2018 Colts Preview: Colts/Bengals, Week 1

The Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals kick off their regular season on Sunday in the Circle City. Here is everything you need to know ahead of their matchup.

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INDIANAPOLIS — The regular season is finally here! The Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals squared off last week in the preseason finale, but the two matchups couldn't be any more different.

BROADCAST INFORMATION

  • Sunday, Sept. 9, at 1 p.m. ET
  • Indianapolis; Lucas Oil Stadium
  • TV: CBS — Andrew Catalon (play-by-play), James Lofton (color) and Jane Slater (sideline)
  • To find out what games will be on in your area, check here
  • Radio: WFNI "1070 The Fan" | WLHK "HANK FM" — Matt Taylor (play-by-play), Jim Sorgi (color) and Barry Krauss (sideline)

ALL-TIME SERIES

  • Colts lead, 17-11 (2-0 in the playoffs), and are 4-0 against the Bengals at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts have won two of the last three matchups dating back to 2014.
  • Last game — Week 8 of 2017. The Bengals won, 24-23.

COACHING STAFF

Colts:

  • HC Frank Reich
  • OC Nick Sirianni
  • DC Matt Eberflus
  • STC Bubba Ventrone

Bengals:

  • HC Marvin Lewis
  • OC Bill Lazor
  • DC Teryl Austin
  • STC Darrin Simmons

INJURY UPDATE

Colts:

  • OT Anthony Castonzo (hamstring): Questionable — limited Wednesday, Thursday and Friday
  • OT/OG Denzelle Good (knee/wrist): Out — did not practice Wednesday, Thursday or Friday
  • RB Marlon Mack (hamstring): Questionable — did not practice Wednesday, limited Thursday and Friday

Bengals

  • WR Cody Core (back): Doubtful — did not practice Wednesday, limited Thursday and Friday

STORYLINES/THINGS TO WATCH

  • The Return Of Andrew Luck — Yes, we've seen Colts quarterback Andrew Luck in the preseason, but we have not seen him unleashed. Sunday, we see him with no snap count limits and with the full playbook at his disposal, led by an offensive-minded, former quarterback as head coach in Frank Reich. This ought to be fun.
  • Any Improvement From The Offensive Lines? — The offensive line for both teams struggled last year. Football Outsiders ranked the Colts as the No. 18 run blocking line and No. 32 pass blocking line. They ranked the Bengals as the No. 24 run blocking line and No. 20 pass blocking line. Both teams worked on this issue in the offseason, the Colts adding guards Quenton Nelson, Braden Smith and Matt Slauson, and the Bengals adding tackles Cordy Glenn and Bobby Hart as well as center Billy Price.
  • The Colts' New Defense — The Colts ran a hybrid 3-4 defense from 2012-17, focusing on physicality and mental processing on the interior while the corners were in man coverage. They are now in a 4-3 defense under coordinator Matt Eberflus similar to what we saw from former head coach Tony Dungy in the 2000s, which focuses on speed and athleticism, and there is more zone coverage involved.
  • Second-year Studs? — Both teams are loaded with second-year talent, ready to continue blooming. For the Colts, keep an eye on defensive end Tarell Basham, cornerback Nate Hairston, safety Malik Hooker, running back Marlon Mack, cornerback Kenny Moore II, linebacker Anthony Walker and cornerback Quincy Wilson. For the Bengals, linebacker Jordan Evans, defensive end Carl Lawson, wide receiver Josh Malone, running back Joe Mixon, wide receiver John Ross and defensive end Jordan Willis. Some of these players carry an injury designation this week, so that bears monitoring.

INTRIGUING MATCHUPS

  • Colts WR T.Y. Hilton vs. Bengals CB William Jackson III — The Colts' star receiver goes up against a third-year stud who led all NFL cornerbacks in catch percentage in 2017. Will a smothering corner be enough to rain on Luck and Hilton's parade, or will the duo's chemistry be too much to overcome?
  • Colts TEs vs. Bengals LBs/Ss — Jack Doyle and the Colts played Cincinnati last year, as did Eric Ebron when he was with the Detroit Lions. They combined to catch 17-of-22 targets for 204 yards and two touchdowns. From everything we have seen, the tight ends are a large part of Reich and coordinator Nick Sirianni's offense, so this group could really bring it to the Bengals' back seven on Sunday.
  • Colts OG Quenton Nelson vs. Bengals DT Geno Atkins — Rookie Quenton Nelson was one of the most-hyped offensive linemen to come out of the draft in years, but he draws one of the league's best defensive tackles right out of the gate in Geno Atkins.
  • Colts LBs vs. Bengals TE Tyler Eifert — Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert appears to finally be healthy. If that is the case, then the Colts and their athletic, yet young linebackers will have their hands full keeping him from moving the chains and making an impact in the red zone.
  • Colts CBs vs. Bengals WR A.J. Green — Wilson, Moore, Hairston, Pierre Desir; we really don't know who we will see matched up on Bengals All-Pro receiver A.J. Green. Perhaps some combination of all of them throughout the game. In regard to his corners covering Green, Eberflus told the media this week, "We are going to rely on technique and I know that's a coaching cliché, but that's what you have to rely on. You have to stand on something, the foundation you stand on is fundamentals and technique and playing the right way. It's what you are doing is important, but how you are doing it is as important. Those guys are just going to focus on their technique and their responsibilities and play good sound football."

