WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL
The Colts, who have won seven of eight lifetime games at Cincinnati, will again go with Painter, who’s completed 28-of-57 passes for 558 yards, four touchdowns and a 107.2 quarterback rating in his two starts. Three of his first four scoring passes have been for 59-plus yards (87, 59, 67) as well. Rookie running back Delone Carter recorded his first career touchdown last week and could start on Sunday with leading rusher Joseph Addai unlikely to play with a hamstring injury. Wide receiver Reggie Wayne had five catches for 117 yards with a touchdown in the Colts’ last game at Cincinnati, while counterpart Pierre Garcon has seven receptions for 271 yards with four touchdowns over the past two weeks. Garcon aims for a third consecutive game with 100-plus receiving yards (146, 125) and is averaging 22.1 yards per catch in 2011 (19 catches, 420 yards). In two career games against the Bengals, tight end Dallas Clark has 10 receptions for 154 yards with two touchdowns.
The Bengals have allowed an NFL-low 279.6 yards per game and recorded five fumble recoveries, tied for second-most in the league behind Baltimore (8). Defensive end Frostee Rucker has two sacks in his past three games and fellow end Carlos Dunlap had a sack in last year’s loss to the Colts. Linebacker Rey Maualuga leads the team with 38 tackles, while in the backfield, free safety Reggie Nelson has 33 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery on the season.
Statistically, Indianapolis is 27th in scoring offense (17.4 ppg), 30th in total yards (287.0 ppg), 25th in passing yards (205.0 ppg) and 30th in rushing yards (82.0 ppg). On defense, Cincinnati is sixth in scoring (18.8 ppg), third in passing yards allowed (191.0 ypg) and seventh in rushing defense (88.6 ypg).
WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL
Cincinnati, which seeks a third straight win on Sunday, again starts Dalton, who tied his career best with two touchdown passes last week. He has an 85-plus passer rating in three of five career starts. The Bengals are 11-1 all-time when running back Cedric Benson has 25-plus carries in a game, while backup Bernard Scott posted his first touchdown of the season last week. Rookie wide receiver A.J. Green, the No. 4 overall pick in April’s draft, has nine receptions for 208 yards with a touchdown in his past two games. Green leads NFL rookies with 402 receiving yards and is second in the NFL among first-year players with 24 catches. Tight end Jermaine Gresham aims for a third consecutive game with a touchdown reception this week.
For the Colts, defensive end Dwight Freeney needs 1 1/2 sacks to become the 26th player with 100 in his career since the stat was made official in 1982. Freeney has 6 1/2 sacks in five career games against the Bengals as well. Fellow end Robert Mathis has 4 1/2 sacks in four games against Cincinnati. Middle linebacker Pat Angerer has 65 tackles and a fumble recovery on the season, while free safety Antoine Bethea has 39 tackles from the backfield.
The Bengals’ offense is 17th in scoring (22.0 ppg), 22nd in total yards (320.2 ypg), 24th in passing yards (212.6 ypg) and 18th in rushing yards (107.6 ypg). On defense, Indianapolis is 29th in points allowed (27.2 ppg), 26th in total yards allowed (399.4 ypg), 19th in pass defense (254.2 ypg) and 31st against the run (145.2 ypg).
KEYS TO THE GAME
Cincinnati has been stingy and opportunistic, not exactly the best opponent combination for a still-green Painter, though his improvement has been steady. Forcing him into mistakes will be vital to the Bengals’ success.
Though the Bengals are hardly prolific, they have a strength in Benson that corresponds to a glaring weakness on the Colts’ side — stopping the run. Expect big numbers from him this week.
Dalton is emerging as a cool-in-a-crisis type, which may put him in position to make a play that could prove decisive in a close game.
Prediction – What an awful season for the Colts in 2011. They have little to celebrate, and even last week they had a great shot to beat the Chiefs, but fell apart late. Now they head to Cincy, where the young Bengals are looking good at 3-2. Look for Andy Dalton and the Bengals to keep up the good play, and for the Bengals D to make it tough on the Colts to get in the end zone much. Cincinnati 21 Indianapolis 10