One of the early surprises of 2011 NFL season has been the play of the Cincinnati Bengals (3-2). Led by a pair of rookies on offense and the number one ranked defense, the Bengals are in the thick of things in the AFC North. The Colts meet Cincinnati hoping to extend a seven-game series winning streak.*

INDIANAPOLIS – The fine line between winning and losing in the NFL often can be difficult on which to put a finger.

However, when taking a look at the Indianapolis-Cincinnati matchup this Sunday, the lines that have determined outcomes to this point are distinct. 

In each of the Bengals wins this season they have been down in the fourth quarter before coming back for a victory.  On the opposite sideline, four of the Colts five losses have been decided in the final frame by a one-possession margin.

Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell is a veteran of close games in the NFL.  He is aware it comes down to his offense or defense making plays with the game on the line.

"I think that's the way the season goes, and I think that's the way it is in this league," Caldwell said.  "It's going to boil down to tight games.  Either you're going to have the ball and you're driving down the field to get a score to either win or tie, or you're going to be on defense with the same thing being the case, trying to stop them to get the ball back to get in position to score. So they all boil down to that.  No matter what, they are all going to be tight.  We anticipate that, and that's kind of been the lay of the land in this league."

Sitting only a half-game back in the AFC North, the Bengals are first in the NFL allowing 279.6 yards a game.  The unit is ranked seventh in rush defense (88.6 yards) and third against the pass (191.0 yards).

Linebacker Ray Maualuga helps lead a Bengals defense that has recovered five fumbles.  The club's total is among the best in the NFL.

Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton has taken the reigns of the offense from day one and has leaned on a plethora of skill players. 

Running back Cedric Benson leads the team with 101 carries and the Bengals are 11-1 when Benson has 25 attempts.

In the receiving department, tight end Jermaine Gresham has caught a touchdown in each of the Bengals' victory. 

Dalton's fellow rookie teammate, A.J. Green, is second among NFL rookies with 24 catches and he leads all first-year players with 402 receiving yards.

Receivers Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell have caught 16 and 13 passes, respectively, giving the Bengals four wide outs with double-digit reception totals.

Scheduled to make his third career NFL start on Sunday, quarterback Curtis Painter has performed admirably.  He has thrown for more than 250 yards in both starts and has four touchdowns with zero interceptions.  His rating for the two starts is 107.2.

A former quarterbacks coach himself, Caldwell knew Painter had the tools to succeed in the NFL but just needed to get his opportunity on the field.

"I think everybody has witnessed and understands that he has talent and ability," Caldwell said.  "It was just a matter of experience more so than anything else.  Obviously, I think you can see that the more reps he gets and the more opportunities he gets, than the better he plays.  I think he did a nice job and really played well."

Painter and wide receiver Pierre Garcon have struck up an impressive tandem in the past two games with three touchdowns exceeding 50 yards.

In front of Painter, the Colts offensive line did not allow a sack against the Chiefs even with another new face in the unit.  Despite being signed just five days before the Chiefs game, offensive tackle Quinn Ojinnaka started next to right guard Mike Pollak with the Colts missing three offensive linemen.  It remains to be seen whether or not Ryan Diem returns to the lineup this Sunday giving the Colts some much needed depth.  Diem worked on a full basis on Wednesday and Thursday of this week and could play either guard or tackle.

For the 30th time in their Pro Bowl careers, defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis each recorded a sack against the Chiefs.  With 1.5 sacks on Sunday, Freeney would become the 26th player in NFL history with 100 career sacks.

"After you watch him play, tell them to throw the film on the last two weeks, and see if they say the same thing," Caldwell said in regard to Freeney being strictly a pass rusher.  "Watch him last week and watch him the week before, and it's up to them.  A lot of people have different opinions, but the guy can play, and he plays run and pass."

A question mark heading into Sunday's game against the Bengals is the health of defensive tackle Drake Nevis and cornerback Jerraud Powers.

Nevis missed the Chiefs game last week with a back injury and the Colts signed a familiar face in defensive tackle Dan Muir earlier this week.  The addition of Muir can help offset the loss of Eric Foster, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury two weeks ago.

