Colts vs. Bengals: 16 Things We Learned from Cincinnati's 27-17 Win

Ezri SilverCorrespondent IOctober 16, 2011

Colts vs. Bengals: 16 Things We Learned from Cincinnati's 27-17 Win

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    The Bengals showed many facets against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 6 of the 2011 NFL season.  None were more positive than the solid four quarters of play attributed to Andy Dalton—arguably Dalton's finest and first full-game performance.

    Yet with some bruises on defense and a stymied and stifled running game, slogging through the invisible mud was to be had.

    The Bengals continued their streak for the dramatic with their second game-changing, game-ending, nail-in-the-coffin defensive fumble recovery for a touchdown, while A.J. Green caught yet another score on offense to replace the memories of prior acrobats.

    Going into the bye week, the Bengals are looking poised and now need to refresh for the final stretch—the long haul.

    Here is what the we learned about the Bengals in Week 6.

Jay Gruden Is Bringing Back a Dynamic Offense

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    The days of stale offense under prior management (Bob Bratkowski) are seemingly a distant memory—despite what Mike Brown claimed in his interview with Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer regarding prior coaching performances.

    Jay is definitely mixing up the game and making the offense more diverse.  There is a strong short, medium and long passing game.  The rushing attack needs work with some better offensive line structure but the point has been made.

    Gruden utilized all three primary running backs in Cedric Benson, Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard.

    Variation in the running game is still somewhat of an issue as Gruden had to settle for a field goal when he attempted a variation of the inside left tackle run he used in Week 5 with Scott (which resulted in a touchdown) by sending Benson on the left side twice inside the 5-yard line to end the first half—coming away with only a field goal.

    In fact, coming into a season where the running game was expected to be the only hope for a rebuilt offense, the passing game is flourishing while the running game languishes. 

    Against the 30th-ranked rushing defense in the Indianapolis Colts (averaging 136.7 rushing yards per game against through Week 5), the Bengals only managed 94 rushing yards whereas the same team sporting a No. 20 ranking against the pass (average 255.8 passing yards per game through Week 5) was marginally eclipsed by the Bengals passing attack which put up 264 passing yards.

Offensive Line Is Not Opening Good Holes

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    The running game struggled primarily because the holes which were opened generally moved sideline to sideline with little forward push.  Bernard Scott seemed to be the only one quick enough to make it through the line for a few yards or more but all in all, it was a disappointing running performance against one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL.

    It could be argued the Colts were looking to force Dalton and the passing game to perform, but that made more sense early on in the game and less as the afternoon wore on.

..but Good Pass Protection This Week

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    Against a team with nine sacks over five game, the chance of pressure in the backfield seemed likely for a Bengals team that has 11 sacks against them already.  Yet the line held strong for Dalton and the air attack—despite facing Robert Mathis (3.5 sacks) and future Hall of Famer Dwight Freeney (4.5 sacks)—surrendering absolutely no sacks and only one quarterback hit.

    Bengals.com's "Matchup of the Game," between Freeney and the Bengals' left tackle Andre Whitworth along with Robert Mathis matching up against Andre Smith had the Bengals coming out the better with matchup yielding one pass defended (Mathis) and one defensive offsides (Mathis), with the lone mistakes coming from Whitworth in the form of two false starts (one on an extra point and one on the first drive of the third quarter).

Dalton Is Definitely Improving

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    Andy Dalton put up his first solid game with four complete quarters of football.  Sporting a 111.5 passer's rating, Dalton utilized five passing targets more than once and four others had a single catch a piece.  Andy showed poise in the pocket and passing presence on the run, a versatility not seen since—dare it be thought—Boomer Esiason.

    As a blessing in disguise, good riddance to Carson Palmer and on to the ironic battle between owner, president and general manager Mike Brown for the right to even play another down in the NFL (in retrospect, it is sort of sweet justice for Brown to punish Palmer for taking his front-loaded bonus without earning it).

