In Week 14, our Indianapolis Colts will hop on 465 South and take the I-74 exit all the way to Ohio to take on the Cincinnati Bengals. Knowing the party was hitting the road this weekend I sat down with Anthony Consenza of Cincy Jungle. You can find him on Twitter @CJAnthonyCUI. We swapped questions about the Colts and Bengals and what follows is what I learned about this week’s enemy.
Chris Shepherd: Obviously once Joe Burrow went down the Bengals offense had to change. On Monday night the Bengals ran the ball 31 times (10 more attempts than they average) for a season high 156 yards. It seemed like in the first half the play calls were trying to get Jake Browning comfortable and in rhythm with a lot of short, quick hitters and then once the Jaguars dared him to beat them with deeper throws, Browning and the Bengals offense obliged. Is this style of offense sustainable with Browning at the helm and do you foresee defenses playing him differently after watching how he picked the Jags blitz-heavy attack apart?
Anthony Cosenza: There were a couple of factors to success this past Monday. Yes, the Bengals ran the ball more in total, but rookie Chase Brown also came back from a stint on I.R. and was featured more than he had been previously. He played well, racking up 61 rushing yards and a near 7.0 yards-per-carry average.
Against the Steelers, the Bengals thought they could run a very similar system to what they do with Burrow because Browning has some similar skills. However, it proved to be a bit too much, especially in Browning’s first career start, so they altered the plan this past week to more RPO and bootleg plays, as well as a few more inside runs to make things more manageable.
And, when the Jaguars blitzed and/or left single-high safeties, Browning and the offense went for it. This was particularly evident with the Ja’Marr Chase 76-yard touchdown reception down the left sideline. Additionally, as simplistic as it seems, the Bengals and Browning doubled up the targets to Chase from the prior week against the Steelers (from six to 12) and it netted 11 catches for 149 yards and a score.
CS: If you were an offensive coordinator putting together a game plan for the Bengals defense what would it look like? What weaknesses are you attacking? What strengths are you avoiding? Are there any players you might want to target in coverage or run the ball toward when you see them in the game?
AC: I’d probably start by giving as much help as possible to the left tackle, as Trey Hendrickson remains one of the best edge players in all of the NFL. He has 33.5 sacks and 68 quarterback hits, while also being one of the tops in the league in pressure rates since joining Cincinnati prior to the 2021 season.
As an offensive coordinator, I’d also probably want to keep a watchful eye on slot corner Mike Hilton, as both a threat and opportunity. He is one of the best blitzing players at his position and can derail a drive at a moment’s notice with a tackle for loss and/or sack, but if he gets matched up with a speedy and/or bigger wideout, there could be opportunities for a big play.
I’d also look to implement the tight end this week, if I were the Colts. I don’t know how effective of weapons that group has been overall for Indianapolis, but with inexperienced safeties in Dax Hill and rookie Jordan Battle in the back of the defense and the departure of tight end coverage specialist Tre Flowers this offseason, it’s been a bigger problem than the past couple of years for Cincinnati.
CS: The Colts biggest strength on defense has been their defensive line, they’re currently 2nd in the league with 42 sacks on the season despite blitzing just 15% of the time (2nd fewest). This week they get back stud 1-tech Grover Stewart who has missed the last six games due to suspension. How will the Bengals look to handle this unit, schematically? Should we expect them to just keep five men in? Extra blockers? Are they getting the ball out quick? Trying to slow the rush down with the screen game? Can the Bengals offensive line hang with a good defensive line?
AC: I think you’ll see a lot of what was on tape last Monday against the Jaguars. RPOs, quick-hitting passes and runs that give them favorable chances to “get ahead of the sticks” in drives. In terms of additional blocking help, look for tight end Drew Sample (who has taken on more of an H-Back role this year) to stay back behind the line for additional help, as well as backs like Trayveon Williams, who has also shown a penchant for pass protection.
I’d expect the Colts to get a couple of sacks this week, though. Browning has shown a propensity to hang on to the ball on longer-developing routes and it’s given both the Jaguars and Steelers sack opportunities. The Bengals’ line played better last week, but they’ve been inconsistent for a group that has a lot of heavy investments up front.
CS: With games still to play against the Browns and Steelers, Jake Browning’s performance seems to have infused new life into a team that most people thought was dead. If Browning and the Bengals offense can keep up the level of play we saw on Monday night, how far can this Bengals team go this season?
AC: That’s a great question. Mainly because, even though the Bengals currently employ one themselves, they face backup/replacement quarterbacks in four of the last five games here (Gardner Minshew, Josh Dobbs, Mitch Trubisky and whoever it may be for Cleveland). And, if Cincinnati were to make an unlikely playoff entry, some of the teams in the bracket may also be employing some of these same backups for a possible path through the early rounds.
Still, the question is if Monday night from Browning was the outlier or the beginning of a trend. The cynics would say that Cincinnati wouldn’t have won that game, should Trevor Lawrence and Christian Kirk have played through all of it, while Cincinnati’s defense still has some major warts to hide the rest of the years. Still, Browning throwing for 86% completions and a 115.5 rating on primetime in his second career start is nothing to sneeze at, either.
Indianapolis will provide a good barometer for the viability of Browning and the Bengals the rest of the way, as the Colts are alive for the playoffs and, as you mentioned earlier, have a vaunted pass-rush.
CS: DraftKings Sportsbook has the Colts as a 1 point favorite on the road this weekend. Is that a fair line and how do you see this game going? What will be the final score?
AC: I find that line very interesting. Usually if Vegas deemed teams to be evenly-matched, it’s around a three-point line in favor of the home team, but that’s obviously not the case here.
I see this one being pretty tight (a one possession game), as Browning’s two starts have had similar outcomes. I’ll lean with the Colts barely edging it out, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Cincinnati ekes one out at home, too.
I want to thank Anthony for taking the time to answer these questions before Sunday’s game.
As always, go Colts.