The uncertainty of Powers in the secondary could give young corners Chris Rucker and Kevin Thomas their first extensive NFL action.

Starting the first of three straight road games, Caldwell had high praise for the Bengals and the unit that makes them tick.

"They've played great defense, that's one thing, it's the number one defense in the league at this point.  They do a tremendous job, and they've created some problems for teams in terms of getting them in third-and-long situations that they haven't been able to convert.  They've been able to mix sort of a blitz and blitz-looks together to create some confusion.  More importantly, the eight guys that they have up front in their defensive front they rotate them in, and it's a formidable group.  It's really the strength of their defense.  Their linebacking corps is very good as well.  (Rey) Maualuga in the middle there and (Thomas) Howard's been playing well.  It's a very, very good defensive team.  When you couple that with guys that can rush the passer and can also defense the run, they're big people.  This might be as big a group as we've faced in a while.  They're tall, they've got girth and they have tenacity.  That's where I think it starts, and they've done a great job in that area.  Offensively, they just haven't made many mistakes, and they've run the ball extremely well.  (Cedric) Benson is averaging about four yards per carry, and doing a nice job in that area.  The quarterback just hasn't been making many mistakes, and he's found two guys that he loves to throw to. (A.J.) Green's got three touchdown passes and (Jermaine) Gresham's got three.  Green is their leading receiver with 24. Gresham's right behind him, and (Jerome) Simpson is right behind him.  They have a good group and they're playing extremely well."


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Colts 23, Bengals 17 – November 14, 2010

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Defense was the name of the game for the Colts in front of a home crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium.  Behind five forced turnovers that led to 17 points, the Colts overcame a season-low 185 yards passing by quarterback Peyton Manning.  After an Adam Vinatieri field goal opened up the scoring for the Colts, cornerback Kelvin Hayden intercepted Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer on the first play of the next series and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown.  Linebacker Tyjuan Hagler and safety Aaron Francisco also recorded picks for a Colts defense that sacked Palmer three times.  The win was even more impressive considering the Colts were missing numerous skill players on the offensive side of the ball:  running backs Joseph Addai and Mike Hart, wide receivers Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez and tight end Dallas Clark.


* *

*Colts running game against the Bengals front seven: *Any time a team sees a turnaround in win totals from the previous season, defense usually plays an important role in that.  The Bengals fit that description perfectly by ranking first in the NFL in allowing 279.6 yards a game.  The front seven has been especially stout by ranking third in the NFL in allowing a mere 3.19 yards a carry.  With running back Joseph Addai's status in question the Colts will have to rely on rookie running back Delone Carter and 2009 first-round pick Donald Brown.  Carter scored his first career NFL touchdown last week and Brown led the Colts with 4.8 yards a carry against the Chiefs.

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton against the Colts defense:  Second-round pick Andy Dalton has continued the winning ways he brought with him from Texas Christian University.  Dalton has the Bengals a mere half-game back in the AFC North and has helped restore life in a franchise that recently has struggled.  The question regarding the Colts is, 'Which defense will show up on Sunday?'  Indianapolis held the Chiefs to seven points through much of the first half in week five.  A touchdown just prior to halftime started a run where the unit grappled to get the 'stop' it needed in the second half.  Defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis each had a sack against the Chiefs.  Freeney needs 1.5 sacks to reach 100 for his career.  Mathis is the franchise's second-leading career sacker with 77.5.

* *

Quick Facts

-Indianapolis and Cincinnati is the closest rivalry among cities in the AFC teams with a driving distance of just 110 miles.

-This marks the fifth straight season the Colts and Bengals have met in the regular season.

-The Colts and Bengals rank second and fifth respectively in turnover differential since 2003.

-The Colts have won seven consecutive games against the Bengals.

-Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney is 1.5 sacks away from 100 for his career.  He could become the 26th player with 100 career sacks.

-Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham has had a touchdown catch in each of his team's wins this season.

-The Bengals defense leads the NFL in allowing just 279.6 yards per game in 2011.

-Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green leads all rookies with 402 receiving yards and his 24 catches are one behind Atlanta receiver Julio Jones.

-The Bengals are 11-1 when running back Cedric Benson has 25 attempts.

