Carson Palmer (2,103 passing yards, 14 TD, 8 INT) is the one who will get Owens the ball and is also trying to shatter his personal-best mark for yards in a season. The former Heisman Trophy winner holds the Bengals single-season club record with 4,131 passing yards in 2007. Besides Benson's (599 rushing yards, 3 TD) lack of production, the Bengals are worried about their right tackle situation. Andre Smith and Dennis Roland seemed to have trouble against Pittsburgh's linebackers and now have to face Indianapolis' Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
Luckily for the Colts, they don't have to worry about elusive quarterback Michael Vick anymore unless they meet he and the Eagles in the Super Bowl. Vick threw for 218 yards and a touchdown and also ran for 74 yards and a score to keep Indianapolis' defense off-balance all afternoon last week. Defensive ends Freeney (13 tackles, 5 sacks) and Mathis (30 tackles, 7 sacks) weren't able to collapse the pocket because Vick kept scrambling away, though Mathis managed to get one of the Colts' three sacks on the day and leads the team in that category, partly because Freeney is doubled up most of the time. Freeney is still on pace to reach double-digit sacks in three consecutive seasons for the second time in his career. The Bengals' offense has been predicated on the pass this season, so disrupting Palmer is critical to alter the timing with his go-to receivers. Indianapolis allowed 402 yards of offense to Philadelphia and is 20th in the NFL in total defense. It's eighth overall against the pass, but still had trouble against the Eagles' air attack. Leading tackler and safety Antoine Bethea (54 tackles) still has no interceptions after posting four a season ago, but had seven stops last Sunday. The Colts cut ties with veteran defensive back Deshea Townsend (10 tackles) this week.
WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL
Manning (2,478 passing yards, 16 TD, 4 INT) is coming off his first two- interception game of the season, as he had thrown just two picks for the entire year before Sunday's game. Manning was also sacked a season-high three times and entered the game having been taken down just once in each of the previous four weeks. The offensive line has been healthy all season for the most part, though the Colts reportedly worked out former Miami Dolphins offensive guard Donald Thomas this week. Indy could use all the help it can get to have a decent ground attack, as it sits 25th in the NFL is rushing yards (92.2 ypg). The injuries to Addai and Hart have made it difficult to generate a running game. What hasn't been tough for the Colts is producing yards and lighting up the scoreboard, as they are third in both total offense and points per game through eight contests. Manning, of course, is the main reason for that, and the four-time MVP is trying to match Brett Favre and Dan Marino as the only players in league history to have 400 career touchdown passes. He has 382 so far and is also aiming for consecutive seasons with at least 4,500 yards. Wayne (60 receptions, 724 yards, 3 TD) has only reached the end zone three times in 2010, but leads the NFL with 60 receptions. He is on track for 100 catches for the third time in his career and had exactly 100 last season. Pierre Garcon (23 receptions, 1 TD) and Tamme (17 receptions, 2 TD) hope to break Cincy's tough secondary as well.
Unlike 2009, Cincinnati has been terrible against the run this season, as the team sits 23rd in that category with an average of 120.8 yards per game on the ground allowed. The Steelers racked up 121 rushing yards on Monday night. The Bengals should be more concerned with stopping Manning, who is coming off a tough road loss and always seems to take it out on the next opponent when situations like that arise. Bengals defensive tackle Clinton McDonald saw his first action up front last week after 24 games on the practice squad, but did not record any tackles. Fellow lineman Robert Geathers (20 tackles, 1 sack) posted the team's first sack in 10 quarters against the Steelers, while Pat Sims (12 tackles) got his first start of the season and ninth of his career at defensive tackle with Tank Johnson out with a knee injury. Johnson (10 tackles) is questionable for Sunday. Covering Tamme will certainly be addressed this week by Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who has a trio of linebackers capable of completing the job. Middle linebacker Dhani Jones (60 tackles) is getting up in age but still leads the team in tackles, while outside starters Keith Rivers (43 tackles, 1 sack) and Rey Maualuga (40 tackles, 1 sack) both have plenty of speed to keep up with Indianapolis' offense. Bengals cornerback Leon Hall (28 tackles) is tied for first in the AFC with four picks.
Indianapolis has no running backs worthy of fantasy time, leaving it up to the usual suspects in Manning and Wayne. Garcon is still a reliable option at wide receiver despite his low numbers, and Tamme has caught fire in Clark's absence. The Colts' defense is not a good choice, even though they're decent against the pass.
Benson is a good choice for Sunday, especially since the Colts are allowing 140.9 rushing yards per contest. Palmer, Owens and Ochocinco should always be in the starting lineup barring injury, while rookie receiver Jordan Shipley is a good sleeper pick.
The Colts have too many advantages in this matchup with Cincinnati to not be able to chalk up win No. 6. They have won seven straight home games in November and are 10-1 under Caldwell at Lucas Oil Stadium. Manning is 6-0 against the Bengals, having passed for 1,642 yards with 17 touchdowns to just three interceptions for a sizzling 113.7 quarterback rating. The loss at Philadelphia left a sour taste in the mouths of the Indianapolis defenders, and they're not about to let Owens run his on Sunday.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Colts 30, Bengals 17
11/11 12:37:28 ET