Indianapolis (0-5, 4thplace AFC South) at Cincinnati(3-2, T-2ndAFC North)
Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011
Paul Brown Stadium
1 p.m.
The last time the Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Indianapolis Colts, Peyton Manning was still throwing passes for the University of Tennessee, and Boomer Esiason was still throwing passes for the Bengals.
It was Nov. 9, 1997, to be exact.  The Bengals beat the Colts – and starting QB Kelly Holcomb – 28-13 to drop Indianapolis to 0-10 on the season.  Five months later, the Colts drafted Manning with the first pick overall, and he has since gone a perfect 7-0 against the Bengals (with 17 TD and 3 INT).
The good news for the Bengals is that Manning won’t be on the field for Indianapolis on Sunday when the teams meet in Cincinnati.  The bad news for the Colts is that a loss on Sunday drops them to 0-6.
Andy Dalton vs. Curtis Painter
It’s a little strange to think of rookie Bengals signal-caller Andy Dalton as the more experienced QB in this matchup, but that is the case – at least in terms of career passes thrown.  In his brief, five-game career, Dalton has completed 93 of 157 passes, for 6 TD and 5 INT.  In his three-year career, Curtis Painter has completed 41 of 96 passes, all but 8 of the completions coming this season.
Dalton certainly has not been spectacular, but his 59.2% completion rate, 1,047 yards and 6 TD passes have helped keep defenses honest.  His Y/A is still a low 6.7 (especially compared to Painter’s 9.1 this season) and his passer rating is a below-average 78.7.  But Dalton has formed an immediate connection with rookie WR A.J. Green, so much so that Green leads all rookie WR in yards, with 402.
The Indianapolis secondary has not played particularly well this season, allowing opposing quarterbacks a 102.5 rating, 8 TD and 18 plays of more than 20 yards.  The opportunity is there for Dalton and Green to have success.
Painter has improved since his first action of the season against Pittsburgh in a Week 3 nationally televised game.  He started slow when he came in for an injured Kerry Collins – throwing some bad incompletions, and then getting sacked and stripped by James Harrison, leading to a defensive TD – but Painter was able to lead an impressive 80-yard drive to tie the game in the fourth quarter.  He has actually improved in each subsequent game, posting a passer rating of 115.8 in last week’s loss to Kansas City.
Painter still has a very low completion rate of 48.5% this season, but he has thrown 4 TD and zero interceptions.  Like Dalton, Painter has formed a nice connection with one of his WR, in this case, Pierre Garcon.  All 4 of Painter’s scoring throws have gone to Garcon, including strikes of 87, 67 and 59 yards.
Cedric Benson vs. Indianapolis D
The Colts are 31stout of 32 teams in stopping the run.  They have allowed 145.2 yards per game this season.  The Bengals, with Cedric Benson leading the way, are 18thin rushing yards, at 107.6 YPG.  Because of the youth and inexperience of both quarterbacks, this game could be decided on this front.
When Indianapolis almost upset Pittsburgh in Week 3, the Colts limited the Steelers to 67 rushing yards.  That has been the only game that Indianapolis allowed fewer than 100 yards on the ground.
Benson has been steady for the Bengals, averaging 80.2 YPG.  He ranks eighth in the league with 401 yards, but his 4.0 YPA is easily the lowest among the top 18 rushers.  He has scored just 1 TD and has two runs of 20 or more yards.
The steady running game has helped take some of the pressure off of Dalton.  With the prospect of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis – who have combined for 8 sacks – rushing the passer off the edges, it will be important for the Bengals offensive line and Benson to be productive in the ground game.
Bengals vs. a Letdown
Cincinnati should win this game.  They are a touchdown favorite.  They are facing a winless team that is without its star QB, starting RB Joseph Addai, and a host of other injured players.
This is the type of game Cincinnati needs to win to prove it is headed in the right direction.  With a team full of young players the Bengals can’t afford to take anything for granted.  With a bye week coming up, the difference between a 4-2 record (and 3 straight wins) and no worse than second place in the division, and a 3-3 record is huge.
To date, the Bengals’ most impressive win was against Buffalo (the Bills’ lone loss thus far).  But the Bengals also managed to lose a game to Denver – the Broncos’ lone win so far.  It is games like this that Cincinnati must win so that the four straight midseason games against division foes (beginning in Week 10) remain relevant.