Preseason football is fun, but it’s very rarely as exciting as regular season action. And with the excitement of “real football” being a week away, the Bengals’ uneventful loss couldn’t have come at a better time. Cincinnati wasn’t great, but the Bengals weren’t bad either, clamping down on the Colts offense and making a few impact plays when they were in possession of the ball.
The Bengals’ defense struggled early on in its first drive, allowing a Scott Tolzien-led offense to drive the ball down the field. Middle linebacker Trevor Roach made five tackles in the first four minutes, giving the Bengals a huge reason to leave him in consideration as a reserve linebacker (he finished the game with 11 total). However, things finally started to click when the Colts entered the red zone.
After giving up a huge play to tight end Chase Coffman in coverage, safety Derron Smith was able to punch a ball out of running back Robert Turbin’s hands to force a fumble — linebacker P.J. Dawson made the recovery. It’s worth mentioning defensive back Josh Shaw earned the start opposite Smith at safety.
On offense, Cincinnati fed Tra Carson early. The running back handled three carries, gaining 12 yards in addition to an 8-yard catch. The Bengals’ offensive line was excellent throughout the first drive, getting a nice push on defenders in the run game and keeping AJ McCarron upright in the passing game. McCarron was able to connect with Cody Core for a nice 24-yard pass on the first drive, but Cincinnati was eventually forced to punt.
Core, Tyler Boyd, Alex Erickson and James Wright all saw limited snaps on the opening drive, but only Core and Wright were able to haul in passes. Boyd was targeted on a deep pass, and Erickson didn’t get a target on the drive.
A quick three-and-out by the Colts, however, gave Erickson a chance at making a play — and that he did. The wideout took a punt for a nice 14-yard return and looked like he was ready to break free for a second. On one of the Colts’ three plays on the drive before the punt, Vigil effectively covered a running back in man coverage on the perimeter of the field, something most Bengals linebackers can’t do. Vigil didn’t have to make a play, but the fact that he was manned on a running back was impressive nonetheless.
Boyd and Wright remained on the field for the Bengals’ second offensive drive, both making plays to help Cincinnati move down the field. Wright drew a pass interference call on a third down, saving Cincinnati’s drive, while Boyd caught a bubble-screen and took it for five yards. With that, the first quarter ended with a score of 0-0.
While the players clashed early in the second quarter, commentators Anthony Munoz and Brad Johansen were able to speak with Duke Tobin, the Bengals’ director of player personnel. Tobin mentioned the Bengals haven’t yet made a decision on recently-injured running back and special teams ace, Cedric Peerman. He also pointed out that the team’s impending decision will certainly complicate Cincinnati’s roster battles and make their final roster decisions tougher. When Johansen brought up the situation with Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s injury, Tobin reiterated the Bengals’ confidence in McCarron and re-affirmed the team’s decision to keep him as the backup to Andy Dalton, at least for the 2016 season.
Tobin: "That injury to Teddy [Bridgewater] shows us why we need AJ [McCarron]."— Connor Howe (@HoweNFL) September 2, 2016
Finally, when asked about whether the Bengals will consider players who are cut from other teams, Tobin stated that he hopes Cincinnati won’t have any open holes to fill — but if there are any positions that need to be filled, he and the staff will certainly consider players who are available.
Both offenses struggled throughout the first half. While Tolzien went 11-for-12 with 88 yards on the Colts’ first three drives before exiting the game, Indianapolis was unable to even attempt a field goal, let alone a touchdown. And things weren’t much better for the Bengals. After three drives, McCarron was 6-for-11 with 72 yards. After excelling early on, Carson came up short on a 3rd-and-1 run, fumbling the ball which was recovered by the Colts.
To make matters worse, Lewis-Harris suffered a stinger on the ensuing drive. With injuries to Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson, the Bengals simply cannot afford to lose another defensive back. That Lewis-Harris could potentially be a special teams contributor also doesn’t help Cincinnati’s situation.
As the Bengals continued on the defense, Margus Hunt and DeShawn Williams consistently pushed the pocket and put pressure on quarterback Stephen Morris. Hunt also sniffed out yet another screen pass, forcing a throw-away. Right as Indianapolis was about to enter the endzone, Vigil leapt into the air and made an amazing interception to preserve his team’s first-half shutout. At halftime, the score was 0-0.
As quarterback Keith Wenning took the field to open the second half, he was obliterated by an opposing lineman on a deep pass intended for Jake Kumerow. Wenning exited action, forcing the Bengals to bring McCarron back into the fold at quarterback. The backup quarterback immediately got things going again, connecting with Kumerow for a nice 24-yard pass, but Wenning — seemingly okay — came back onto the field.
That wasn’t it for Kumerow, who was forced to miss out on a lot of preseason action due to an injury. The wide receiver caught another pass, this one for 18 yards. Bronson Hill helped Cincinnati push the ball down the field, picking up 21 yards on a run following the catch. Mike Nugent was able to connect on a 21-yard field goal at the end of the drive, giving the Bengals a 3-0 lead.
After a relatively slow stretch, the Colts finally worked their way back into the game, thanks to a 24-yard run by former Steelers running back Jordan Todman, which set up a 46-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri to even the score.
It’s worth mentioning Rashaun Simonise was the last wide receiver to take the field on offense; Kumerow and Alonzo Russell were both targeted before the Canadian rookie even took his first snap.
Indianapolis eventually drove back down the field and settled for a field goal after Chykie Brown broke up a deep pass intended for MeKale McKay. Vinatieri put another field goal through the uprights, giving Indianapolis a 6-3 lead.
It appeared as though the Bengals would’ve simply run the ball until the clock expired on the ensuing drive, but Erickson put a spark in the offense, making a few nice catches to help his team drive into Colts territory. He ended the game with three catches and 44 yards — more than his entire previous stat line on offense during the first three games — as well as 18 punt return yards on two attempts.
Russell later capped off the drive with a 15-yard touchdown catch at the two-minute-mark. The Colts, however, wouldn’t be denied. Indianapolis immediately drove back down the field into Bengals territory, thanks to a couple of deep passes. Indianapolis eventually capitalized on the drive, taking advantage of an all-out Bengals blitz to score a touchdown and take the lead. A Wenning interception ultimately ensured a Colts victory.
The Bengals’ Week 4 matchup with the Colts was by far the dullest game of the preseason, but on the bright side, Cincinnati was able to stay relatively healthy throughout the matchup. On an even brighter note, the Bengals will face the Jets a week from Sunday. Football is back!