After riding an intoxicating high, thanks to a four-game winning streak, the Indianapolis Colts were zapped back to reality on Sunday. In what should have been an inviting matchup for the red-hot Colts, the team couldn’t get out of its own way vs. the Cincinnati Bengals.
Now, both squads sit at 7-6 and are surrounded by half a dozen other franchises vying for a wildcard position. Before turning the page on this ugly showing, let’s take a deep dive and break down where it all went wrong for Indy. Up first, the redeeming qualities from the beatdown in Cincinnati.
The Good From Colts-Bengals
No. 1: Michael Pittman Jr. Continues To Shine
The Colts undoubtedly have a bonafide WR1 in fourth-year player Michael Pittman Jr. With yet another impressive performance, MPJ tied franchise legend Marvin Harrison Sr. for the most consecutive games (six) with eight or more snags. His 95 yards continually moved the chains and put pressure on the Bengals’ secondary.
General manager Chris Ballard must open the checkbook this offseason and lock up Pittman Jr. for the foreseeable future. Could Indy use another high-end weapon alongside Pitt and rookie Josh Downs? Absolutely. But life will be much easier on quarterback Anthony Richardson if he has a bevy of options at his disposal.
No. 2: Shane Steichen Remains Aggressive
When the Colts could have taken a field goal on fourth-and-goal early in the contest, head coach Shane Steichen chose to keep his offense on the field instead. That resulted in six points rather than relying on kicker Matt Gay for three points — he would miss the point after attempt following the touchdown, anyway.
Although Steichen still has some learning to do as a head coach, it’s impossible to ignore his aggressive attitude toward scoring points. That mentality bleeds over to the entire locker room and sets a strong precedent for the rest of the Steichen era in Indianapolis.
No. 3: Grover Stewart Is Back!
The Colts were dealt a major blow earlier in the year when superstar defensive tackle Grover Stewart got handed a six-game suspension. Even with Indy winning in Stewart’s absence, the team was consistently gashed up the middle by the opposing ground attacks.
The impending free agent proved his worth in Week 14; with every snap Stewart played, he seemingly always had his nose on the football. Whether it be eating up double teams and freeing up his teammates or barreling through his assignment into the pocket, the 30-year-old defender made his mark. It’s a party on Grove Street!
The Bad From Colts-Bengals
No. 4: Gardner Minshew Turns Ball Over Again
Another week, another game of holding your breath anytime Gardner Minshew dropped back. That has become the way of life for Colts fans since the loss of Richardson for the season. Against the Bengals, Minshew threw a fluky interception and put the ball in harm’s way multiple other times.
If the Colts are serious about earning a postseason berth, the starting quarterback can’t keep putting his offense behind the eight ball. But at this point, it might just be who Gardner Minshew is — for better or worse.
No. 5: Colts Missed Jonathan Taylor
The ground game could not get off the blocks in Week 14. Game script factored into the play calling in the second half, but with 46 total rushing yards on 18 attempts, the production and efficiency are unacceptable from the Colts. To be fair, the offensive line could do a better job of freeing up lanes, too.
At 2.6 yards per rushing attempt, the Bengals frequently put the Indy offense in long second and third downs, which is a recipe for disaster with a backup signal-caller leading the way. The loss of Jonathan Taylor was apparent on Sunday; let’s hope Zack Moss and Co. can rebound in Week 15.
No. 6: Zero Sacks vs. Porous Bengals Offensive Line
The Bengals’ playcalling was masterful against the Colts. Head coach Zac Taylor put spot starter Jake Browning in a position to succeed every time he took a snap. Even the lone interception on Browning’s stat line was more on his receiver than the quarterback himself.
Unfortunately, that left Indy without a sack on the day. After setting a record-breaking pace in the first 13 weeks, Samson Ebukam, Kwity Paye, DeForest Buckner, and the rest of the gang were shut out. Cincinnati isn’t exactly a juggernaut offensive line, either.
The Ugly From Colts-Bengals
No. 7: Mistake After Mistake By Young Colts Secondary
After a few costly penalties and some inexperience defending a superstar pass-catching duo, the youngsters in the Colts’ secondary were thrown into the fire this past weekend. Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins are two of the best in the business; Jaylon Jones, Kenny Moore II, and Darrell Baker Jr. all got exposed at one point or another.
Growing pains have been a constant in the defensive back room — and it’s no surprise. The loss of Isaiah Rodgers stung, and the unavailability of JuJu Brents, the team’s most recent second-round pick, doesn’t help matters. There’s plenty of promise in this group, but it won’t come to fruition without a handful of rough days scattered between.
No. 8: Colts Special Teams = Utter Disaster
Isaiah McKenzie had one of the worst muffed punts of his career against the Bengals. The typically sure-handed special teamer gave the ball to Cincinnati early in the fourth quarter, effectively stamping the victory for the warriors in stripes.
Going further, the high-priced Matt Gay was wayward on two attempts in Week 14. He botched an extra-point attempt and left three points on the board by shanking a FG earlier in the contest. Gay is usually precise, but that wasn’t the case on Sunday.
Remaining Colts Schedule
vs. Steelers (7-6)
@ Falcons (6-7)
vs. Raiders (5-8)
vs. Texans (7-6)
What’s Next For The 7-6 Indianapolis Colts?
The Colts maintain their hold on the No. 7 spot in the AFC Playoffs. With a slew of teams sitting at 7-6, including two of the four remaining opponents on the schedule, there’s a chance Indy needs to win each game to ensure a postseason berth.
Going 3-1 might be enough, especially if two of those wins come against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans. Buckle up, Colts fans! The road to the playoffs will be a bumpy ride, but the destination is still well within reach.
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