Colts at Bengals: What to watch for Sunday
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the Bengals in Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium.
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
- Hurry-up offense: We’re not lobbying for coordinator Rob Chudzinski to have Jacoby Brissett run a hurry-up offense from the get-go against the Bengals. And we’re not asking for Brissett, in the words of the late Ted Marchibroda, to “Let ‘er rip!’’ But we’re imploring Chudzinski to instruct Brissett to play with a quicker clock in his head. We also wouldn’t mind a game plan utilizing shorter drops and quicker throws.
Last Sunday’s Sackapalooza at Lucas Oil Stadium was the result of a perfect storm. The offensive line entered the Jaguars game a mess and that was exacerbated when a hamstring injury sidelined center Ryan Kelly for the second half. Clutching a 20-0 halftime lead, the Jaguars went after the one-dimensional Colts and abused Brissett with seven of their 10 sacks. And Brissett made matters worse with hesitancy and indecision.
How can the QB ease the pressure? He’s been sacked a league-high 25 times.
“Get the ball out of my hands so they can’t hit me,’’ Brissett said.
Rest assured the Bengals have noticed Indy’s protection problems. They might lack Jacksonville’s pressure prowess, but possess top-drawer talent nonetheless. Tackle Geno Atkins has 4 sacks, tied for the league lead among interior linemen. He’s generated 56 sacks in 111 games. Rookie outside linebacker Carl Lawson has 3.5 sacks, third among rookies.
- We’re waiting, T.Y.: At the risk of piling on, it’s well past time for T.Y. Hilton to step up and prove he’s one of the team’s leaders. We’re not talking about apologizing Monday for his critical post-game comments of the offensive line following the 10-sack outing against the Jaguars. We’re talking about Hilton leading by example on the field.
We understand he can’t control where Brissett goes with the football. Even so, the last two games are inexcusable: 3 catches for 46 yards on 12 targets. The catches and yards for the fewest in consecutive games in Hilton’s decorated six-year career.
As we’ve mentioned on more than one occasion, the Colts offense will only go as far as Hilton takes it. In the two wins, he has 14 receptions (on 18 targets) for 330 yards and one TD. In the five losses, he has 13 receptions (on 31 targets) for 182 yards.
- Deficient defense: We thought the 2016 Colts defense was as bad as it gets. It ranked 30th in total yards – 382.9 per game, the second-highest total in team history – and 22nd in scoring.
Yes, it was bad. But the current edition is worse. Much worse. Read ‘em and weep: 31st in total yards (425.4, which would be a team record) 32nd in scoring (31.7 ppg and on pace to allow the second-most points in team history), a lead-high 40 pass plays that have gained at least 20 yards.
And now the Colts head to Cincy minus their three best defenders. Linebacker John Simon is out with a stinger, cornerback Rashaan Melvin is sidelined with a concussion and rookie safety Malik Hooker suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Jaguars.
A roster that lacked quality depth figures to be sorely tested at Paul Brown Stadium. Barkevious Mingo steps in for Simon, and either Darius Butler or T.J. Green replaces Hooker in the base defense. Mingo’s last start was in 2015 for Cleveland. It’s anybody’s guess who fills Melvin’s void. It should be rookie Quincy Wilson, but he’s been a healthy inactive the last three games and was assailed by coordinator Ted Monachino this week for poor practice habits. It might be Pierre Desir or Kenny Moore II.
The Bengals offense ranks 29th in total yards (289.0) and scoring (16.3), but we envision Andy Dalton and A.J. Green having a big day and one of Cincy’s running backs – Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill or rookie Joe Mixon – gashing the Colts.
- Road kill: The question was posed as the Colts looked to turn the page on the home drubbing at the hands of the Jaguars and regain their equilibrium on the road against the Bengals. Will it help to be away from home?
“We know it’s just us,’’ Hilton said. “The crowd’s going to be (against) us. Our main thing is start fast and get them out of the game early.’’
Fair enough. But the Colts have been anything but road warriors. They’re 0-3 away from home, and none of the losses has ended well. Against the Rams, Seahawks and Titans, Indy has been outscored 128-49, outgained 1,331-788 and generally outclassed.
The never got started against the Rams, trailing 27-3 at the half as Scott Tolzien suffered a pair of first-half pick-6s. They couldn’t finish against the Seahawks or Titans. The Colts mustered halftime leads against each only to be outscored 63-12 in the second half.
- And the winner is: Bengals 24, Colts 13. We wish we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. We can’t. What we see is Indy’s first three-game losing streak since 2015, its worst start since 2011 (remember 0-13?) and more to come. Looming are the Nov. 5 trip to Houston and a Nov. 12 home meeting with Pittsburgh.
That sure looks like 2-8.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.