...While Benson Is Falling Behind

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    Benson looked visibly frustrated with being unable to string together much of anything consistent again as the power running game was not complementary to the solid wall the line was setting up—that seemed to hold but not move forward.

    Cedric's few moments of light were a nine-yard run on the first drive of the second quarter and a third-quarter touchdown on the first drive of the second half.  Meanwhile Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard were brought more into the mix to spice up the backfield short game, providing a smattering of passes to the flats and bursting runs.

    One has to wonder if Benson is slowing down as he looked blatantly statuesque, with 16 rushing attempts producing 57 yards, translating into 3.6 yards per carry accompanied by the aforementioned touchdown.

Brian Leonard Is a Clutch Beast

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    Brian Leonard came up again when it was needed catching two key second-half passes to extend drives (13 yards in the third quarter leading to a field goal and 25 yards in the fourth quarter leading to Mike Nungent's first miss of the season).

    Leonard was quick as well as elusive, showing that he is certainly a viable backfield option to say the least.

A.J. Green Is the Real Deal

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    Wide receiver A.J. Green added to his impressive rookie season catching five of seven targeted passes for 51 yards and the Bengals' first drive touchdown—Dalton's lone passing TD on the day.

    Green's opening performance is now six sessions in with 29 catches, 453 yards, translating into four touchdowns on the season.

    Checking in on Chad Ochocinco and he added a lone target (he did not catch it) to his bench-warming statistics.  Maybe "No-show-cinco" would be a more appropriate last name now that Cincinnati has officially moved on.

Jerome Simpson Is Back

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    After staying quiet for several weeks following questioning over a plethora of marijuana being shipped to and then yet another motherload being discovered in his residence, Simpson exploded back on the scene with six catches out of nine targets for 101 yards—including a long pass of 32 yards (the longest Bengals offensive play of the day).

    Simpson showed that he is still part of what makes the Bengals passing attack successful—part athleticism and part variety, which spreads the opposition thin.

    Yet Simpson also found ways to let the Bengals down in the clutch, dropping a wide open, five-yard sideline pass which would have likely led the Bengals to a first down at the beginning of the fourth quarter to help put more distance in the possession game between Cincinnati and Indianapolis.

    It appears Jerome is here to stay (for now), so while the team works on improving, Simpson should be a part of those plans.

Bengals Defensive Line Is the Backbone of the No. 1 Defense

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    Carlos Dunlap's fumble recovery for a touchdown said it all with an explosion.  The Bengals defensive front and the ability to move the offensive line as well as invade the opposition's offense spells success or failure for this Bengals team.  Though only one sack was had (by Michael Johnson) this week, three quarterback hits, three tackles for a loss, 11 assists and nine tackles complemented the line's performance. 

    Getting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks will be key, though, in the coming weeks.  How the linebackers affect the line (and the status of the linebacking core) will tell the tail.

    As Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer pointed out, while the Bengals will be dropping to second in the league behind the arch-rival Pittsburgh Steelers (who held the Jaguars to only 209 yards on offense), the defense is making plays in all areas where it counts, ironically at its weakest point—the secondary.

Defense Needs Rey Maualuga over the Middle

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    With Rey Maualuga missing for the defensive quarterback position of middle linebacker, the significance of the void left by the newly anointed leader of the defense was felt.  Dan Skuta tried to fill in but just did not give any presence.  Curtis Painter simply targeted the middle of the field at his whim with Skuta unable to track down the big runs that Maualuga would have swallowed up.

    With Rey appearing to have a severe ankle sprain—as Marvin Lewis referred to the injury as not "broken medically" via Bengals.com—it could be up to a month-and-a-half before Rey sees another snap.

    Maualuga is showing that he is as important to the Bengals defense as a certain fellow USC alum is to the Pittsburgh Steelers—Troy Polamalu—at the exact same position.  Similarly, Polamalu took a knee to the head this week (albeit in-game) to join Maualuga possibly on the sidelines.

