The 8-4 Indianapolis Colts will travel to Cincinnati to play the 8-4 Bengals. The Colts will look to make it 2 wins in a row, and the Bengals look to make it 3 in a row. The game is expected to be played in cold, potentially snowy conditions, which should only add to the excitement. The winner of this matchup will also have an advantage at getting the #3 seed in the AFC.
What the Colts have to do to Win
Firstly, Andrew Luck has never played in cold rainy or snowy conditions. This will be a first for him, and it could be bad.
What the Colts have to do is quickly establish a running game and have a run happy attack. This is a game where the Colts cannot overly rely on Andrew Luck. As mentioned, he's not used to these conditions so asking him to do a lot is too much. They need to get that ground game going, and once that happens they'll be seeing a lot of long drives that will end in at least field goals. In what I expect to be a low scoring game, field goals are huge.
As for Luck though, he'll need to make good decisions this game. He cannot afford to make mistakes, because in this game TURNOVERS WILL BE THE DIFFERENCE. Luck should also use his legs because if there's nothing there, there is no need to force the ball into coverage, especially if it's rainy. The Colts should try and utilize a lot of short passes, like screen passes or dump off passes, just stuff that will get the ball moving and are guaranteed completions. They need to continue to move the ball and this is a sure way of doing that.
As mentioned earlier, the Colts need to get the ground game going this game. Donald Brown will be given a ton of opportunities and he'll need to use his vision to find the open holes. They should give him draw plays and some lead runs. Trent Richardson should also get his fair shares of runs. I'd also like to see the Colts give him some draw plays which should open up the passing game and give him some opportunities in space, which is exactly what the coaches want. They should mix it up between the two, but Brown should get the bigger bulk of the carries and snaps.
The offensive line will have to perform in this game because the Colts need Luck to stay upright and the inside running game to get going. They will be a few guys down, but with the way they're playing, they can't get much worse. They'll need to be able to recognize blitzes and realize when the ends are stunting and twisting. They'll need to pick those up because that's been the main problem over the past month: recognizing and seeing what the defense is doing. When they realize what they're doing, they're solid.
As for the defense...
The Colts must be able to stop the Bengals' rushing attack. If they can stop their rushing attack, they will have a very good chance at winning this game. Once they stop the attack, they need to take away the deep ball so Green and Jones cannot have big games.
The defensive line will need to get some inside penetration. The nose tackle, whether it's Franklin or Chapman, will need to consistently draw double teams in order to give Redding and Moala one on ones. Once that happens, getting penetration and pressure on the quarterback will be a lot easier. Another one of ensuring one on ones is that they can bring down the linebackers and make them blitz the A gap. The center or one of the guards will have to worry about the linebacker giving Redding/Moala a one on one. They need to find the right matchups and get some penetration to shut off the inside running game.
The linebackers will have to worry about the running game and Tyler Eifert. In terms of the running game, they cannot let the running backs get behind them. Robert Mathis and Erik Walden will have to play contain against the running game and not allow the running backs to get to the outside. If you look at the Cardinals game, Ellington and Mendenhall were able to get outside and it really empowered their running game. The Colts cannot let that happen again and must keep Green Ellis and Bernard on the inside. Once they're running inside, they'll need to have Jerrell Freeman and Pat Angerer (or Kelvin Sheppard) play gap cotnrol and burst through their gaps and make tackles. Not only can they not miss tackles, but they have to know which gap their hitting and they have to read the play. If they miss the hole, their running back will be able to get some big runs off, which is the last thing the Colts need. They did a great job against Johnson last week and they should adopt a similar gameplan in terms of how the linebackers should play.
The secondary will have the tough duty of covering AJ Green and Marvin Jones, two big play threats, especially Green. The Colts should put Vontae Davis against him and have Landry play deep because you want to take away the deep passes. If you take away the deep passes, you're limiting Jones a lot and you're taking away Green's best asset. So, the Colts must have a safety playing off on most of the plays, and on pretty much every 3rd down. They have to take away their best abilities.
What the Bengals have to do to Win
On offense, the Bengals, like the Colts, will need to adjust their offense to the weather. They should have a run happy attack, and unlike the Colts, they have the perfect group of running backs to do that. Benjarvus Green Ellis is a bruiser running back that can get you a few extra yards on each carry. Gio Bernard is the perfect change of pace back that can give you that explosive speed and elusiveness. They should evenly mix it up on the ground and give each of these guys at least 10 carries each. They need to have an effective ground and pound attack to move the ball well.
In terms of passing the ball, the Bengals should definitely try to utilize a conservative short passing attack. They need completed passes that move the ball. They cannot be too aggressive. They should target guys like Tyler Eifert and AJ Green because both guys are consistent receivers that you know will not drop the ball.
On defense, the Bengals' main worry will be to make the Colts go pass heavy. That means that they'll have to take away the running game. To take away the running game, they'll need to stack the box with an extra safety and have the linebackers playing close to the line of scrimmage. They need to take away inside running. Vontaze Burfict should keep an eye on Donald Brown the whole game and follow his every move.
Once they've taken away the running game, it means the Colts will be forced to pass the ball (and that will definitely happen if they're down early). Once they start passing more, the Bengals need to take away TY Hilton, Luck's current favorite target. To take him out, they should play man to man on him with safety help over the top to take away the deep passes. If that eliminates Hilton, the Bengals should try and put Maualugo on Fleener or have a safety on him. After that, they'll need to bring some double A gap blitzes and some outside linebacker blitzes to attempt to get pressure on Luck.
To recap, on offense they'll need to mix it up in the running game and to go run heavy during the game. On defense, they'll need to make the Colts go pass heavy and eliminate TY Hilton by putting safety help over the top and getting inside gap pressure on Luck.
I think considering the weather conditions, the Colts will tend to run the ball a bit more often this game which means that the most intriguing matchup will be the Colts' running backs vs the Bengals' linebacker. Vontaze Burfict is a above average linebacker who excels in tackling and he will need to stop Donald Brown in this game. The winner of this matchup will have a big say in how the Colts' offense does.
Neither quarterback will have more than 240 passing yards.