After a shorter week, they now host the Indianapolis Colts (7-5), who are currently holding onto the AFC’s sixth seed and would like to keep it. The Bengals are looking to make a late-season run at the playoffs with backup quarterback Jake Browning.
Here are a few matchups that could decide who’s on top when the final seconds tick off the clock.
Jake Browning vs. the world
What Downtown Jake Brown did on Monday night was nothing short of extraordinary. Making his second-ever start in the NFL in a primetime road game against a top-10 defense, I just hoped Browning wouldn’t screw up and just manage the game. Browning just didn’t “not screw up.” He carried the offense and won a shootout against the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
I’m not saying it was a fluke, but I will say that there aren’t any professional quarterbacks who can play at that level for multiple games in a row. He’s not going to complete close to 90 percent of his passes every week, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to look like most expected him to.
The Colts have a really good pass rush, and one way to throw a quarterback off his game, especially a young one, is to send extra pressure at him from different places in hopes of confusing him. Browning showed what he can do on Monday night. Now he gets his chance to show us that he can keep doing it.
DJ Turner/Chidobe Awuzie vs. Michael Pittman Jr.
Pittman is every bit the receiver the Colts hoped they were getting when they drafted him out of USC. He leads the Colts in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns and is coming off two straight 100-plus yard games. Cam Taylor-Britt is on IR, which leaves Awuzie and Turner on the outside. The Bengals secondary is young and inexperienced and has given up too many big plays this season, but the more experience guys like Turner, Jordan Battle, and Dax Hill get, the better they’ll be.
The Colts like to run the ball, and even though Jonathon Taylor is unlikely to play on Sunday, it doesn’t mean the defense won’t get a steady dose of Zach Moss, but Gardner Minshew isn’t afraid to throw the ball. When he does, he likes to look Pittman’s way.
Jonah Williams vs. Dayo Odeyingbo
Odeyingbo is having a breakout year with 10 sacks already on the season, and the majority of them have come from the right side. He doesn’t always rush the passer from the right edge. Williams, who has had a pretty decent season overall, struggled over the last two weeks, giving up three sacks with an average PFF pass-blocking grade of 38.75 against the Steelers and Jaguars.
Remember what I said above about defensive coordinators loving to send extra pressure at inexperienced quarterbacks? The Colts are going to try to get Odeyingbo isolated against Williams one-on-one. The Bengals have been using Drew Sample as an extra pass blocker in the backfield, and it’s been working, but Williams is going to need to be on his A game.
Joe Mixon/Chase Brown vs Colts linebackers
The Bengals showed they’re recommitting to running the ball. Chase and Mixon combined for over 120 yards on 28 carries, 19 of which were from Mixon and nine from Brown. Brown had a couple of explosive carries, and I expect him to get more work as the season progresses. The offensive line will hopefully open up holes along the line for Mixon and Chase, but hopefully, they’re able to make someone miss to get to the next level.
The Colts defense, like the Bengals, has struggled against the run this season, giving up the seventh most yards on the ground in 2023 so far. The Bengals are going to want to go out on the field and impose their will with the running game like they did against the Jaguars, hoping it will open up the passing game for Browning. Mixon and Brown need to be ready to work.
Bengals box defenders vs Colts offensive line
The Colts have one of the better offensive lines in the league. Just like the Bengals, they’re going to try to impose their will and run the ball. DJ Reader will need to have a great game and the rest of the Bengals defense is going to have to be ready. The Colts aren’t going to try to hide the fact that they’re going to just jam the ball down the Bengals’ throats.
The Bengals won a shootout on Monday night, but it would be best to not put Browning in that situation every week. If the Bengals want to get into the playoffs, the defense is going to have to help carry this team. Hopefully, they’re up for it.