    With two weeks to rest before the Seahawks (who will be coming off of a Week 7 matchup with the Cleveland Browns), and then the meaningful meat and potatoes of the schedule rearing its formidable head with the upstart Titans in Tennessee in Week 9, the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium in Week 10 and then travelling to face the Ravens in Baltimore in Week 11, the Bengals will need Rey back if they want to truly compete.

Cincinnati's Defense Could Use Some on the Side with Rivers Too

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    Not much is known about Keith Rivers' wrist injury he sustained outside of football activities (for which he had surgery in July) and yet one thing remains uncertain—if Rivers will even make it back on the field for 2011.

    Yet another alum of the USC Trojans and a pivotal position player who has seemingly underperformed since being drafted ninth overall in 2008, Rivers would help bolster the mid-range area of the field both for the run and short pass.

    It remains to be seen if Keith will be able to perform though, as he still has not been cleared medically.

Secondary Needs To Improve

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    While the Bengals got the overall play from the defense that was needed, the secondary found itself outmatched yet again.  Morgan Trent did not help matters as he helped set up an eventual game-narrowing touchdown by incurring a pass interference penalty in the end zone.

    With Adam "Pacman" Jones coming off the PUP (player unable to perform) on Monday, let's hope Pacman has had his share of power pellets while he has been away.  The secondary sorely needs help.

Nate Clements Was a Great Pickup Replacement for Johnathan Joseph

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    Nate Clements certainly was in many places on the field and not all of them were the right places (overcommitting on the end around by Donalt Brown which resulted in the game-tying touchdown at the beginning of the second quarter).  Clements made his presence known otherwise, causing a fumble on the first drive of the game to set up the Dalton-to -Green touchdown, and blocking a momentum-changing, potentially game-tying field goal on a late Colts drive to shift the momentum squarely back in Cincinnati's favor.

    Clements is filling in where Johnathan Joseph left off the best he can and that may not be too bad considering Joseph is also having a productive season.

    Surround Clements with more game-changing players in the secondary and other teams will really have to start worrying.

Need To Get Back to Discipline Without Penalties

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    A more troubling habit reared its ugly head against the Colts as the Bengals looked undisciplined on both sides of the ball at times.  Eleven penalties for 111 yards—nine penalties for 80 yards on the offense, two penalties 31 on the defense.

    • Three false starts (offense)
    • Two pass interference calls (one defense, one offense)
    • Three holding penalties (all offense)
    • One offsides (defense)
    • One personal foul (offense)
    • One unsportsmanlike conduct (offense)

    It was not a good day to be jumpy nor the team to be jumpy against.  Reaction timing will be important to correct in this area.

The Best (or Worst) Is Yet To Come

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    While the unpredictable Seattle Seahawks, Cleveland Browns—with the newly disgruntled Peyton Hillis—St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals seemingly await as the calm within the storm of the remainder of the season schedule, all that is warm and fuzzy could easily blow up after the bye week.

    Awaiting the young Bengals is a meeting in Tennessee with the Titans, two meetings with both the Ravens and Steelers, and a date in December with the formidable Houston Texans.

    Fans bewarem as while NBC's Pro Football Talk is labeling the Bengals as "sleeper playoff contender[s]," the true test of this team's mettle is yet to come.

Conclusion: Rookie of the Year and Need To Heal

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    Week 6 might have been more of a testament to the Colts and their legendary quarterback in a sling, Peyton Manning.  With Manning, the Colts are seemingly unstoppable.  Without Manning, well, they are 0-6.

    Early observations seem to indicate that Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are making cases for themselves as contenders for Rookie of the Year along with Cam Newton (QB Carolina Panthers) and Julio Jones (WR Atlanta Falcons).

    Key needs for the Bengals over the bye week will be to ascertain the status of Rey Maualuga, fit Adam "Pacman" Jones into the secondary to bolster the weak link in the defensive chain and continue to develop the running game to free up more variety on offense.