Why Indianapolis is a Better Match for the Bengals than Baltimore
With under four minutes left in the game and the division on the line, the Bengals found themselves a touchdown away from hosting a playoff game.
The much maligned Andy Dalton threw a perfect strike to his best player A.J. Green on a slant, setting them up well in within field goal range, but... he fumbled and they lost.
Disappointing? Of course. Green is clearly a great player, but he now has seven regular-season fumbles and one really hurtful one in Houston in the Wild Card game in 2012. While he has made clutch plays to be sure, it has become increasingly more difficult to label him a clutch player.
That aside, the loss on Sunday night may have a silver lining. The Indianapolis Colts are a bonafide playoff contender, winning 11 games and throwing the ball around like a video game. The Baltimore Ravens, however, hail from the league's best division, are a frequent playoff participant, and were edged twice by Cincinnati already this year.
The superstition equation says it's daunting to beat a good team three times in a season as illogical as they may sound to some.
Following that path of flawed logic, it also says here that because the Bengals were so bad in their first meeting against Indy, they should feel good about their chances Sunday in a place that looks more like a mall than a football stadium. Things can only go up from here, the old adage says.
Beyond superstition, though, there are hard analytical reasons the Bengals actually got a sweeter deal on Sunday in Indy rather than hosting the Ravens.
Last January, the Chargers won in Cincinnati because they ran the ball down the throat of the Bengals with three backs each gaining over 50 yards on the ground. It wore down the Zim Clan in the second half and put pressure on the Bengals offense to keep up, which they folded with multiple second half turnovers.
In all of their losses this season with the exception of the last one, they were hammered by the run, giving up at least 170 yards on the ground in their defeat. In contrast, the Colts have generated only 66 yards combined in their last two games, including gaining only one single yard in their loss to Dallas two weeks ago. Not one Colt has generated a 100-yard rushing game this season.
On the other hand, Baltimore found a reliable rushing attack despite losing their top running back before the season to domestic violence issues and finding gold in free agent Justin Forsett. For whatever reason, Forsett became extremely comfortable behind a well-rounded Ravens offensive line and gained over 1,200 yards on the year and averaged over five yards per carry. The Bengals did a fair job limiting Forsett in their two matches, but to contain him a third time with the weather cold and the intensity raised is a scary prospect.
Passing remains necessary in the playoffs, to be sure, but the Bengals get creamed when they lose on the ground and Baltimore is absolutely more of a running team than the Colts. Can Indianapolis still win if rendered a one-dimensional passing team with Andrew Luck? Yes. The man has nearly 5,000 yards passing and 40 touchdowns on the season. He is a top-10 NFL quarterback and a rising star, but putting the onus squarely on him feels like the recipe to shake the playoff monkey off of the Bengals' collective backs. If Cincinnati can't stop the run and lose regularly on third down like their last Indy trip, they have no chance. Baltimore would gash the Bengals, the Colts should simply graze them.