The 2018 Cincinnati Bengals season is underway and the Queen City’s favorite striped felines snagged a com behind victory on the road, beating the Indianapolis Colts 34-23. lets take a look at how they did it.
New Faces, Old Faces
Both of these teams entered the 2018 campaign with major question marks. The Colts were opening a new chapter at head coach, hiring the architect of the Super Bowl champion Eagles offense Frank Reich to replace the embattled Chuck Pagano. The former Buffalo passer, most famous for engineering the biggest comeback in NFL history, was tasked with turning around a franchise that had floundered in recent years. He will benefit from the return to health of quarterback Andrew Luck, who had not thrown a pass since 2016, missing all of last year with a mysterious shoulder injury.
The Bengals were more notable for the changes they didn’t make. Marvin Lewis returns to the sideline for his 16th under the headset, having signed a two-year extension after the 2017 season in which he tied former Saints head coach Jim Mora for the longest coaching tenure without a playoff win. ESPN analyst and professional shouting person Steven A. Smith declared it a “damn shame” that Lewis was not gone. Smith had also opined that the Bengals drafting of running back and alleged human Joe Mixon was “asking for disaster,” in March of 2017. We’ll be returning to that “hot take” later.
Stumbling out of the blocks
The teams traded turnovers on their opening drives. The Bengals received the opening kickoff and on second and three center Billy Price was welcomed to the NFL as a Colt pass rusher bowled him over and got right up in Andy Dalton’s face. The Red Rifle’s attempt to dump the ball off landed in the hands of cornerback Kenny Moore, although Andy did make the tackle to save a touchdown. Three plays later the newest Bengals linebacker Preston Brown stepped in front of a Luck pass to return the favor.
After the teams politely traded field goals, The Colts capitalized on the Bengals second turnover, an all too common AJ Green fumble that led to a TY Hilton touchdown to end the quarter. The battle of veteran star wideouts who go by their initials continues!
The teams headed into the locker room with the Colts leading 16-10 after touchdowns from a pair of players with much to prove. Former Lion draft bust TE Eric Ebron hauled in a beautiful 26-yard pass for Luck’s first touchdown pass since the Obama administration. And Bengals second-year flanker John Ross, who never got on the field in his debut season turned his first NFL catch into six points with a pretty fade route into the end zone.
The first half was marred by an unfortunate and telling incident. At the end of an Andrew Luck scramble, as he was being wrapped up by defensive end Micheal Johnson, safety Shawn Williams clobbered the Colts quarterback with a vicious hit to the head that likely even made the suspended Vontez Burfict wince. Flags immediately rained down, and after a brief consultation with NFL headquarters, Williams was ejected from the game. Interestingly this was not an example of the much talked about new rules on “lowering the helmet,” that had caused much confusion in the preseason. According to the Washington Post’s Mark Maske, it was merely unnecessary roughness. This was certainly a signal to the rest of the league that the head office will be looking over the referees’ shoulders when it comes to hard-hitting, especially on quarterbacks. There were two more flags for unnecessary roughness on the Bengals this game. Considering the teams somewhat deserved reputation for shenanigans this will be something Marvin Lewis will need to focus on heading into a rivalry game with Baltimore on Thursday night.
Another field goal from the immortal Adam Vinatieri left the Bengals facing a 23-17 deficit entering the 4th quarter. They responded with two grinding scoring drives that ate up almost 10 minutes of the final period. The drive to start the quarter featured heavy doses of Joe Mixon, who had a breakout performance with 95-yard rushing and five catches for 54 yards. He ran well on first down all game, setting Dalton up with the kind of second and short opportunities that a good offense thrives on. Six of his plays picked up first downs, and he capped off his day with a goal-line dive to give the Bengals their first lead of the day.
After the defense forced another three and out from Luck and the Colts, the Bengals recovered another hot potato style fumble by AJ Green and Randy Bullock finished another five-minute drive with his second field goal. The Colts got the ball back with 3:47 to go and needing a touchdown. Andrew Luck gave it his best, marching his team efficiently down to the Bengals 25-yard line. An excellent tackle for a loss by Nick Vigil on a screen to running back Nyhiem Hines and a Luck pass that landed short left the Colts with third and 15 to go and time ticking away. Luck’s pass to tight end Jack Doyle looked like it was going to keep hope alive, but rookie safety Clayton Fejeledem, a 7th round pick in the game for the ejected Shawn Williams knocked the ball loose, scooped it off the turf and sprinted 83 yards down the sideline for the game-clinching touchdown!
Takeaways and Giveaways
This was an important game for Marvin Lewis in what still may very well be his swan song season. On the road against a team with a lot to prove they banked a valuable win. Andy Dalton overcame his early mistake to complete 21 of 28 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Joe Mixon was electric with the ball, elusive in the open field and seems to have a great rapport with Dalton, two of his first downs were receptions where he was in exactly the right spot to take an outlet pass and convert.
With a full training camp to install his own offense, coordinator Bill Lazor appears to have stripped away the funky formations and trick plays of the Jay Gruden/Hue Jackson era in favor of strong running, play action and a rebuilt offensive line keeping Andy Dalton upright. On defense new coach Teryl Austin will need to reign in some of the leftover chaos from Gunther Cunningham’s tenure, as evidenced by the three unnecessary roughness penalties on Sunday. But his squad did a good job forcing three and outs to close the game and the defenders didn’t lose their cool after the Williams ejection. That speaks well after the previous defensive staff had an inmates running the asylum feel to it.
On the Indy side of the ledger, they saw Andrew Luck out there throwing all the throws, taking hits and getting back up, hooking up on long passes. After a year of the Jacoby Brissett Show that’s a major step forward no matter what the final score was. That being said, Luck was almost the opposite of Dalton when it came to efficiency, with 39 completions on a whopping 53 attempts for 319 yards. Those are not the kind of numbers you usually see from a team that was leading the game into the fourth quarter. The running game was non-existent, led by 40 yards from old-for-a-rookie Jordan Wilkins filling in for expected starter Marlon Mack. That kind of imbalance may make Luck’s fantasy owners happy but it’s not a long-term plan for success.
The Bengals head back home to The Jungle for a Thursday Night Football matchup with the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens will be doing their best to quickly recover from how tired they are from scoring in their 47-3 evisceration of the hapless Buffalo Bills. Look for a scrappy hard-fought contest that favors the home team but will have room for surprises.
“From our Haus to Yours”