There were both positive and negative takeaways from the Indianapolis Colts' loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, but the bottom line is that the Colts lost by double digits for the third time in five weeks.
The Colts (8-5) fall a game behind Cincinnati with the loss, but it's really a two-game deficit, as the Bengals now hold the tiebreaker. Indianapolis did clinch the AFC South, and a home playoff game, Sunday when the Tennessee Titans lost to the Denver Broncos. This means the Colts will likely host the Kansas City Chiefs on opening weekend of the playoffs.
For now, however, let's focus on this one. Who was to blame (or, in rare cases, to credit) for the loss to the Bengals? Find out in this week's report card.
Andrew Luck: B-
Luck was better this week, as improved pass protection gave him better conditions to work with. Luck responded with his best statistical numbers to date (326 yards, four touchdowns, 113.1 passer rating).
However, the numbers don't tell the whole story. Luck still missed some open throws, made some questionable decisions and struggled to make pre-snap adjustments. Luck is supposedly one of the smartest quarterbacks in the league, but his pre-snap reads have been lackluster.
On the bright side, Luck was much better, as a whole, after halftime, which may carry over to next week.
Donald Brown: C
A week after having a huge fourth quarter, Brown received just four carries (11 yards), just two of which were off-tackle. He also caught four passes, but they only netted 18 yards. We've discussed this before, but the Colts have done a terrible job of getting the ball to their running backs in favorable spots this season.
Trent Richardson: B-
Yes, the vast majority of Richardson's 88 rushing/receiving yards came late in the fourth quarter as the Bengals just ran a prevent defense. Still, this was the most decisive and confident we've seen Richardson play this season, so that was nice to see.
T.Y. Hilton: D
Free T.Y. Hilton? Hilton was supposed to step up and be the guy after Reggie Wayne was hurt, but opposing teams have taken Hilton out of the game quite easily in recent weeks. Hilton has been limited to less than 50 yards in each of the last four games, including this two-catch, seven-yard performance in Cincinnati.
Da'Rick Rogers: A
Fortunately for Indianapolis, undrafted free agent Da'Rick Rogers has emerged as a potential threat opposite Hilton. Rogers caught six passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns, all of which were game-highs on Sunday. Rogers had two passes that were catchable that he couldn't quite bring in, but overall he was very good in his first game as a steady contributor.
LaVon Brazill: B
Brazill wasn't incredibly consistent, but he broke multiple tackles on the way to a 19-yard touchdown reception in the second half and caught a beautiful pass from Luck down the right sideline later. He finished with 53 yards in three catches.
Darrius Heyward-Bey: C-
Heyward-Bey got some production Sunday (two catches, 23 yards), but he dropped another easy pass and his snaps are starting to go to Rogers.
Coby Fleener: B-
Fleener was his normal, quiet self on Sunday, producing a few key catches, but not causing a big stir. He finished with five catches for 31 yards, a surprisingly low total. Fleener is on his way to the fourth-most catches by a tight end in franchise history and seventh-most yards.
Jack Doyle: C
Doyle got involved in the passing game on Sunday, catching one pass for eight yards, and was mediocre in blocking once again. He was impressive a few weeks ago, but since then he's slipped.
Run Blocking: C
Pass protection: B+
The Colts abandoned the run so early, it's hard to judge the run blocking, but 31 yards on 10 carries isn't going to cut it.
On the other hand, the pass protection was much improved this week, partially due to Joe Reitz replacing Hugh Thornton at left guard. Andrew Luck was not sacked at all in this game and had much more time to go through his progressions.
Run Defense: C-
Pass Rush: F
On the other side of the coin is the Colts defensive line, which was subpar at best. The line was okay in the run game at times, generally stopping BenJarvus Green-Ellis on runs up the middle. But they lost contain on Giovani Bernard far too many times and allowed him to rush for over eight yards per carry.
As bad as that was, the pass rush was even worse. The Colts failed to get anywhere near Andy Dalton throughout the day, so when Bernard wasn't running wild, Dalton was taking his sweet time finding a favorable matchup.
Jerrell Freeman: C-
Pat Angerer: D
Kelvin Sheppard: D
Robert Mathis: D
Erik Walden: D
A big collective "D" for the linebackers on Sunday, except for Jerrell Freeman, who had a few decent plays.
Overall, however, it was one of the uglier linebacker performances we've seen from the Colts. The inside linebackers got caught up behind the line consistently against the run game, while the outside linebackers lost contain too often and offered absolutely nothing in pass rush.
Again, one of the most uninspiring, lackluster performances in recent history.
Vontae Davis: C
Cassius Vaughn: C-
Darius Butler: D+
Antoine Bethea: C+
LaRon Landry: D+
Like the linebackers, we're grouping everybody together today, because the unit as a whole was embarrassed. The secondary has struggled since losing Greg Toler, despite the fact that Toler wasn't playing that well prior to the injury.
The secondary does get some passes here, as the complete lack of pass rush makes it very difficult to stop anybody. The Colts' safeties Bethea and Landry mopped up a lot of the sloppy stuff from the front seven during the first half, but overall, the secondary has to step up if they're going to be a force in the playoffs.
Pat McAfee: B
McAfee averaged over 47 yards per punt, but outkicked his coverage a few times, resulting in a few longer-than-necessary punt returns, but in general, McAfee was his dependable self. He pinned the Bengals inside their own 10-yard line twice on beautiful punts.
Adam Vinatieri: D-
Vinatieri missed his only field-goal attempt of the day, a 43-yard attempt in the second quarter.