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When the Bengals have the ball: Cincinnati will look to run Indianapolis out of the RCA Dome. All week long, the Colts defenders have been put on the spot about their performance against Jacksonville a week ago, when they gave an obscene 375 yards on the ground. The defense was blown off the ball by Jacksonvilleâ€™s line, and once the backs got to the second level, the linebackers and defensive backs missed tackles. Can the Colts complete a 180-degree defensive turnaround against the Bengals to stop the bleeding?
Rudi Johnson is a power back who operates at his best in-between the tackles. In order for the Colts to stuff Johnson, the defensive line will need to get off of blocks and penetrate into the backfield. The Bengals interior lineman will look to double team defensive tackle Anthony McFarland, and use their tight ends to block ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. If this blocking scheme works, linemen will be free to block the linebackers at the second level, so Johnson will have the chance to gain big chunks of yards past the first layer of defense.
When Cincinnati passes the ball, look for them to use play-action to influence the linebackers and safeties who may be peeking too hard in the backfield. If the Colts are forced to use eight defenders to stop the run, the Bengals will be able to exploit one-on-one matchups in the passing game.
When the Colts have the ball: Indianapolis has struggled to play with the level of consistency on offense that viewers are normally accustomed to seeing. Part of the problem has been lack of depth at the receiver and tight-end spots. Losing Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley hurts. Without those two players in the lineup, the Colts are not able to spread their formations like they normally do when they want to pass the ball.
Look for Indianapolis to turn to their running game to gain better balance against a Bengals defense that has been playing lockdown football after giving up 49 points against San Diego nearly five weeks ago. If Cincinnati uses extra defensive backs to better protect against the pass, the Colts could exploit that look by pounding the ball out of spread formations, using Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai in tandem.
The Bengals will blitz at times, and when they do, look for Manning to take advantage downfield. Indianapolis may emphasis pass protection by keeping an extra back or tight-end in to help the line, giving Manning more time to work some deep passes against a Bengals secondary which has given up big plays all season. The Colts will need to get back to the basics, depending on their dynamic duo of Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison to make plays on the outside against corners Tory James and Jonathan Joseph. Manning should force the ball to these two receivers, as opposed to turning to his other targets who have not been as dependable, especially recently.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch: Eric Steinbach versus Anthony McFarland: This game has many intriguing battles to keep an eye on. But the root of this gameâ€™s outcome will be decided inside the trenches. The Colts line must play well against a Cincinnati line looking to play power football on Monday night. Specifically, it will be up to the Colts interior front, headed by McFarland to play tough inside, in order to redirect the Bengals running game off tackle.
McFarland is a solid ballplayer who has seen more double teams than he ever saw in Tampa Bay. He is at his best when he is able to play head up against a guard or center, and has the freedom to shoot the gap. Steinbach has played at a Pro Bowl level this year. He is one of the most nimble and quick players at the position. He uses sound technique to turn lineman enough so he can work his way to the second level.