During the first quarter, the offense was sputtering, and I once again started asking myself “Is Reich really a good head coach, or did he just benefit from having Luck, and is now being exposed?” Fortunately, Reich finally seemed to open up the playbook and as a result the offense exploded, with Rivers having his best game since joining the Colts.
#1: Opening up the passing attack
This was the type of showing we Colts fans were expecting out of this offense. Injuries to Campbell and Pittman seemed to throw a wrench in the passing game plan, but with the emergence of Marcus Johnson and Trey Burton as solid receivers Reich is finally starting to put more trust into the air attack. It also helps that the pass protection was considerably better, albeit against a weak defensive front but anything is okay to break out of the slump. Before the season started, it seemed like the offense would only go as far as the running game would take it, now it looks like the passing game will open things up for Taylor on the ground.
#2: Trusting the hot hand
Julian Blackmon, Trey Burton, Jonathan Taylor, Bobby Okereke, and Tyquan Lewis are all players that are starting to show up for this team, and Reich places a lot of faith in all of them. Sunday’s game was no exception, as Blackmon played the entire game, Burton got 5 touches (2 in the red zone, turning them into two scores), Jonathan Taylor was once again the lead back, Bobby Okereke will get more snaps than Walker once Leonard returns, and Tyquan Lewis asserted himself as part of the defensive line rotation.
#3: More creative blitzes
I’m happy with Eberflus as our defensive coordinator, but there are two things about him that exasperate me: the lack of mid-game adjustments to his soft zone defense when it is not working, and the refusal to dial up blitzes when the 4-man pass rush is not bringing any pressure. On Sunday, Burrow was not pressured at all during the first 3 drives, and Eberflus started calling some delayed blitzes, stunts, and got Kenny Moore involved. Some worked, some did not (take Higgins massive 3rd down reception for example), but more often than not a rookie quarterback will make mistakes when pressured, and it will certainly throw him off his rhythm.
#1: Early play calling
I have never been more frustrated with how a game started. I was honestly just looking at the TV in shock, thinking this can not be real. There are no adjectives to describe just how bad the team looked out of the gate, nothing went right, and the team was unraveling. Defensively, the Bengals made a couple of really good plays on scripted calls, and their offensive line came out with a lot of juice, but offensively the play calling was just awful. Why throw a screen to the Colts’ slowest player next to Philip Rivers? I honestly think I could beat Doyle in a 40-yard dash, and the play-calling on the following two three-and-outs was uninspiring to say the least.
#2: Situational play calling in the 4th quarter
Rivers interception in the 4th quarter could have been avoided, as the Colts were already in the Bengals’ 43-yard line, why not play it a little bit more conservative, instead of placing an awful lot of trust in a quarterback that has shown a tendency to make some questionable decisions. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the aggressiveness by Reich after the first quarter, but on some situations caution would have been the better choice.
#3: Not masking Anthony Walker’s coverage weakness on 3rd down
Anthony Walker is a solid NFL linebacker but he struggles an awful lot in coverage. While he is a sound tackler, excellent at sniffing out running lanes and is the vocal leader of the defense, he just seems lost on zone coverages and Sunday was no different, as Burrow attacked his space time and time again on third downs and seemed to always find an open player. Luckily, Darius Leonard will be back next week, and if the games before his injury are any indication his main sidekick will be Bobby Okereke, who is much better in coverage than Walker.