CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 16: Jim Caldwell the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts watches the game action during the NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on October 16, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Long time Washington Post columnist Meg Greenfield famously said "99 percent of politics is deciding whom to blame."
The same applies to losing sports franchises and after an 0-6 start, the decision for whom to hold responsible for the early season implosion has seemed pretty easy: The Colts coaching staff.
Each week fans, the media and this blog alike have been quick to point out every poorly timed time-out, imprudent challenge and obstinately designed defensive scheme.
The cacophony of criticism has reached a point where in Indy, Jim Caldwell has become synonymous with losing.
Not so yesterday. If we are going to heap the blame on Caldwell when he errors, we must be sure to deliver an equal measure of praise when praise is due.
Yesterday, Caldwell and the coaching staff devised a very solid game plan. The banged up, out-manned Colts played smart football with confidence and poise.
If Pierre Garcon doesn't suffer a late mental collapse, you got the feeling the Colts would have left Paul-Brown Stadium with a win.
Going into the game, the concern facing the Bengals was three-fold.
Most importantly was stopping the run. Check.
One of the tougher-hard nosed runners in the league, the Colts held Cedric Benson to just 57 on 3.6 ypc average.
The second facet of the Bengals offense with which the Colts were worried, was trying to stop receiver A.J. Green.
The Colts much-maligned secondary held the stud rookie out of Georgia to just 5 catches for 51 yards. While he did score a touchdown, Powers - who was slowed by a hamstring - covered the route well. Unfortunately, Green made an exceptional play and was able to out-jump him. Can't do anything about that.
Lastly, the final area of anxiety for the Colts was protecting Curtis Painter.
For such a haphazard offensive line, which featured Linkenbach at left tackle and a hobbled Ryan Diem at right tackle, the Colts line held up admirably surrendering just one sack to the league's top defense.
In large part Painter was protected (and later able to get into a rhythm) because the Colts ran the ball early and used bubble screens to Garcon and Wayne to keep the Bengals off balance.
Overall, the numbers point to a well coached game by Caldwell and crew.
The Colts ran the ball effectively and often, used creative schemes to protect the Painter and allow him to gain confidence and were relatively tough defensively.
In the key areas where the Colts have struggled, they showed marked improvements.
The Colts turned in their best statistical numbers on both converting third down (6-12) and stopping opponents and getting off the field on third downs (6-14) for the season.
Indianapolis was also 2-2 in the red zone, completely surprising Cincinnati with a little offensive ingenuity for Dallas Clark's late score.
Most importantly, the Colts continued several positive trademarks including committing only one penalty and showing heart by making a late fourth quarter surge.
What ultimately doomed the Colts was not the coaching nor the game plan, but rather inexplicable turnovers coupled with an inability to make any defensive plays (a rarity when Freeney and Mathis are in the game). Dallas Clark had a bad fumble on the Colt's opening series and Garcon had a total head-scratcher late in the game. Painter followed Garcon's but the interception was more a result of desperation than lack of judgment.
Because the Colts weren't able to get any of the giveaways back, the bus ride was another line trip home for a team that has continually found ways to lose.
This week however, the coaching staff shouldn't have to shoulder the blame