-Bengals cornerback Leon Hall has not missed a regular-season or post-season game (70) in his Bengals career.

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Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell (on whether finishing games is something that the team can practice and put an emphasis on):

"You can.  I think it's something that you talk about, you discuss and you focus in on trying to get it done during practice.  (You) make sure we're not only finishing drills, but finishing each period properly and, also, the end of practice in itself.  Those are constant reminders that you have to just continually go through.  The big thing is to make sure that your fundamentals hold up all the way through the ballgame, and I think that's one of the things that are extremely important.  It's those little things that make a difference.  Down the stretch sometimes, because things get a little tight, you might get a little out of whack here or there.  Oftentimes, that's the tale of the tape.  So yeah, you can focus in on it, you can talk about it and you can do something about it as well.  We just have to do a better job."

Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell (on Pierre Garcon's performance over the past couple of weeks):

"We've all seen over the years that he's an explosive individual that has great speed and power. He can catch it and run with it, he can go deep and he can catch it short and turn it into a long gain.  Pierre's having quite a year thus far, and I think you've seen him in spurts do it before. He's been able to put a few back-to-back this time around, but I think we've always kind of recognized that as one of his traits."

Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell(on how the Bengals offense changed with Andy Dalton at quarterback):

"They've always been a team that certainly believed in running the ball, and I think that's still the case.  They've also been a team that has always been able to check in and out of plays, and get the best match-ups depending upon how many guys you've put around the ball and depending on what they do with it at that point in time.  They still do that.  They may not do as much as they did with Carson (Palmer), because of things you can anticipate.  What (Andy Dalton's) doing is similar to their basic attack, and he's doing it well."

Colts center Jeff Saturday(on whether he is surprised by how well Curtis Painter has played):

"Curtis is a good football player.  He's a smart player, and he just needs reps like everybody.  If you look at football, most of your best players it's when they get on the field, get game action, get live action and see the speed of the game, all those things make a big difference.  I think Curtis has met the challenge, and I think he's played well enough to get us over the hump."

Colts tight end Dallas Clark(on facing the Bengals and the number one defense in the NFL):

"When you look at the film, it's not too surprising.  They're playing very aggressive, very fast, they're big and strong and they play sideline-to-sideline."

Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis(on the play of rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green):

"Both players have really got off to good starts.  They, at times, still show that they are very, very young, and we just have to keep pushing them and pointing them in the right direction. They, obviously, have a lot of talent and ability, and this game's not going to be too big for them."

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Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis(on whether it was better for Andy Dalton to start from the start of the season):

"I think it just depends on the football team.  I thought the football team in our case could handle having a rookie quarterback.  I thought, even though we were young, we did have enough experience at some spots to help that.  I coached against Peyton (Manning) his rookie year, and you could see the improvement that he made from the first week through whatever week it was that I coached against him.  I don't think you want to put any quarterback in a situation where he gets beat up, because they've got to play the game and it's a position of rhythm and timing and so forth.  When you're not protected and things, then you get a little gun-shy.  I think that's been proven throughout the NFL when these quarterbacks have been put into situations that maybe the rest of the football wasn't good enough to handle around them.  So with Peyton (Manning), in the case of the Colts when they did that, the rest of team had some other people that were able help.  You maybe don't win as many games as you would like, but you're able to at least survive."

Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis(on Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis):

"Robert is an extremely, extremely fast guy, and (he) plays hard like Dwight (Freeney) does. Both players give them a tandem of guys.  My video cutups that I have on my machine here, I have hundreds of those guys.  When I have nothing to do I will just sit and go through their defense, and cut clips of them rushing the passer and chasing the ball down to show our young ends."

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton(on a rookie quarterback playing right away or learning under someone else):

"I feel like I've come in and the more and more games I've played, the more experience I have and the more comfortable I feel.  Since I've come in (I) basically was handed the job, and took a lot of reps early in training camp.  They were kind of pressing for me to win this, so I feel like everybody is kind of rallying around me and have responded to what I've been doing."

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton(on the difficulty of his transition to the NFL):

"I feel like the transition hasn't been too tough for me.  I feel like I was prepared really well coming in, and (I) was able to get a good grasp of the offense early on.  We are getting better every day and that's all we can ask right now."

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