A Capsule Look at this Week's Colts Opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals
Synopsis: The Colts, after a 5-0 November moved them to the forefront of the AFC Wild-Card chase, open December against a team enduring a decidedly more difficult season.
The Cincinnati Bengals were the AFC North Champions three seasons ago.
This season, they have the AFC's worst record.
The Bengals, who last visited Indianapolis in 2006 when they were contending in December for a playoff position, were eliminated from playoff contention before any other AFC teams, and this past Sunday, they secured their first double-digit loss season since 2002.
One reason for the Bengals' struggles this season:
The Bengals have 15 players on injured reserve this season, a total that does not include quarterback Carson Palmer, a Pro Bowl selection in 2005 and 2006 who has played in just four games this season because of an injury to the elbow in his right (passing) arm.
But for all of the injuries and all of the struggles this season, Colts President Bill Polian said to make no mistake:
The Bengals are not only talented. They're well-coached and capable of playing with any team in the NFL.
"It's puzzling to me why they have this kind of record, but any time you have this kind of talent, you have to be very, very careful," Polian said. "These guys can ignite and they can put 35 on you in a heartbeat with the kind of talent that they have.
"This is a tough, tough ballgame – not unlike what we faced in Cleveland."
With Palmer injured much of the season, Ryan Fitzpatrick – a fourth-year veteran from Harvard – has started eight games, throwing six touchdown passes and seven interceptions, and wide receivers Chad Ocho Cinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh each made the Pro Bowl last season. Houshmandzadeh is on pace to catch more than 100 passes this season.
Cedric Benson, a former first-round selection by the Chicago Bears, has provided the Bengals solid depth at running back behind starter Chris Perry.
"This is talent that can go off like a skyrocket at a moment's notice," Polian said. "You don't want to go out there and have to guard Ocho Cinco and Houshmandzadeh. That's a formidable duo in and of itself, and Benson can run the ball far more effectively than anybody they've had in the last three or four years.
"This is a tough ballclub and not a walkover by any means. I would expect a very tough ballgame from them."
The Bengals lost their first eight games, but during that span, they lost an overtime game to the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, and in early November, they beat Jacksonville at home a week before playing Philadelphia to a 13-13 tie in Cincinnati.
"They've struggled," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said Monday, "but I just finished watching them against Jacksonville and Jacksonville really couldn't get anything going offensively against them. They've played some games that way, and then they've played some other games, like (Sunday vs. Baltimore) that didn't look good. Just like Cleveland, we have to plan for the best Cincinnati team, the explosive guys playing. . . .
"We'll have to be ready for them. Not playing with anything at stake, they can throw a lot at us, and we'll have to be ready for that."
2008 Record: 1-10-1, 4th in AFC North.
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis, sixth season as Bengals Head Coach and NFL Head Coach (43-46-1, 43-47-1 including postseason).
Last game: The Bengals' difficult season got even more so Sunday. A 34-3 loss at home to the Baltimore Ravens secured a double-digit loss season, and did so in historic fashion. The Bengals on Sunday produced just six first downs, tying the franchise-record for fewest in a game, and they managed just 155 total yards, their second-lowest total of the season. The Ravens produced 451 total yards, the most against Cincinnati this season while the Bengals punted 11 of their first 12 times they had possession.
2008 NFL Rankings: Offense – Overall, 32nd (232.4 yards per game); Rushing, 31st (78.1 ypg); Passing, 30th (154.3 ypg); Defense – Overall, 24th (349.3 yards per game); Rushing, 24th (131.6 ypg); Passing, 20th (217.8 ypg).
2008 Leading Passer(s): Ryan Fitzpatrick (164-278 completions, 1,342 yards, 59.0 pct., 6 TD, 7 INT, 68.1 passer rating); Carson Palmer (75-129 completions, 731 yards, 58.1 pct., 3 TD, 4 INT, 69.0 passer rating).
2008 Leading Rusher(s): Cedric Benson (114 carries, 335 yards, 1 TD); Chris Perry (103 carries, 269 yards, 2 TD); Ryan Fitzpatrick (34 carries, 219 yards, 1 TD).
2008 Leading Receiver(s): T.J. Houshmandzadeh (81 receptions, 810 yards, 4 TD); Chad Ocho Cinco (45 receptions, 428 yards, 4 TD).
2008 Leading Sacker(s): Robert Geathers (2.5).
2008 Turnover Breakdown: Minus-5 (16 forced, 21 committed).
First-round draft choice: Keith Rivers, linebacker. With the No. 9 overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, the Bengals selected Keith Rivers, an outside linebacker from the University of Southern California.
Rivers, after starting the first seven games, has been on injured reserve the last five games after sustaining a broken jaw following a hit by Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. He had 37 tackles, including 24 solos, in the first seven games and also had an interception.
Key free agents acquired: Brandon Johnson (Arizona), LB; Antwan Odom (Tennessee), DE; Ben Utecht (Indianapolis), TE.
Key free agents lost: Landon Johnson (Carolina), LB; Bryan Robinson (Arizona), DE/DT; Justin Smith (San Francisco), DE; Alex Stepanovich (Atlanta), C; Madieu Williams (Minnesota), S.
2008 Review: The Bengals started slowly this season, and despite several quality performances against contending teams, they have struggled to overcome a rash of injuries.
Cincinnati lost its first eight games of the season, playing tough at Baltimore before a 17-10 loss and taking the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants to overtime before losing, 26-23, at Giants Stadium.
They also lost in September to Tennessee and Cleveland at home, then lost the first two games in October at Dallas and at the New York Jets before one-sided losses at home to Pittsburgh (38-10) and at Houston (35-6).
Their first victory came on November 2, 21-19, over Jacksonville at home, and a week later they tied the Philadelphia Eagles at home, 13-13.
A loss in Pittsburgh (27-10) followed the Eagles game before their most one-sided loss of the season this past week at home against the Ravens.
Last time in Playoffs: 2005.
Last time in Super Bowl: 1988.
Super Bowl Championships: None.
2007 Pro Bowl Selections: T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR; Chad Ocho Cinco, WR.
Quotable I: "Our football team won't go through another season like this. Nor will our fans. Believe me."
--- Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis
Quotable II: "You've got to execute the game plan and we didn't do that. They (the Ravens) rubbed it in our face. Our defense played pretty good, but the offense . . . we couldn't get anything going, and that's sad to say.''
--- Bengals Guard Bobbie Williams