The first half of this game was a competition between two teams to throw away opportunities to win the game in each phase. Cincinnati allowed tons of pressure from Colts blitz packages with empty backfields. Indianapolis had horrible offensive play-calling in short and long-distance situations. They took turns making plays or blowing special teams opportunities.
Somehow the Colts defense managed to limit the impact of A.J. Green in the first half. The Bengals relied on a big first half from rookie running back Joe Mixon, who was featured on a 67-yard screen pass that punished the Colts aggressive pass rush. The Colts relied upon Jack Doyle to keep the chains moving and score a rare passing touchdown in the first half.
Maybe the most surprising thing in the first half is that the Colts offense completed a successful two minute drive for the go ahead field goal. Two completions to Jack Doyle and a long completion to Kamar Aiken along the right sideline, along with a roughing the passer penalty that put Indianapolis well into Adam Vinatieri’s field goal range allowed the Colts to enter half time up 13-10.
To start the second half, the Bengals put together a long offensive drive, finding multiple ways to keep the chains moving. A questionable challenge that the Colts technically won didn’t change the spot of the ball or possession. Passes to Lafell, Bernard, and a second helping of rookie Josh Malone beating Vontae Davis allowed Cincinnati to take back the lead.
In what might be the most unexpected possession of the Colts season, Indianapolis responded with its own long offensive drive. Tough running by Gore and Mack kept the offense balanced, with another pass to Jack Doyle. A check down to Marlon Mack abused the Bengals aggressive defense who were hoping to dial up pressure and rattle Brissett.
This type of play-calling will work all the time. This is what they need to continue to do moving forward. Mack will break monster plays for touchdowns on third and medium or third and long when defensive coordinators get cheeky.
On the next defensive series, Darius Butler stripped Joe Mixon as he was trying to pick up a first down. The ball was recovered by Jon Bostic and gave Jacoby Brissett and the Colts offense great field position to build on their lead. In what became a theme in the game, the Colts continued to show some heady play-calling and balance.
Tough running by Frank Gore, more check downs to Jack Doyle, and getting the ball to Mack around the edge. It is hard to imagine what has happened in the last week to convince Rob Chudzinski to make such glaring changes but this version of the offense can win football games.
Somehow an obvious pass interference call is not called as Marlon Mack released on a shallow out. Vontaze Burfict can hit the running back inside of five yards but not when the ball is in the air. At that point it becomes a live ball. This no call forced Indianapolis to take the field goal and pushed the lead to 23-17 — instead of what could have been 27-17.
If the offensive balance was a surprise all game, the only thing that could have been an even bigger shock was a defense that played aggressively, using creative blitz packages to keep pressure on Andy Dalton. Credited with multiple sacks on what was the most important Bengals possession of the game, the Colts were able to force a punt and get the ball back into the hands of an offense that had been showing the ability to run the football for tough yards all game long.
With just shy of eight minutes to go in the game with a six point lead, the Colts offense needed to play smart football, avoid turnovers, and put together another scoring drive — a FG would get the job done. Instead, on the second play of the drive, Brissett threw a pick-six on a pass Carlos Dunlap batted to himself. This resulted in Cincinnati taking a late lead 23-24.
Unfortunately for the Colts, a false start penalty on first down by Anthony Castonzo backed them up. A ridiculous first down play call in this situation giving Gore the ball up the gut would gain only two yards. Jack Doyle had a nice catch to setup a third and seven only to have Kamar Aiken drop his third pass of the day — when he would have otherwise earned a first down and kept the chains moving.
Another big defensive series results in the Colts getting back ball back at around their own 25 yard line. Make no mistake about it that Henry Anderson had his best game of the season and possibly the best of his career to help keep Indianapolis in the game. Speaking of career games and playing a huge role in the outcome, Jack Doyle played out of his mind in this one. It seemed like every Colts drive included Doyle getting first downs and making big plays.
In another loss, it is what happened last that leaves a bad taste in the mouths of fans. A pick-six thrown by Brissett in the fourth quarter. A fourth and manageable situation that sent receivers, such at T.Y. Hilton, on routes 15 or more yards down the field is indefensible. The Bengals attempted to generate pressure with a stunt up front that landed, but all Indianapolis needed was a short gain. When the Bengals sold out to cover Mack, the middle of the field was wide open. Instead of running a dig or have someone on a shallow cross, or a rub route to get someone open underneath, we have Hilton on a flag route deep down the field.
This team is incapable of closing out games. It is frustrating to see the players work so hard for three and a half quarters only to watch Brissett and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski throw it all away.