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Knee-Jerk Reactions: Colts drop opener to Bengals 34-23

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Cincinnati Bengals v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

After a strong first half showing, the Colts fell flat in the second half to drop their season opener. The nightmarish end to the game is a continuation of the blown first half leads from a season ago. This is something fans were expecting to change with Andrew Luck’s return.

Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t exactly the same. Luck and the offense were moving the ball at will against the Bengals defense with just under a minute to play before Jack Doyle fumbled. Last year, fans felt defeated late in games and didn’t have a great deal of confidence that anything magical could happen. This time, fans trusted in Luck and the offense and one bad play ended that dream.

The biggest reasons the Colts lost this game were players and position groups where Indianapolis had a great deal of strength entering the game. Safeties Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers were assumed to be a big part of the new-look Colts defense. Instead, they blew coverage deep on A.J. Green that allowed a long touchdown reception. Geathers was whistled for a pass interference penalty that allowed the Bengals to continue a second half drive that led to a touchdown.

Tight end Jack Doyle has become one of the most reliable and trusted targets in Indianapolis over the last few years. Luck targeted Doyle late in the fourth quarter as he was trying to drive down for the game winning touchdown. His pass was on target and Doyle had the yards he needed for another first down, all he needed to do was go down and allow the Colts to use one of their timeouts. Instead, Bengals safety Clayton Fejedelum put a hit directly on the ball and scooped it up for the game-sealing touchdown.

In terms of pass rush, the Colts still struggled generating pressure off of the edges. Surprisingly, Al Woods and Margus Hunt were the most disruptive pieces on the defensive line. Coming into the game most would have expected bigger pressure from Jabaal Sheard and Denico Autry.

Until the second half, the Colts offensive line did what they needed to do to keep Andrew Luck upright and stifle defensive end Carlos Dunlap. In the second half, Dunlap got going and put the offense into difficult situations, playing a major role in keeping Indianapolis off of the board in the fourth quarter.

One aspect of the Colts defense that turned out about as fans might have expected is the run defense. The Bengals picked up over 100 yards on the ground and Joe Mixon was very effective rushing and in the passing game in the second half. This will be a work in progress and is one of the biggest issues when you rely so much on speed and give up size on the defensive side of the ball.

A loss is always frustrating but there are some very positive indications for the team’s future and things to build upon. To start, this offense was very efficient. Frank Reich is going to utilize all of his weapons and it is clear that he has a ton of options. Nyheim Hines had a strong first outing after showing very little in the preseason. Jordan Wilkins continued to look good. Maybe even more encouraging is that Reich and Ballard gave the rookies a ton of opportunities and that can only be positive for their development. When Marlon Mack returns it should give them another weapon.

While Andrew Luck took some hits and two sacks, we knew heading into the game that the Bengals defensive line would present a major challenge. Rookie guard Quenton Nelson did a very nice job keeping Geno Atkins in check throughout the game. Anthony Castonzo should return to the lineup within the next week or so and will certainly help solidify things on the left side. Joe Haeg played admirably overall and may get the nod at right tackle when Castonzo returns. Long-story short, this wasn’t a perfect effort and there was more pressure than we would have liked to see, but there are also signs that the line is better now than it was a year ago and should get better when key players get healthy.

This defense is very fast. Darius Leonard looks natural as a starting linebacker in the NFL and was making plays all over the field. The secondary looked comfortable flying to the ball and made heads up plays, including a nice forced fumble by Matthias Farley — who arguably had the best game of any safety on the roster. There is no doubt that this defense will continue to make some exciting plays throughout the season and speed will often be the reason.

Take away the big play at the end of the game and you would be excused if you felt like the team was far outperforming expectations. The offense showed some encouraging signs and the defense was better in the first half than anyone would have reasonably expected.

This is a difficult loss to take early in the season with a tough early year slate ahead but there were also enough positive signs to suggest that the season isn’t lost. This team could still surprise a lot of people and a win next week could go a long way in helping to erase the disappointment fans are feeling this week.