REFEREE ASSIGNMENT

BETTING LINE

RETURNING LEADERS

Colts:

  • Passing — QB Jacoby Brissett (3,098 yards)
  • Rushing — RB Marlon Mack (358 yards)
  • Receiving — WR T.Y. Hilton (966 yards)
  • Touchdowns — QB Jacoby Brissett, WR T.Y. Hilton, TE Jack Doyle (4)
  • Tackles — S Matthias Farley (98 total)
  • Sacks — DE Jabaal Sheard (5.5)
  • Interceptions — S Malik Hooker (3)

Bengals:

  • Passing — QB Andy Dalton (3,320 yards)
  • Rushing — RB Joe Mixon (626 yards)
  • Receiving — WR A.J. Green (1,078 yards)
  • Touchdowns — WR A.J. Green (8)
  • Tackles — LB Vincent Rey, CB Darqueze Dennard (85 total)
  • Sacks — DT Geno Atkins (9.0)
  • Interceptions — CB Darqueze Dennard (2)

COMPARING 2017 STATS

Colts:

  • Total offense — 31st (284.8 YPG)
  • Scoring offense — 30th (16.4 PPG)
  • Passing offense — 30th (180.8 YPG)
  • Running offense — 22nd (103.8 YPG)
  • Third down offense — 18th (38%)
  • Total defense — 30th (367.1 YPG)
  • Scoring defense — 30th (25.2 PPG)
  • Passing defense — 28th (246.6 YPG)
  • Sacks — 31st (25)
  • Running defense — 26th (120.4 YPG)
  • Third down defense — 31st (45%)
  • Time of possession — 22nd (29:41)
  • Turnover margin — 13th (+5)

Bengals:

  • Total offense — 32nd (280.5 YPG)
  • Scoring offense — 26th (18.1 PPG)
  • Passing offense — 27th (195.1 YPG)
  • Running offense — 31st (85.4 YPG)
  • Third down offense — 29th (34%)
  • Total defense — 18th (339.1 YPG)
  • Scoring defense — 16th (21.8 PPG)
  • Passing defense — 8th (211.2 YPG)
  • Sacks — 11th (41)
  • Running defense — 30th (127.9 YPG)
  • Third down defense — 25th (41%)
  • Time of possession — 32nd (27:18)
  • Turnover margin — 27th (-9)

NOTES AND QUOTES

  • Luck needs one 300-yard passing game to pass Johnny Unitas (26) for the second-most in franchise history and one rushing touchdown to pass Bert Jones (14) for the second-most in franchise history among quarterbacks.
  • Hilton needs two receiving touchdowns to pass Marcus Pollard (35) for the ninth-most in franchise history.
  • Doyle needs the following to move up in the franchise record books among tight ends: one receiving yard to pass Pat Beach (1,483) for the eighth-most, one receiving touchdown to pass Beach (12) and Reese McCall (12) for eighth-most, 10 receptions to pass Coby Fleener (183) for the fifth-most and six first down receptions to pass Dwayne Allen (84) for the fifth-most.
  • Kicker Adam Vinatieri needs two converted field goals from 50-plus yards to pass Morten Andersen (40) for the sixth-most in NFL history.
  • Reich this week when asked who will start at right tackle, defensive end and at the other corner spot opposite Desir: "Yeah those are all great questions, those are all really good questions but we are going to — I tried the whole offseason I wanted to give you guys as much as I could. In all seriousness, there are competitive advantages to knowing who is playing. I know that as a player and as a coach. So we have made decisions on all those areas and feel good about those decisions, but just to protect our team and our fans and our players, we are going to hold on those decisions, we are going to hold on announcing those decisions."
  • Reich when asked about the possibility of having a backup left tackle protecting Luck if Castonzo cannot play: "No doubt, it's a really good defensive line. We've got confidence, we'll have a very detailed protection plan. It's our job as coaches to put our players in the best position. It's a both/and — players and coaches have responsibility for it. We will do everything we can do to neutralize the pass rush no matter what five guys are up front. And that will be number one on the pass game agenda each week, is how do you protect the passer? There are a lot of things that go into that, that now when we get into game plan specific things that I think we can try to use to our advantage."
  • Reich when asked where he ranks Atkins among the league's best and the opportunity ahead for Nelson: "Yeah, I'm excited for Quenton. We made note of that with him that, 'Hey, you get to go' — probably Aaron Donald and Geno are among the two best defensive tackles in the league, three techniques in the league. So a really good challenge for the whole offensive line. As we've talked about many times, (it's) not a one-man battle, but there are one on ones and Quenton will get matched with him one on one a fair number of times, I'm sure. So that will be fun to watch."
  • Sirianni when asked if Luck is far down on his list of concerns: "Yeah, really good players usually are. Elite players usually are."
  • Castonzo on if he needs a full week of practice in order to play on Sunday: "I mean, basically I just have to be confident to go on Sunday. Obviously today's (Thursday) practice is going to be very big, tomorrow's (Friday) practice is going to be big too. After that, I'm going to be able to see how I feel."

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