Andrew Luck Matchup Presents A Critical Juncture for Bengals Defense


Dec 8, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) throws a pass during the second quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Luck’s performance this year has the Indianapolis Colts’ offense atop the NFL.  The offense leads the league in both yards and points per game while Luck leads the NFL in nearly every major passing category.  After losing two tough games to start the year (against the Broncos and Eagles), Luck has led the Colts to a four-game winning streak and back to the top of the AFC South.  The Colts are rolling while Andrew Luck is on pace for 459 completions, 5,296 yards, and 45 touchdowns–for reference, the all-time records are 472 completions, 5,477 yards, and 55 touchdowns.  And it’s because the Colts are having such a great year that the Bengals are presented with a critical juncture in Week Seven.

The Bengals have been sliding recently and their defense has simply looked lifeless.  They’ve given up 80 points and 936 yards in the last two weeks while letting both opponents run all around them.  These types of performances from the 17th and 18th ranked offenses respectively are cause for great concern in Cincinnati.

Clearly things won’t get easier for the Bengals in Week Seven as they’ll face the league’s top offense and maybe it’s top quarterback.  But this great challenge may be exactly what the Bengals need.  They lack a certain “swagger” lately and their confidence could’ve only taken a hit over the past two performances.  The Bengals also folded “under the lights” in Foxborough, and though their upcoming game doesn’t come in prime time, it is a huge game against a likely playoff team.

The Bengals will need to correct a couple defensive issues if they are to win.  They’ll need to overcome some injuries as it looks like both Emmanuel Lamur and Rey Maualuga will miss this game.  This means players like Taylor Mays and Marquis Flowers may be called upon in coverage and, if so, they’ll have the opportunity to make names for themselves.  It was just two years ago when little-known linebacker Lamur began his climb within this defense, so hopefully Marquis Flowers has prepared well for his potential opportunity this weekend; Flowers and Lamur have similar skill-sets.  These two may play particularly important roles against the Colts as they love to use multiple tight ends and the Bengals struggle to stop talented ones.

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The defensive line will also need to reestablish itself as a pass rushing force.  Giving Andrew Luck as much time as they’ve given quarterbacks recently is a recipe for disaster.  Geno Atkins has been quiet this year while working his way back from an ACL tear, but no one has stepped up other than Carlos Dunlap.

Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther must also show improvement as this defense as taken a significant step back this year.  After being one of the NFL’s top defenses in 2013, they have looked porous this year allowing quarterbacks way to much time to throw the ball.  This after Guenther spoke this off-season about using blitzes to get to the quarterback more often.  But this won’t be easy as Andrew Luck has only been sacked nine times through six games (T-Eighth in the NFL).

If the Bengals want to be considered amongst the league’s best, they are going to need to start showing up when it matters.  Winning in Baltimore to start the year was great, but that feels like an eternity ago now.  Wins against the Falcons and Titans should be expected from a top team.  Losing in New England is hardly unheard of, but after beating the Patriots last year, getting blown out seems indefensible.  And then to play flat following such a loss against a very beatable Panthers team at home is simply maddening.

The Bengals are going to need to start beating playoff-caliber opponents if they want to be taken seriously.  They are going to have to start winning games when the lights turn on.  Sunday will present a tipping point for this team.  Their AFC North opponents are “nipping at their heels” and with a loss, the Bengals will put themselves at risk of giving up their divisional lead.  It’s sink or swim for the Bengals and their defense especially.  Can the Bengals finally play desperate understanding a critical juncture is before them?  Can they display some potential dominance or will they fall by the wayside?  Sunday will prove to be an interesting yet taxing day for fans of the Queen City’s finest.