Skip to main content
Indianapolis Colts

Five Things Learned

Presented by

5 Colts Things Learned, Week 14: Uncharacteristic mistakes on offense, defense and special teams, AFC playoff picture gets even muddier with Bengals win

The Colts fell to the Cincinnati Bengals 34-14, on Sunday at Paycor Stadium, dropping their record to 7-6 and ending a four-game winning streak. Here are five big things we learned in Week 14 as the Colts lost, but still held on to the AFC No. 7 seed. 

5_things_learned 1920x1080

1. The Colts uncharacteristically allowed explosive plays on defense.

Entering Week 14, the Colts had allowed five plays of 40 or more yards – fewer than 22 teams in the NFL – and all of those plays came between Weeks 7-9.

But the Bengals hit the Colts for gains of 45, 46 and 54 yards on Sunday. A screen to running back Chase Brown ripped off a 54-yard touchdown to open the scoring, and a 45-yard screen to running back Joe Mixon sparked the drive that put Cincinnati up 14-0 in the first half. And with the Bengals leading by seven in the third quarter, quarterback Jake Browning found wide receiver Tee Higgins for a 45-yard deep ball, which helped push the Bengals back into the end zone and take a 14-point lead.

A focus for the Colts on Sunday was limiting the explosiveness and volume of Higgins and wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase. For the most part, it worked: Higgins and Chase combined for just five catches, though one of those was the 46-yarder to Higgins.

"I think we went into the game plan thinking, 'Alright, how do we handle these guys on the outside?'" defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. "Limit the explosives, make sure a guy like Chase doesn't have 10 receptions for 140 yards and not let the run game get going."

But in a 21-point game, those three explosive plays – which directly or indirectly generated 21 points for the Bengals – were a key difference on Sunday.

2. Defending screens better will be key moving forward.

The NFL is a copycat league – if you show a weakness on film, teams will work to exploit it over and over until you prove you can stop it. And with that in mind, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said the two explosive screens the Bengals hit "opened Pandora's Box" with how opposing offenses will attack the Colts' defense going forward.

"We gotta go to the tape and look at our fits, and how we can turn screens back inside to the guys pursuing to the ball," Buckner said. "You gotta put that fire out quick."

The Colts are already facing screen passes at the 10th-highest rate in the NFL (12.6 percent of passing plays), and they now can expect opponents to keep leaning into those plays to try to generate explosive gains. Also, the Colts entered Week 14 second in the NFL with 42 sacks, and hitting chunk gains on screens is an effective way to mute a pass rush throughout an entire game. 

"With our pass rush the way it's been, I'm sure there are different ways of trying to slow down that pass rush," Bradley said. "We didn't fit up a couple screens right. There was one where we had a miscue on how we fit it. The other one, it could have went for about nine, 10 yards – we just had bad leverage on the tackle. All in all, I think they had three screen passes for (124) yards. Both of them set up scores. We have to do a better job of fitting up the screens and being aware of when they can happen.

"Really a screen is – the first guy has got to have a great fit and then you need population to the ball. The D-line has got to retrace their steps and become the inside portion. We have to fit it up in the backside. I thought they did a good job. They probably knew we were trying to take away explosives, make sure we got good depth on our drops and then they took advantage of that space."

3. The run game didn't get going.

Zack Moss carried 13 times for 28 yards (2.2 yards/attempt), and inside those numbers:

  • Three carries lost yardage
  • Six carries were for a loss or no gain
  • Nine carries gained two or fewer yards
  • Ten carries gained three or fewer yards

Steichen emphasized the Colts need to give Moss more opportunities like the ones he had earlier in the season, when he carried 96 times for 466 yards (4.9 yards/attempt) as a starter in Weeks 2-6.

"I think we've got to be better in the trenches," Steichen said. "Zack is obviously a great runner for us. It wasn't our day yesterday and we've got to get it cleaned up going forward because we know December football is big – obviously, this last stretch here. But we'll get it cleaned up, make sure we're doing a heck of a job, starting with myself, putting these guys in position to be successful on Saturday."

Every team certainly would like to have an efficient and explosive run game, but – and this is maybe a little surprising – teams are only 27-33 when averaging under three yards per rushing attempt in 2023. Even 30 years ago, when the league was more oriented toward running the ball, averaging under three yards per carry wasn't a surefire way to lose: In 1993, teams went 40-48 when averaging fewer than three yards per rushing attempt.

4. There's no concern about Matt Gay.

Entering Week 14, Matt Gay had made 37 consecutive PATs and 54 consecutive field goal attempts from under 40 yards.

So when Steichen said postgame there was an "avalanche of stuff that happened," maybe nothing was more uncharacteristic than Gay missing both a 38-yard field goal and a PAT.

On Monday, Gay owned the two missed kicks – which, in the scope of his career, were certainly rare. 

"Just no excuses on it," Gay said. "It was not good for me. I can't miss those kicks. That's just momentum in the game and when you get an opportunity to pull the game closer and you don't that's just kind of a negative effect on the team. I have to be able to put those through the uprights. It's obviously frustrating for me. I want to make every kick that I take, and I just have to be better."

Going forward, the Colts aren't worried Gay's two misses – which, it should be noted, came in windy conditions – will snowball into anything more than one random game. 

"Ot was an uncharacteristic day and we just have to move forward with it," special teams coordinator Brian Mason said. "There were times – like on the first field goal, certainly the wind was really blowing at that point in time. I think the ball ended up moving a lot late. We've got to be able to play that condition better and make that kick. There's really no excuse to it. He knows that, he's a pro, and he's capable of making that kick every single time. We've just got to be able to execute it and do that."

5. The Bengals might be good – and the AFC wild card race is as muddled as it's ever been this year.

Two weeks ago, the Bengals' playoff hopes seemed to be slim: They just lost, 16-10, to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Browning's first start in place of the injured Joe Burrow, and it was their third consecutive defeat. At 5-6 and with a Monday night trip to the AFC South-leading Jacksonville Jaguars looming, the Bengals were on the verge of becoming an afterthought in the postseason race. 

Since then, the Bengals are 2-0 and right in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt, with Browning going supernova in those wins over the Jaguars and Colts: 50/61 (82 percent) for 629 yards (10.3 yards/attempt) with three touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 119.2. 

With four games to go, the AFC wild card race features six teams with a 7-6 record and one with an 8-5 record. The 7-6 Denver Broncos are closer to the 8-5 Kansas City Chiefs than the Chiefs are to the 10-3 Baltimore Ravens, who currently own the AFC No. 1 seed. The Colts and Texans are technically one game behind the 8-5 Jaguars, though Jacksonville effectively has a two-game lead in the AFC South on tiebreakers against both teams. 

That's all to say: There's still plenty to be decided over these final four games, and we should assume nothing about how this is all going to shake out. Two weeks ago, we might've assumed the Bengals were cooked, or the Steelers had a breezy stretch against consecutive 10-loss teams in the Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots (they lost both games). 

So while the Colts currently are seventh in the AFC and have a 42 percent chance to make the playoffs, don't read too much into those odds right now. There's surely more chaos awaiting the AFC playoff picture between now and the first weekend in January.

View the best photos from the Colts' at Bengals matchup from Paycor Stadium on Sunday.

Related Content

2024 Season Tickets - Now Available!

2024 Season Tickets - Now Available!

Season Tickets for the 2024 Season are available now! Get access to the best seating locations, best pricing, and best benefits as a Colts Season Ticket Member!