Before the Week 11 matchup between the Colts and the Patriots, I wrote a column about the three questions I thought would determine the outcome of the game. My very first question: "Will the Patriots defense get to two?" and it was about whether New England would be able to pick off Andrew Luck twice in that game (the Patriots "only" got one in the win). If you don't watch Luck closely and buy into all his "second-coming" hype, then you probably believe he can do no wrong. But as I pointed out in that column, Luck consistently throws a few interceptable balls each game. The only difference is which defenses actually catch those interceptions and which ones end up dropping them.
I pointed out in that column that of the 15 losses the Colts had accrued with Luck at quarterback over the last three years, Luck had thrown at least one interception in all but two of those games. He threw at least two picks in seven out of those 15 losses. In that same time frame, the Colts had managed to win only four games in which Luck threw two or more picks. In short, if you want to beat the Colts you almost have to come home with an interception or two.
And so while most folks will be looking toward Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton as the barometer of who will win their matchup with the Colts this Sunday, I will once again be asking the same question of the Bengals defense that I asked of the Patriots: Can you get to two?
Luck threw six interceptions in six games after the Patriots loss. The Colts only lost one game in that time span, a 42-7 drubbing at the hands of the Cowboys. It just so happens that was one of two games in that span where Luck threw two interceptions. The other? The Browns game, you know, the one they had to come back from down 21-16 at the beginning of the fourth quarter to win to win by one point.
What makes this matchup particularly exciting is that the Bengals are one of the few teams fully equipped to take advantage of any "Favrerian passes*" Luck might happen to throw on Sunday. Cincinnati is third in the league in interceptions with 20, and they have veteran guys in their secondary like Reggie Nelson who know how to go after the ball like it's theirs when it's in the air. The recent play of young cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick also has to be encouraging as well, and it looks like he finally gets it after looking like a fish out of water the majority of his first couple of seasons in the league.
What you shouldn't do is look at it as whether the Bengals secondary can match up well with the Colts receivers. I am sure Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton should be back healthy this week after being banged up at the end of the season, but what I'm talking about has nothing to do with that. Andrew Luck, for whatever reason, just fires an off-target bullet or two almost directly to a defender just about every single game whether his guys are open or not. It is all going to come down to whether the guys in the Bengals' secondary are ready to pick those off rather than knock them down this weekend.
As I said of the Patriots in Week 11, the Bengals might want to get a li'l extra work on the Juggs machine this week, because that's what will decide this game. If you look at the stat sheet after the game on Sunday without knowing the score, I can promise you that if you see that Luck didn't throw any interceptions, then the Colts will have won and vice versa.
It's as simple as that.