Yes, it was a victory. But Cincinnati’s victory over the Indianapolis Colts Sunday was not the kind of victory that leaves you feeling like there might be good things ahead for the Cincinnati Bengals. Lots of things have to change if Cincinnati hopes to even produce a winning record this year.
Here are five things I think I know about Cincinnati after its first seven games of the season:
Marvin Lewis is – Marvin Lewis
Marvin Lewis does not care about his job. Marvin Lewis does not care about his team. Marvin Lewis cares about one thing, and that is his stupid, arrogant pride. Come hell or high water, Jeremy Hill is going to start the game at running back, and he is going to start the second half.
Never mind that hill is averaging only 3.2 yards per carry, or that his running mate, Joe Mixon, is coming off a game where he averaged 6.9 yards per carry. Hill is going to start. Because Marvin Lewis says so.
It worked out OK initially Sunday as Hill carried three times for 12 yards in helping the Bengals move to a field goal in their opening possession. But in the opening drive of the second half, Hill carried one time for a loss of one yard. And the point was made. In Cincinnati, the best players will not necessarily see the field.
And that holds true on defense as well, where Adam Jones, who is dealing with a transverse fracture in his back, got the start Sunday over William Jackson, III, despite the fact that Jackson shut down one of the league’s best receivers last week in Antonio Brown.
The Colts immediately picked on Jones when quarterback Jacoby Brissett hit receiver T.Y. Hilton for a gain of 17 yards less than three minutes into the game. Then, late in the first half, Jones missed a tackle on Indianapolis receiver Kamar Aiken that gave the Colts a first down at the Bengals 37. Indianapolis drove to a 33-yard Indianapolis field goals that gave it a 13-10 lead at the half.
For a man who is supposed to be fighting for his job, you would think that, at some point, Lewis would do what was best for the team. But that is just not who he is. His players love him, but his days as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals are numbered.
Bengals are just not very good
Mistake after mistake kept this game much closer than it should have been. Through the first 18 minutes Sunday, the Bengals had run just 12 offensive plays and had three points to show for it. Cincinnati lost out on an opportunity for another three points when a 34-yard field goal attempt by Randy Bullock was blocked.
Minutes later, Alex Erickson fumbled a punt that Indianapolis recovered at Cincinnati’s 26-yard line. The Colts drove to the Bengals 12 before stalling, and Adam Vinatieri’s 20-yard field goal tied the score at 3-3.
Cincinnati went three-and-out on its next possession, thanks primarily to two consecutive plays that saw Colts’ defenders unblocked on their path to quarterback Andy Dalton, who had to throw the ball away to avoid a sack.
The Bengals gave up a 20-yard punt return to Quan Bray, and Indianapolis made it look easy from there. The Colts drove 48 yards, culminating in a 13-yard touchdown pass from Brissett league’s best, looked pedestrian at best.
After recording two sacks in the Colts’ first possession of the game, the Bengals were held without a sack for the remainder of the half, and rarely got much pressure on a quarterback who had been sacked 10 times just last week against Jacksonville.
The second half was not any better. A Mixon fumble gave the Colts a first down on the Bengals’ 31-yard line late in the third quarter, and Indianapolis turned the opportunity into a 29-yard Vinitieri field goal that upped their lead to 23-17.
And it was only the inspired play of Cincinnati defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who had a sack and batted a pass that he intercepted and returned for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, that turned that deficit into a 24-23 advantage and saved the Bengals from yet another ignominious defeat.
Malone grows up
It was clear when the Bengals drafted Tennessee’s Josh Malone in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft that the young man had potential. After all, he had recorded 50 receptions for 972 yards (an average of 19.44 yards per reception) and scored 11 touchdowns in his junior and final season with the Volunteers.
After being inactive for the first six games of the Bengals’ season, injuries to Cody Core and Tyler Boyd finally gave Malone the chance he had been looking for. And he responded. Malone’s first catch of the season was a 10-yard reception that gave the Bengals a first down midway through the first quarter on a drive that ended with a 29-yard Randy Bullock field goal.
Then Malone grabbed his first touchdown pass on a 25-yarder from Dalton that put the finishing touches on a 77-yard, 11-play scoring drive.
Bengals’ defense struggles
Pittsburgh gave teams the blueprint on how to beat Cincinnati last week when Le’Veon Bell continually ran right up the back of center Maurkice Pouncey for 134 yards on 35 carries.
Sunday, it was Frank Gore running behind center Ryan Kelly, and the results were even better. Gore averaged 5.1 yards per carry on 16 carries for a total of 82 yards.
And the Bengals’ inability to corral the opposition’s tight end continued. The Colts’ Jack Doyle almost single-handedly kept Indianapolis in this one as he accounted for 121 yards receiving on 12 catches. He also scored the Colts’ first touchdown on a 17-yard reception midway through the second quarter.
Offensive line is terrible
With all of the controversy surrounding the Bengals’ running game, it really does not matter who Cincinnati puts in the backfield. Because its offensive line is completely unable to generate any push whatsoever, and whatever running back gets the ball has little if any chance to do anything with it.
In the first half, the Bengals ran the ball five times on first down, and gained a total of 14 yards. Cincinnati’s three-running back rotation of Hill, Mixon and Giovani Bernard had accounted for 34 yards on 17 carries. A total of 12 of those carries went for gains of three yards or less. Mixon finished with 18 yards on 11 carries and the Bengals, as a team averaged 2.8 yards per carry.
All of this against an Indianapolis defense that came into the game as one of the worst rushing defenses in the league, surrendering an average of 124.7 yards per game. Cincinnati finished with a total of 58 yards rushing on 21 carries.
Then, when Cincinnati had a chance to put the game away, the Bengals allowed Henry Anderson to have an unabated path to Dalton, and the 8-yard sack forced a Kevin Huber punt that gave the Colts the football pack at its own 24-yard line. Fortunately, the defense responded and Cincinnati held on for the victory.