By Christina Rivers
The last time the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals met each other in 2014 was in week seven of the regular season. The game was one of the worst performances the Bengals put together the entire season, leaving behind some disappointing memories. The Colts would like a repeat performance of the 27-0 shutout during the first week of the NFL playoffs, a game Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson called “straight up embarrassing.” Indianapolis’ Chuck Pagano called it his team’s “blueprint of success.” Both teams desperately want the win this weekend in order to move forward in the post-season, but with some personnel changes the Colts would love to capitalize on the mistakes the Bengals made previously for a second successful outcome.READ MORE: Man Killed, Two Others Injured In Hit-And-Run Crash In Homan Square
The AFC South champions played their most complete game of the season against Cincinnati by setting a tone on defense that kept Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense struggling to put together drives that resulted in points on the scoreboard. Indianapolis was able to hold Cincinnati to several three-and-outs, forcing Pro Bowl punter Kevin Huber to punt the ball away 11 times in 14 drives. The defense also limited a Bengals offense that had entered the game averaging 6.34 yards per-play to just 2.5 yards per-play. A repeat of that performance may be difficult as Bengals rookie running back Jeremy Hill has been chewing up yards, gaining 929 since week eight – 105 more rushing yards than any other player during that time frame. Giovanni Bernard has been moved to a supportive and third-down back role. The Colts have allowed 1,814 rushing yards from their opponents this season, 423 plays for 4.3 yards per rush. Their focus will need to be on keeping Hill bottled up, especially on runs outside the tackles where he has found quite a bit of success.
There is no doubt that injuries on both squads will be something the Colts will be focused on as well. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw had two touchdowns against the Bengals, but has been placed on the injured-reserved list in favor of Dan “Boom” Herron. Bradshaw was the second-leading rusher on the Colts squad and recorded 425 yards and two touchdowns. Herron is quickly filling the role behind leading rusher Trent Richardson by adding 351 yards and a touchdown to Richardson’s 519 yards and three touchdowns. Three players were hurt in the Colts’ final regular season game against the Tennessee Titans; wide receiver Reggie Wayne (groin) and offensive linemen A.Q. Shipley (ankle) and Hugh Thornton (shoulder). Wayne is expected to return to practice, according to Pagano, either Wednesday or Thursday, but is officially day-to-day. If Wayne has a say, he’ll be on the field against the Bengals. Wayne is currently second in reception yards to T.Y. Hilton with 779 on the season for two touchdowns. If he is unable to play, Hilton will likely be complimented the most by Coby Fleener, who has 774 receiving yards on 51 catches for eight touchdowns.
Bengals wideout A.J. Green is under concussion protocol after being forced to leave the game against Pittsburgh. Just the week before, Green had injured a bicep. If he is able to return in time to face the Colts, it may force Indianapolis to rethink how many defensive players they can assign to stop Hill and the running game.
Colts tight end Dwayne Allen, inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, offensive linemen Gosder Cherilus and Joe Reitz are all expected to practice this week after missing the Titans game. Outside linebacker Bjoern Werner has been designated “day-to-day” by Pagano.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Severe Storms, Including Risk Of Tornadoes And Large Hail, In Afternoon And Evening
Andrew Luck could get a big boost from the fact that the Cincinnati defense has steadily become less of a pressure team along the line than a tight coverage team down the field. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bengals’ worst pass-rushers were all defensive linemen; Wallace Gilberry, Robert Geathers, Carlos Dunlap, Domata Peko and Geno Atkins. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bengals were only able to generate three hits and 16 pressures in a game that garnered no sacks. Add to that the league’s worst sack record, at 20, and Luck could have the time he needs to set up a potent offensive attack. Dunlap leads the Bengals in sacks with eight and is still dangerous, but appears to be easily handled with double-teams early in the game until he tires. The last time these teams met, the Bengals were able to sack Dalton twice and put solid pressure on the offensive line.
The Colts organization is encouraging its fans to turn Lucas Oil Stadium blue this weekend and have several fan events planned. Via social media, Colts fans have been invited to share photos showing their #ColtsPride during the week of December 29 for opportunities to win everything from playoff tickets to autographed memorabilia. On New Year’s Eve, Indianapolis will be holding a celebration on Georgia Street downtown beginning at 5 p.m., giving away posters at the Colts booth. On Friday, January 2 (6:30 – 8:30 a.m.), fans can drive through Monument Circle, get a Colts rally towel from Indianapolis cheerleaders and mascot, Blue. From noon to 1 p.m., the Colts will hold a Blue Friday pep rally at the Circle Centre Mall food court, where linebacker Robert Mathis will be doing a meet-and-greet. Three hours prior to game kickoff, on South Street in front of Lucas Oil Stadium, the American Family Insurance Touchdown Town will open for free to fans.
For more Colts news and updates, visit Colts Central.MORE NEWS: Man Shot In River North Parking Garage
Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on