ReFo: Colts @ Bengals, Week 14
One of the few games without inclement weather was also one of the few games that turned into a blowout. The Bengals took an early 21 point lead, and though the Colts got it back to within seven in the middle of the third quarter, Cincinnati was able to put it away for a 42-28 win at home. These seem to be two teams heading in opposite directions, as they jockey for the third seed in the AFC (while the Bengals still have a shot at a bye). The Bengals have won three straight and are looking good in the AFC North. And Indianapolis has locked up the AFC South, but there are definitely signs for concern as the team continues to dig themselves early holes in games – and certainly a blowout loss against a fellow playoff team isn’t encouraging.
As always there were positives and negatives for both teams, so let’s take a look at some of the standouts.
Indianapolis – Three Performances of Note
Although they weren’t ultimately able to keep pace with their Cincinnati counterparts, the Colts received outstanding efforts from a pair of little-used WRs. Injured and suspended to start the year, LaVon Brazill came back in Week 6 with little fanfare; as evidenced by his 11 catches since Week 9, he’s gotten some looks, but hadn’t produced anything spectacular – until Sunday. At 6:30 of the third quarter, Brazill turned what looked like a routine shallow cross into a sensational 19 yard touchdown, breaking SEVEN Bengal tackles in the process. He added two more catches – and a second touchdown – finishing with a career-best 53 yards.
Perhaps even more impressive was rookie Da’Rick Rogers, who also took advantage of some poor tackling by the Cincinnati secondary to take a slant 69 yards for a touchdown (3Q, 10:09). Like Brazill, he also added a second touchdown as part of his team-leading six catch, nine target, 107 yard performance in his second career game. An undeniable talent coming out of Tennessee, Rogers has star-potential if he can stay motivated, not unlike Brazill who missed time for violating league policies earlier in the year. The Colts will take all the help they can get for what’s been, at times, a lackluster WR group.
Holding the Line
On the season, Andrew Luck has been pressured on over 38% of his dropbacks. Against the Bengals, that number was just 18.8% – or 9 of his 48 dropbacks – impressive facing a formidable front, albeit without Geno Atkins. Credit the tackles Anthony Costanzo and Gosder Cherilus, who combined to allow just one hurry. The Colts were equally stout on the inside with guards Mike McGlynn and Joe Reitz surrendering three hurries between them, while both players also graded positively in run blocking. For a line that’s struggled at times this season – the line ranks 28th in Pass Blocking Efficiency – it was encouraging to see the likes of Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap mostly held in check. Also consider Luck’s quick decision making in the pocket; he averaged a time to attempt of 2.44 seconds, significantly quicker than his season average of 2.63.
Defense falls short
Unfortunately for Indianapolis, its defensive front couldn’t match the performance of its offensive counterpart, with a performance as bad as the offense’s was good. Lack of a consistent pass rush has been a theme throughout the year; on Sunday the pass rush was as inept as we’ve seen. The Colts’ defense combined to produce just four hurries, pressuring the Cincinnati QB on just over 10% of his 37 drop backs. It didn’t help facing Andy Dalton, who has been one of the fastest in the league at getting rid of the ball; his average time to attempt of 2.25 seconds is the lowest time of any QB, and only Peyton Manning has been pressured less frequently. Still, the likes of Erik Walden and even Robert Mathis have to do better; the two were held pressure-less in 59 combined rushes, the first time all year in the case of Mathis.
The two were part of a defense that saw 14 of 19 players grade negatively, nine of them below -1.5.
Cincinnati – Three Performances of Note
Dalton on Fire
If you only saw this game, you’d think Andy Dalton was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. However, this was a stark contrast from his typical performance – just look at his last four games. And even with this game, he still carries a negative overall grade for the season. But what a game it was, as he came out firing, completing 24-of-31 aimed passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns, finishing with a grade of +5.6. There weren’t a whole lot of spectacular throws, though 8:11 of the first quarter and 14:52 of the fourth certainly fit that description, but Dalton was sharp throughout. A lack of pressure certainly helped, but it may not have mattered given how quickly and accurately the QB threw the ball. Particularly impressive was his handling of the Colt blitz, though it didn’t often get there. Entering this game he’d graded at -11.9 when defenses sent extra men, but on Sunday completed 13-of-15 passes and two of his three touchdowns on such plays (16 blitzes in his 37 dropbacks).
There are certainly some caveats given his body of work and that this game came against the less-than-stellar Indy defense, but it was the kind of performance that shows how dangerous Dalton and Cincinnati can be when at their best. It will be interesting to see if this is evidence of an impending hot streak as the playoffs approach.
It’s difficult to single out any one performance on the Bengal offense with how many great ones there were; the O-line was sensational, Gio Bernard continues to make a case for offensive rookie of the year, but how about the play of Jermaine Gresham. The tight end had what may have been the best all-around game of his career, grading at +4.6, solid in all three phases on offense. In the passing game he caught all five balls thrown his way for 41 yards and a TD, while also perfect in his 17 snaps in pass protection. His work in the run game was even better, as Gresham had his way with Cory Redding and Ricardo Matthews, sealing each on several runs (though Redding returned the favor on consecutive fourth quarter plays). A rare game where Gresham showcased the all-around ability that made him a first round pick in 2010.
As good as they were, the Bengals will surely be disappointed in two areas, both on defense. The first is the aforementioned pass rush; only Johnson disrupted the Colt QB on more than one occasion, while the three other players to each rush the passer more than 30 times combined for three pressures (Dunlap, James Harrison, and Wallace Gilberry). Tackling is the second area, as the team missed a total of 15 after averaging fewer than seven misses per game entering this week. They surpassed that average (quite unimpressively) on one play with seven players failing to bring down Brazill in one of the most pathetic displays of tackling you’ll see all season. That play, combined with the long Rogers touchdown on which both Adam Jones and Reggie Nelson missed tackles, allowed the Colts to get back in it. The Bengals were able to survive this one, but that type of effort will lead to a quick playoff exit if not corrected.
– Andrew Luck did most of his work in the short game, with 27 of his 29 completions and 35 of his 41 aimed passes thrown under 10 yards in the air; 61.7% of his 326 yards came after the catch.
– Despite the MT, Reggie Nelson graded at +1.3 on the day, thanks to a PD at 5:55 in the 2nd, a potential TD saving play, and good coverage on another play.
– Rookie Josh McNary was one of the few Colt defenders to grade positively, with two third-down stops on passes to Gio Bernard.
PFF Game Ball
This one goes to Andy Dalton with a game that gives hope he could produce an Eli or Flacco – like playoff run.
Follow John on Twitter: @John_Maney