Colts vs. Bengals: Takeaways from Cincinnati's 42-28 Win over Indianapolis
While it was a major win over the AFC South-leading Colts, it was not always pretty. But the team as a whole, especially quarterback Andy Dalton, showed immense improvement from just a week ago.
The win bodes well for Cincinnati as it preps for the playoffs. This was not just an important win over a team they could meet again, as the Bengals showed positives on both sides of the football in adverse weather sure to translate well to postseason play.
Here is a look at a few of the biggest takeaways from Cincinnati's win.
Andy Dalton Can Spar with the Best Given a Proper Game Plan
Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton had a tough outing a week ago against San Diego as he threw for 190 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
That was about par for the course, as the TCU product has often been unpredictable this season.
However, Dalton turned things around against the Colts. He threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns on a 24-of-35 day.
Once again, Dalton's strong performance mostly came from great play-calling by the staff. Dalton was backed by a balanced rushing attack (more on that later) and was protected with a variety of short passes with minimal risk.
We have known for some time that the Bengals can win, and maybe win it all, with Dalton. As usual, that will be decided by how the coaching staff uses Dalton. On Sunday, it was perfection.
A.J. Green Can Be Effective in Other Areas Besides Deep
Cincinnati Bengals fans are used to seeing A.J. Green go deep.
The approach makes sense. The 6'4" receiver makes most of his money through his ability to stretch the field and make major plays.
But on Sunday against the Colts, the coaching staff hit everyone with something a bit out of the ordinary—Green was asked to run a variety of short routes such as slants.
Of course, Green was effective in the process. He caught six passes for 72 yards and a score, and the touchdown came from nine yards out.
This is a wrinkle fans may see more of with the playoffs on the horizon. It opens things up to the outside for Green, removes some of the predictability and allows Green to stay involved as someone who can consistently move the chains.
The One-Two Punch at RB Is Tough to Contain
Cincinnati seems to have finally found the proper balance when it comes to the rushing attack.
It has seemed rather simple from the beginning. Veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the hammer. Rookie Giovani Bernard is the shifty change-of-pace option.
This was on full display Sunday against a mediocre Indianapolis defense. Bernard received 12 carries, which he turned into 99 yards. He also caught four passes for 49 yards.
Green-Ellis did the dirty work in short-yardage situations and carried the ball 17 times for 48 yards and two touchdowns.
When the ground game is clicking like this, the Bengals are a tough out for any team. It also makes Andy Dalton's job much easier. Look for the coaching staff to stick with the approach heading into the postseason.
Mike Zimmer Has Some Work to Do with Playoffs on the Horizon
Make no mistake, the Cincinnati Bengals defense had a strong overall showing Sunday against Indianapolis.
But coordinator Mike Zimmer is surely red-hot over a few plays and numbers. For one, the unit looked laughably bad on a Lavon Brazill touchdown as it missed six tackles.
Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer summed it up nicely:
6 missed tackles as Luck hits Brazil for a 19 yard TD— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) December 8, 2013
With all due respect to Brazill, he is not Calvin Johnson. Rather, he is a sixth-round pick out of the 2012 draft. That is simply unacceptable.
The pass defense should also irk Zimmer. Brazill and Da'Rick Rogers, an undrafted rookie, had major days as Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star illustrates:
#colts Da'Rick Rogers 6 catches, 107 yds, 2 TDs. LaVon Brazill 3-53-2.— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) December 8, 2013
Again—good performance overall but plenty of learning points for the elite unit.
Marvin Jones Continues to Be Most Reliable Option After Green
There is a wealth of talent in Cincinnati after receiver A.J. Green, but one name continues to pop up consistently almost every week—Marvin Jones.
Jones had another impressive performance Sunday, this time bringing in three catches for 60 yards and a touchdown.
While defenses have to account for Green, two talented tight ends and a duo of quality players at running back, Jones continues to shine and make a name for himself.
It is a small point but one worth mentioning. Jones is the type of player who could make or break a game when the playoffs roll around.
Offensive Line Is Just Fine
Indianapolis is not exactly known for having a dominant defense, but a weakened Cincinnati offensive line still had a strong showing on Sunday.
With Andrew Whitworth kicked inside to left guard, Anthony Collins starting at left tackle and Mike Pollak starting in place of Kevin Zeitler at right guard, the Bengals managed to not skip a beat.
Quarterback Andy Dalton was not sacked all day, and the offense rumbled for 155 rushing yards and a 6-of-12 effort on third down.
Not bad considering the shuffling at most spots. The effectiveness is a great sign should the line not get healthy in time for the playoffs.
Bengals Can Dominante Mediocre Competition
Yes, the Indianapolis Colts are leading the AFC South and are on the way to the postseason.
Does that immediately make them a good team? Absolutely not, especially in the laughably bad AFC.
So it should come as no surprise the Cincinnati Bengals were able to take care of business on Sunday. The Bengals converted 50 percent of their third-down attempts, while the Colts went just 2-of-10.
Cincinnati held the ball for over 37 minutes. They rushed for 155 yards to Indianapolis' 63. In the end, the Bengals were able to respond whenever the Colts had seemingly captured the momentum and were set to get back in the game.
This is what the great teams do. They dominate mediocre competition in convincing fashion while solidifying postseason fortunes. Cincinnati did just that against Indianapolis.
Paul Brown Stadium Is an Unkind Place to Play
It is time to add Paul Brown Stadium to that list. As ESPN's Coley Harvey illustrates, the home crowd has been good to the Bengals this year:
#Bengals also now 6-0 at home this year. They love Paul Brown.— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) December 8, 2013
Entering the game, the Bengals were 5-0 at home for the first time since 1988. As fans know, '88 was a year great things happened in the Queen City for their football team.
Now the record is 6-0. Regardless of the level of competition, that is an impressive feat. Even better is the fact the Bengals still have a shot at hosting a playoff game.
Bengals Are Built for Postseason Success
Take into account everything said earlier about Cincinnati. With the coaching staff having seemingly figured things out offensively with a balanced attack and the defense more than capable of addressing issues, this is a Bengals team sure to finish the year strong.
Now on a three-game winning streak, it feels like we have seen the young Bengals grow up in recent weeks. The offense is clicking. The defense remains the same. The two-game stretch of overtime losses beginning in Week 9 has been followed by wins in games that were more than winnable.
The rest of the games this year are just that. Even better, the Bengals are in the middle of a serious fight with New England for the No. 2 spot in the AFC—a team they already beat earlier in the year.
All things considered, everything is clicking at the right time. As Baltimore showed a year ago, sometimes that is all it takes.