The Cincinnati Bengals face the Indianapolis Colts in a Week 8 matchup of teams trying to salvage disappointing starts to the 2017 NFL season. The Bengals were supposed to rebound from last year’s disappointing campaign, and the Colts were supposed to be contending in a very winnable AFC South. Instead the teams are a combined 4-9 heading toward the midpoint of the NFL season.
We took the opportunity to speak with Chris Blystone of SB Nation’s Colts blog, Stampede Blue to compare and contrast the disappointing starts for each team, and what to expect when the teams face off at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday in Cincinnati.
Scott Schulze: The 2017 season seems eerily familiar to Peyton Manning’s last season with the Colts, when the team continually said he would return, and never placed him on IR, yet he never played a game. Is there any chance that Luck follows that path this year, or are there reasons to expect Luck to play at some point this season?
Chris Blystone: I don’t expect that here. I think the main point of emphasis has been that every precaution is being taken with Luck with regard to his getting back to full strength. Every general manager who doesn’t have a franchise quarterback is at extreme risk of losing their job. Chris Ballard knows this and I think he is right to fiercely protect that asset. That is not something that has always been done well, and Ballard is making sure that Andrew Luck is fully recovered before he gets on the field.
From everything I’ve read and listened to on Luck’s recovery, what I’ve seen has led me to believe that this is a normal recovery process from this type of surgery. It does seem to be on the slower side, but people all heal differently, and there has yet to be any sign that something legitimately unexpected has been the cause of the slow process. Ballard’s foot is clearly completely off the gas as far as getting Luck back any sooner than when he is totally ready. That’s the smart move.
Now having said all that, if Luck is able to get back to consistently practicing and feels 100%, my guess is he will play. Once we hit week 11 or 12, I’m in favor of holding him out, personally. We almost certainly will have a new coaching staff and a whole new offense, so there seems to be little advantage in playing him and risking injury as well as the possibility of moving out of what will likely be a very high draft spot.
Scott Schulze: With the Colts sitting 2-5 and the Bengals 2-4, I think it’s fair to say that neither team is where they expected to be when the season started. As Bengals fans, we know what has been the problem with the Bengals, but we are not as familiar with the Colts. Is it as simple as missing Andrew Luck, or are there more issues plaguing the Colts season so far?
CB: Missing Andrew Luck certainly accounts for a lot. With Luck this team probably entered this past week at 4-2 and feeling much better about where they are. However, Luck covering over problems is not a new phenomenon, and this team is still very flawed. They have a pretty pathetic group of receivers apart from T.Y. Hilton (who doesn’t always show up himself), a young defense that makes the kinds of mistakes you expect from young players, no pass rush, a seriously incompetent coaching staff, and an offensive line that can’t stay healthy and has been consistently in flux. All this has resulted in offensive stagnation, coughing up big plays, and collapsing late in games. There are a lot of things to be optimistic about if you are a Colts fan, but very few of them will have any positive impact on the 2017 season.
Scott Schulze: Rookie running back Marlon Mack is averaging 4.9 yards per carry to only 3.4 yards per carry for Frank Gore. Yet Mack seems to barely be getting the ball, while Gore is the starter, and has three times as many rushes. Is there a legitimate reason for this disproportionate relationship between production and workload?
CB: I honestly don’t know. The guys at Stampede Blue have been asking that question for a few weeks. The first part of that answer is easy. Mack had an injured shoulder and missed a couple games. After that? No idea. There has not been a satisfactory answer given about why he is being so badly underutilized. He has dropped a couple passes, but when he is used well he makes things happen. If I had to select an answer I would probably go with coaching ineptitude.
Scott Schulze: Any initial thoughts on Chris Ballard replacing Ryan Grigson as the Colts general manager?
CB: I really like Chris Ballard. He has not been perfect, no general manager is. But the free agents he brought in changed the face of this defense completely. Looking at the unit now that might not seem very impressive, but I think given the burden placed on them without Andrew Luck they have played far better than last year’s unit would have.
More than anything, this guy is a realist. He looks at this team and knows they are not a finished product, or close to it. What’s more, he doesn’t try to convince us that they are. Ballard is focused on the future. His eye for talent has been on display with many of his draft picks being hits. What makes me like him even more is his ability to admit when he misses.
Fourth round drafted offensive lineman Zach Banner for example. It definitely is not great to miss on a pick, but once you’ve discovered it was a miss, the best thing you can do is move on. That is exactly what Ballard did. No general manager can be judged on one draft. Once we’ve seen how he builds this roster in the offseason through free agency and the draft, then we will begin to get an idea of how good this guy is. Maybe he knocks his second draft out of the park and this team is a contender in his second year. Maybe he flounders and the Colts aren’t at their potential for a bit longer. Time will tell, but I am optimistic about his abilities.
Scott Schulze: Who wins this game and what’s the score?
CB: After facing the Bills and the Steelers defenses the last two weeks, Bengals fans can breathe easy. The Colts have a way of making your offense look like everything is completely fixed. Maybe that will stick, maybe it won’t, but for one week, you should expect to see the Dalton to Green connection at full effectiveness.
I have stated previously and will continue to maintain this, I won’t be picking the Colts to win another game this season until they play a full one. They did not even bother to show up to the Jaguars game, and after the beating Jacoby Brissett took at the hands of the Jaguars defense, he might just ask to be traded back to New England.
I think the Bengals get the win here 27-19. If the Colts can get the running game involved early and the defense can keep the Bengals from getting out to a fast start, it might be more competitive, but given the possible players missing from this game, I am not expecting a great performance.
Scott Schulze: Bonus question – This question is a bit off the wall, but Pro Football Reference has your 320 pound defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins listed as a defensive tackle & right corner back. Did the Colts really use Hankins at cornerback at some point this season, or is this just an error listing him at that spot?
CB: Ha! Wouldn’t that be something? The Colts have used some pretty suspect coverages and personnel groups throughout this season, but I have yet to see them match Hankins up against a wide receiver. Maybe he has a skill set we don’t know about? It is hard to believe he could be any worse than T.J. Green.