Bengals' quarterback Andy Dalton has been doing what's been asked and the Cincinnati defense has been taking care of the rest en route to a 3-2 start. The team entered Sunday's action fresh off back-to-back victories over the toast-of-the-NFL Buffalo Bills and the not-so-impressive Jacksonville Jaguars. In other words, life was good and getting better.
On the flip-side of that coin was Cinci's opponent for the NFL matinee: the unfortunate Colts.
Thanks to the Peyton Manning injury saga, the perennial Super Bowl contender has been forced to hand the offensive reins over to the golden-tressed Curtis Painter. The youngster has shown nice chemistry with wide receiver Pierre Garcon, but not much else. Further injuries on the defensive side of the ball have weakened that unit and, voila, 0-5.
The disparities in record notwithstanding, the game figured to be low scoring and close.
And that's exactly what we've seen.
Of course, that's good news because that means the Cincinnati Bengals are only five easy tweaks away from putting the win to bed:
1. Take the Training Wheels off of Andy Dalton
As I alluded to above, the rookie has been up to whatever he's been asked to do thus far. Dalton seems to be making the right decisions and avoiding the big mistakes so why not open up the playbook a little? See what the kid can do with a bigger arsenal; he's earned it.
2. Get Control of the Colts' Running Game
I haven't quite finished my NFL expert courses so I can't say for sure what's going wrong with the Cinci rushing defense, but something is definitely rotten in Denmark. The unit ranks in the League's top 10 in rushing yards allowed per game, yet it's been getting gashed by Indy.
Whether the culprit is poor angles, lack of concentration, scheming or a combination, the defense needs a good kick in the pants.
3. Keep Feeding Cedric Benson
Call it a counter-adjustment or a non-adjustment...
Although I think Dalton deserves some more latitude, I'm not crazy. Benson has been their bread and butter so far in 2011 and he's already enjoying a fine afternoon running the rock. The chore figures to get even easier as everyone wears down given Cedric's fortitude, so keep going to him.
4. Remember Jermaine Gresham
The big fella at tight end has been on of Dalton's favorite targets in 2011, but he's not seeing too many targets through the first 30 minutes. The Indy D is better than average when it comes to defending the position, but Gresham's a beast and well worth the risk of throwing into the teeth of the D.
5. Pressure Curtis Painter
Indianapolis has had a decent morning (at least in the Pacific time zone) running the ball so Cincinnati must account for Donald Brown or Delone Carter, but that shouldn't be exceptionally difficult. So don't throw the sink, but toss the rest of the kitchen at Painter.
He's looked shaky at times and, if the Bengals can make him feel a bit more heat, good things should happen for the defense.