INDIANAPOLIS – A capsule look at the Colts' opponent this week, the Cincinnati Bengals of the AFC North.
Synopsis: Separated by a little more than 100 miles along Interstate-74, the Bengals and Colts will meet for the second time in 2011 at Paul Brown Stadium. These teams met on September 1 in the preseason finale. Indianapolis won, 17-13.
Following a makeover to the roster, the Bengals have enjoyed solid play this season from a number of new faces on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, the Bengals spent a first- and second-round selection on wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton, creating a duo that already has begun creating challenges for opponents.
Green currently leads all rookie receivers with 402 receiving yards, and is tied for the lead in touchdowns with three. He also ranks 13th in the league in receiving yards and is on pace for 1,286 yards.
Along with his immense talent, much of Green's success can be attributed to the solid play of Dalton. The Bengals are averaging 212.6 net yards passing per game, and Dalton has connected with receivers for six touchdowns this season.
The Bengals are coming off of a victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, a contest that saw the rookies connect on a 37-yard touchdown pass.
"(Andy Dalton) did a great job with his eyes and looked all the way down through (Andre Caldwell)," said Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden. "(Caldwell) took two guys, the corner and the safety, and that enabled A.J. (Green) to get some room out there and he gave him a great ball. Not too much (air) where they could react to it. He threw it on the line where only A.J. could get it."
However, the offense is not the only reason for optimism in Cincinnati, as the Bengals currently rank first defensively in total yardage surrendered. Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer's defense ranks seventh in rushing yards per game (88.6) and third in passing yards (191.0). Cincinnati's current clip of 191 passing yards surrendered per game ranks 13th in team history, which, considering the dominance of the passing game in today's NFL, is certainly a statistic worthy of mention.
The free-agent acquisitions of linebackers Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson, coupled with the addition of cornerback Nate Clements, have given the Bengals three new starters defensively. For Cincinnati, these new faces have helped rejuvenate the entire unit.
"We were relentless," said defensive lineman Domata Peko following the Bengals victory over Jacksonville. "Even though they made some good plays, I think our old team would have folded but this is a new squad and we have a lot of heart on this team. And that is what Coach (Mike) Zimmer has been talking about, playing with heart and finishing games and we finished today."
With young faces in key positions, it would have seemed obvious that an adjustment period would have been needed. However, Head Coach Marvin Lewis knows that his team still has work to do in all phases of the game.
"I think this football team will work hard on each side of the ball on doing the things we've asked them to do. That's what's important," said Lewis. "There's no reason to be sitting here thinking that they've arrived or anything. We've got a lot of improvement to make and it has to happen quickly."
New faces throughout the locker room may still have the Bengals trying to figure just how good this team can be. But at 3-2, Cincinnati seems to be well on its way to producing a team that will once again compete among the NFL's best.
*2011 Record: *3-2, 2nd in AFC North.
*Head Coach: *Marvin Lewis, ninth season as Bengals and NFL Head Coach (63-69-1).
*Last game: *On the road against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Bengals were able to overcome a four-point deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat the Jaguars, 30-20. Rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green helped lead the Cincinnati offense, as Green finished the day with 90 yards and a touchdown on five receptions and Dalton threw for 179 yards and two touchdowns.
*2011 NFL Rankings: *Offense – Overall, 22nd (320.2); Rushing, 18th (107.6); Passing, 24th (212.6); Defense – Overall, 1st (279.6); Rushing, 7th (88.6); Passing, 3rd (191.0).
*2011 Leading Passer: *Andy Dalton (93-157 comp., 1,047 yards, 59.2 pct., 6 TDs, 5 INT, 78.7 rating).
*2011 Leading Rusher: *Cedric Benson (101 carries, 401 yards, 1 TDs).
*2011 Leading Receiver: *A.J. Green (24 receptions, 402 yards, 3 TDs).
2011 Leading Sacker: Jonathan Fanene (3.0).
2011 Turnover Breakdown: 0 (16th).
First-round draft choice: A.J. Green, wide receiver. With the fourth overall selection in the 2011 NFL draft, the Cincinnati Bengals selected A.J. Green out of the University of Georgia.
Green was named All-SEC First-Team by Associated Press, SEC Coaches, ESPN, Phil Steele and Sporting News as a sophomore. Following his junior season, prior to entering the NFL Draft, Green was named a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award and was named to the All-SEC Second- Team.
*2010 Review: *Fresh off of a 10-6 season in 2009, the Cincinnati Bengals had hopes of returning to the playoffs in 2010 after several offseason additions, including Terrell Owens, Antonio Bryant and Adam Jones. However, the Bengals were unable to improve upon their 2009 success. Cincinnati finished with a 4-12 mark after opening the season with a 2-1 start.
Last time in Playoffs: L, 14-24 vs. New York Jets (2009).
*Last time in Super Bowl: *1988.
*Super Bowl Championships: *None.
*2010 Pro Bowl Selections: *None.
Quotable I: On Wide Receiver A.J. Green:
"He's got the rare athletic ability to make the big play despite not being polished yet. He has the ability to jump over people and catch it at its highest point and just out-(athlete) people. But when he gets the routes down and knows how to run against certain looks, he's going to be really good."
--- Bengals Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden
Quotable II: On the young players having a crucial role in the team's success:
"They just don't want to be told no; they keep playing. We continue to stay in games and not fall out of them. I told you before that some of these young guys don't know what it means to lose a lot of games in a row. You don't need that feeling. They just win games. They honestly believe they can win."
--- Bengals Offensive Tackle Andrew Whitworth