Last week, the Colts fell in much the same manner that they have been falling all season. This week, they take the horror show that is 2011 on the road to Cincinnati to face the Bengals. The Bengals are off to a quick start behind a strong run game and the play of a top five pass defense. Here's what to watch for this week.
1. Watch for turnovers. The Bengals pass D has been incredible early on. Now, I'll grant you that McCoy, Orton, Smith, Fitzgerald and Gabbert aren't exactly Marino, Aikman and Elway, but Cincy has smothered the passing game early in 2011. Interestingly enough, they aren't great against #1 or #2 wideouts, but excel against #3s, tight ends, and running backs. That speaks to a defense with strong linebacker play. They are also 8th in adjusted sack rate. If this paragraph doesn't freak you out, then you haven't been watching the Colts in 2011.
2. Watch for an overdue rant. I'm sorry. I can't go on with this weekly preview acting like everything is ok. Here in Indianapolis, there are actually people who think the front office should be fired because of one bad season. I want everyone to stop and read what Michael Schuer wrote about the Red Sox yesterday, because I feel like he was sending a warning message to Colts fans. When you let the crazies run the smart people out of town, you wind up with the team you deserve. The "Fire the Polians" crowd is obvlious to facts (like the Colts have been the most efficient drafting team in the NFL in the last 5 years), history (10 straight playoff appearances is an NFL record), context (the team is built around Peyton Manning and uh, he's not here), or any basic standard of logic (He's mean! Fire him!). Fans have gotten so bad that if I write anything positive about players they are CERTAIN are horrible (Brown or Lacey), they freak out on me. It doesn't matter if the observations are based on facts or stats. Some people have become so locked into the 'mistakes' the front office has made, that if you actually point out that maybe the mistakes weren't that bad, they lose it. If it was just coming from a blog here or there, I'd let it go, but yesterday I was asked about it by a more reputable media person (who wasn't endorsing it, just asking about it). All I can say about it is this: if you honestly think that firing the front office will make the Colts better, then all I can do is shrug my shoulders and say 'Enjoy 2011!'. Because you deserve to be forced to watch 2011 over and over and over again while being prodded with pitchforks by Jack Trudeau and Jeff George in hell for a thousand million years, or as I call it, most of the 1990s.
Responding to the 'Fire the Polians' hooligans doesn't require 3000 words and a million stats. I've been laying that out there for years. All it takes to see through that nonsense is two active brain cells and the will to rub them together.
3. Watch for the battle for the top running back. If I say anything to suggest that Delone Carter has been bad, people act like I kicked their puppy. Carter isn't doomed to badness. I don't think he'll always be bad. However, by every possible measure, he hasn't played well this year. He wasn't great in the preseason, and he just doesn't bring enough to the table yet. He's 29th out of 35 running backs in DVOA. His success rate is 41%. He's a bad receiver and a bad blocker. I don't know whose coffee Donald Brown spit in, but he's got to be the better option. Brown looked good last week, and the last time we really saw him before that, he was helping the Colts into the playoffs. The coaching staff screwed up by burying him on the bench last year, and it cost the Colts a playoff win over the Jets. Brown and Carter will be playing behind the same line and with the same offense on Sunday, and with Addai smarting, this could last a few weeks. We should get a real strong look at who is the better back. My money is on Brown, and I doubt it's close.
4. Watch new face of the Bengals. Through five games, Andy Dalton has managed to be just about a league average quarterback. That's an amazing accomplishment, really. All of Dalton's metrics are pretty high, with the exception of interceptions. He has given away five in five games, which is neither unusual or overly high for a rookie. He's playing a Colts secondary that has just one interception among everyone still playing. Bullitt and Brackett have the other two picks for the Colts, but they aren't walking through that door (and if they did, they'd probably bump into each other and wind up back on IR). Dalton is completing nearly 60% of his passes, and despite looking terrible in the preseason, has been competent enough not to stop the Bengals defense from winning games.
5. Watch for the worst slogan in football. I get really confused between the "Who dat?" and the "Who dey?" I know one of them is the Saints, which makes sense because New Orleans is largely populated by swamp people. As for why the Bengals have latched on to an almost identical yet completely incomprehensible slogan, I can't possibly guess. My guess is that it came from some of their Kentucky fans (Kentucky: Where education pays...in the form of animal pelts to paid bi-monthly either personally or direct deposited to your account at the trading post). At any rate, I suppose it's better than their previous slogan: Bengals football: it's 'Natti-licious.
6. Watch the breakout star. Rookie wideout A.J. Green has had an instant impact on the NFL. He's already posting strong advanced metrics, but if you need advanced metrics to tell you that 402 yards, 24 catches and 3 TDs are amazing from a rookie, then there's no hope for you, Uber-Nerd. I think anyone would take nearly 1300 yards 76 catches and 10 scores in year one. Since you are an uber-nerd (and I know this because you are reading this site), you do care that his DVOA is 17.5%, his catch rate is 57%, and that's outstanding because he's posting 16.8 yards a catch. With Powers ailing, I have no idea how the Colts play on stopping him. Their only hope is to double him, and try to get to Dalton before he can hit Green. Good luck with that, Mr. Coyer. I do suspect his solution will involve the word 'cushion'.
7. Watch for no mock celebrations. Remember the final preseason game? Remember how we celebrated that win with Bronx cheers? Yeah well, let that memory warm your heart on Sunday as you watch the Colts drop to 0-6. Bengals 30 Colts 16.