The Cincinnati Bengals historically, if not hysterically, struggled on offense against the Colts. Perhaps that statement is one of those unspoken understandings... This is an offense that failed to score any points and was so bad that we're looking at an Akili Smith-led offense, during Baltimore's historic run in 2000, as a measure of how bad things really were on Sunday.
"I think the things that are disappointing is not being able to, our execution on the third down offensively, to not make the first downs and opportunities there to keep the drives alive," said head coach Marvin Lewis on Sunday.
"We were terrible on third down and so you put all that together and you get a game like we had today," said quarterback Andy Dalton.
The Bengals converted only one third down out of 13 opportunities. In fairness, it wasn't just the third downs. When eight of your third down situations require eight yards or more, then you have to understand that first and second down were just as awful. Cincinnati faced an average 8.6 yards to-go on third downs during their 27-0 loss to the Colts.
That was Cincinnati in a nutshell. Indianapolis easily prepared for Cincinnati's simplistic offense... defend the screen and the run... hell, bring everyone up on the line of scrimmage... hold your lanes and do your job. Apparently it's just that easy to beat the wizardry of Hue Jackson.
With more than 13 minutes remaining in the first quarter, the Bengals had third down from the Colts 37-yard line. Dalton faced intense pressure during a running back screen. But because Giovani Bernard is navigating through traffic, the route was disrupted and pressure reached Dalton before Bernard was ready. Football, meet ground. Kevin Huber made his first appearance during an afternoon in which he'd kick a franchise-tying 11 punts.
It wasn't the third down that set Cincinnati back either. It was first down when Andy Dalton failing to recognize that multiple defenders were shadowing Jermaine Gresham. The Colts were very prepared for Cincinnati's screens. It showed.
Yet... what the hell?
I get that it's a tight end screen and the play got held up. It's clear that Indianapolis studied film and prepared for Cincinnati's propensity to run screen passes. However... throw it at his feet! You did it two plays later on third down. Cincinnati then called a rollout pass that targeted Cedric Peerman on second down -- not Bernard, not Jeremy Hill -- to recover five yards.
Are we really surprised that Cincinnati had third-and-10?
The Bengals have down from their own 12-yard line with 5:32 remaining in the first. They need nine yards. They call a play in which Mohamed Sanu stops a yard-shy of the first down and turns towards Andy Dalton, catching it at the 19-yard line. Sanu fought for the yard that he gave up but still fell a yard short of the first down. Because the timing of Dalton's throw dictates the belief that this was by design, you have to ask... why? What's the point of an eight-yard route when you need nine yards?
"That is basically what it came down to," said Dalton. "We felt early on we just needed to get a first down and we kept getting stopped. You pile that on and not getting first downs, getting third-and-longs, you are going to get stalled a lot.
With 29 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Dalton throws consecutive incomplete passes and Andre Smith is called for illegal formation. Indianapolis, figuring that Cincinnati won't recover from a ten-yard to-go situation, declines. They were right. Dalton, under pressure from a failed Clint Boling block on Erik Walden, had to get rid of the football. Gresham picked up three yards and the Bengals punt.
Down 10-0, the Bengals have the football at their own 20-yard line with 12:08 remaining in the second. Hue Jackson dialed-up a stretch run to the right. Giovani Bernard stops in mid-run (hoping that the interior blocks clear out) but an unblocked Jonathan Newsome, sprinting from the backside, dropped Bernard around the line of scrimmage. Dalton checks down to Bernard on second down because he's not comfortable with this...
...and gains nothing.
Now the Bengals have third down and needed 10 yards to go for the first.
It would only make sense that Russell Bodine snapped the football early. Dalton was surprised, no one moved an inch on the offensive line while some on the defensive line were already firing out.
Are you surprised by this?
Fast forward to the eight minute mark in the second quarter. The Bengals have second down from their own 36-yard line. Dalton hands off to Jeremy Hill, who rather than continuing to move upfield, stops. Every backside defender crushed the running back for a three-yard loss, led by Ricky Jean Francois, who defeated Andrew Whitworth with an arm rip.
Cincinnati has third and 13 now. Dalton...
...has to get rid of it. Safety Mike Adams destroys Giovani Bernard, forcing the incomplete. Whatever. Dalton's throw was one-part submission, two-parts hope-to-god-Gio-does-Gio-things. This play wasn't going to get a first down.
With 4:28 remaining in the second quarter, Dalton tries to complete the third down pass with Indianapolis' Greg Toler smothering Mohamed Sanu. It was literally a jump ball... 20 yards away. Toler easily deflects the pass and the Bengals go three and out for a seventh consecutive time.
Cincinnati failed to generate a first down on their eighth possession when Greg Little dropped an eight yard pass on third and seven. The first half would eventually end with two first downs, 27 yards gained and yet, only a 10-0 deficit. Might as well have been a blowout, considering things actually didn't improve much.
After a 15-minute break at halftime, the Bengals opened the third quarter with a three-and-out. Dalton hits Jermaine Gresham barely off the line of scrimmage, hoping that the tight end will rumble for five yards. Because three Colts defenders had time to reach Gresham well before the first down marker, he didn't get there. Punt.
Even short third down situations felt like a mile. It's third and two from the Bengals 42-yard line. Cincinnati's pass protection, which figured this week would be as good as any to take a vacation day, failed and Dalton's happy feet went into overdrive. He threw it to a spot on the field that would have been impossible to complete.
When we say that the offense failed, we mean everyone.
That should cover it.