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What We Learned: Bengals vs Colts - NFL Playoffs Edition

Different year, same familiar result. Frustrating, yet unfortunately not unexpected.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals lost in the first round of the playoffs...again

Sunday, January 6th, 1991. That still remains the last time the Bengals won a playoff game. The curse of Bo Jackson continues. That also remains the last time the Bengals scored 20 points in a playoff game. Making the playoffs the last four seasons (and five of the last six) is awesome and the only other teams to accomplish that feat are the Patriots, Packers and Broncos. However, if you don't win, it becomes fairly meaningless. Those other three teams have won and won big in the playoffs during their respective stretches.

Marvin Lewis has as many playoff wins as you and I

Whether you support Marvin Lewis or not, the narrative is the same year in and year out. The Bengals make the playoffs. The Bengals look ill-prepared and overwhelmed in playoffs. The Bengals lose. These are the facts: Marvin Lewis is now tied with Jim Mora as the only NFL head coaches to go 0-6 in their first six playoff appearances. Lewis is the only coach to do so with the same team. The Bengals become the first NFL team to lose in the first round four straight seasons. Under Lewis, the Bengals have never scored 20+ points in a playoff game. Under Lewis, the Bengals have been outscored in the playoffs 148-74. I don't believe Marvin will be fired - it just isn't the MO of this management team, they don't like change - but at this point, how can you continue to bring the guy back? He has now lost playoff games with three different quarterbacks, three different offensive coordinators and three different defensive coordinators. The only consistent aspect of the 0-6 is Marvin himself. I credit Marvin for turning around this organization, a feat that is nothing short of amazing. However, at this point I believe his voice is stale, he has taken the team as far as he can and it is time for a different leader.

When Giovani Bernard, Mohamed Sanu, Rex Burkhead and Ryan Hewitt are your top receivers, you are in trouble

I like all the above-mentioned players, and I wish Hewitt and Burkhead would have had bigger roles throughout the season. But, Sanu is a No. 3 receiver, Hewitt is a fullback/backup tight end and Burkhead is a third/fourth string running back. The strength of this Bengals team has been their run game, but when the other team does not respect your receivers and can tee off on the run, it is difficult to run the ball. That is what happened on Sunday. In the Denver game, although AJ Green didn't catch a pass, he was on the field and therefore the Broncos had to respect him. Without at least the "threat" of Green (or Gresham, or Eifert or Jones), the Colts could stack the box and force Dalton to throw to his overmatched and under talented receivers/backs. Blame Dalton all you want, but there weren't any open receivers out there on Sunday - at least none wearing orange.

I don't believe moving on from Andy Dalton is the answer, I still support Dalton...but my confidence in Dalton is non-existent

No Bengals quarterback has thrown for more yards in a season (4,293). No Bengals quarterback has thrown for more touchdowns in a season (33). No Bengals quarterback has a better regular season winning percentage (.625). No Bengals quarterback had ever lead the Bengals to three straight playoff appearances (Dalton has lead them to four straight). Those are impressive numbers and the reason I believe you continue with Dalton. However, Dalton became the first quarterback in NFL history to lose in the first round four straight years. And though you can't win in the playoffs if you don't get there, at some point the bar has to be raised. At some point "getting there" is no longer enough. I believe Dalton "can" win in the playoffs, but at this point, I have zero confidence that he will do so. He has reached the point where I will only believe it when I see it.

The injuries are not an excuse, but they have to be taken into account

All teams have injuries. Heck, the Colts were missing three offensive linemen. That being said, any team missing their top four receiving threats and their best defender is not going to win. Imagine what Andrew Luck would have looked like without T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. Any team starting Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Tate, Kevin Brock and Rex Burkhead as their top three receivers and tight end is going to struggle to move the ball and the Bengals struggled to move the ball. To add insult to injury - literally and figuratively speaking - the Bengals lost Rey Maualuga in the first half.

The defensive line was embarrassingly bad...again

The strength of the Bengals used to be the defensive line. Used to be. After being 3rd in the NFL in sacks in 2012 (51) and fifth in 2013 (43), the Bengals fell to dead last in 2014 with just 20 sacks, two behind the next closest teams (Oakland and Atlanta) and nearly a third of the sack total of the leading team (Buffalo-54). I don't buy the loss of Michael Johnson as the reason, he accounted for just 3.5 sacks in 2013. I would say it was a combination of things:

1) Geno Atkins was not "Geno Atkins" - he got better as the year went on, but if he can't return to his old form in 2015, it could be another long year for the defense

2) Guenther's scheme - first year coordinator Paul Guenther was unable to devise ways to get to the quarterback with or without a blitz. In their final three games, the Bengals had 3 sacks.

3) Overall lack of depth. The 2012 and 2013 lines were seven or eight deep and all the players rotating were solid. Domata Peko, Robert Geathers and Devon Still are all great people, but none are good NFL tackles/ends. Margus Hunt gave the Bengals very little in 2014 and is beginning to look like a bust. And Will Clarke was not ready for the NFL.

Put all three things together and you have a defensive line that generates 20 sacks on the season.

Hue Jackson took two terrible game plans to Indianapolis this season -the Bengals came away with two terrible losses

Any game plan that calls for 35 passes from Dalton is a flawed game plan. Any game plan that has Dalton throwing 35 times when his starting receivers/tight ends are Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Tate, Rex Burkhead and Kevin Brock is a fireable offense, especially given the fact that the game was within a possession for most of the game. Whether the Colts knew it was coming or not, 17 designed runs is inexcusable. Against a bad Colts run defense, the Bengals ran it 10 times in the first quarter for 62 yards and then just 7 more called runs to running backs the rest of the game. Inexcusable.

The Bengals halftime adjustments are...well, non-existent

The Bengals scored zero points in the second half. None. Nil. Nada. And against a Colts defense that is not very good. The disturbing part about this stat is that it is not uncommon in the playoffs under fact, it is the norm. In Lewis' six playoff games, the Bengals have scored 13 points in second half. 13 damned second half points in six games. In fact, in four of the six games the Bengals were shut out in the second half. Like I said, the norm. The Bengals are usually right in the game at half. Under Lewis, the Bengals have been outscored in the first half of their six playoff games just 61-64, but, they have been outscored a whopping 84-13 in the second half of those six games. That is coaching. Little else.

Through 16 games, the Colts were the only team without a first drive touchdown - the playoff Bengals changed that

Another common thread amongst Marvin's playoff teams is how his teams come out slow and look ill-prepared. That was evident again on Sunday.

Mike Nugent has a set of stones

Everyone was calling for the guy's job after the Carolina game, myself included, but since that game, Mike Nugent made every field goal he tried (15/16), with the exception of a 50+ yard field goal in Heinz Field - where kickers are about 4/12 from 50+. Nugent saved his best for last, glancing a franchise-record 57 yarder off the upright at the end of the first half. Good for him, couldn't happen to a better guy.

That Colts team will get crushed in Denver

This is not sour grapes, this is simply an observation. The Colts were anything but impressive on Sunday and a depleted Bengals team hung around with them for three quarters. That won't be the case next Sunday. If the Colts play as pedestrian as they did last Sunday, the Broncos will win big.

The Bengals will draft 21st in the 2015 draft

Hopefully there is a good pass rusher available.

Get ready for another 12 months of the "Dalton Debate"

I am not a diehard Dalton supporter - though many will disagree. I also don't think he sucks - as many do. I think a team can win with him. However, regardless of what he does in the regular season, it will not quiet his detractors. Until he wins in the playoffs, the debate will rage on.