The Bengals are crossing their fingers this week on A.J. Green.
Green, who has missed the last two games with a toe injury, has a chance to play this Sunday with first place in the AFC North on the line at Paul Brown Stadium against the Ravens. Head coach Marvin Lewis is calling his progress "significant."
But on Monday, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson wasn't prepared to attribute Sunday's 27-0 shutdown in Indianapolis to the absence of his injured starting wide receivers.
"Can't do it. Won't do it," Jackson said. "I don' think that's really the direction to go. Regardless who is out there playing, I get paid to coach, our players get paid to play. We get paid to win. At the end of the day we have to figure out how to win with who we have."
On Sunday the Bengals went broke looking for production behind Green and Marvin Jones with a 135-yard effort that was the lowest output in a game during the Marvin Lewis era when a playoff spot wasn't locked up. The Colts locked down the box and dared the Bengals to beat them in the air and they didn't come close.
Instead, Jackson called himself out even though his offense came into the game ranked fifth in the NFL and off the Bengals' best offensive performance in seven years.
But on Monday, they are now smack in the middle of the NFL at No. 16 and Jackson said everything was off and that included the play calling.
"It was bad. However you want to term it: It wasn't good enough, I know that, because it didn't lead to anything," Jackson said. "I don't want to take anything away from Indy. They got it done. They played well and they played well throughout the game. There wasn't a spot in there where you felt like, 'Oh boy, watch, here come the Bengals.' It didn't seem like that.
"I didn't do a good enough job. But we're all accountable in this thing from players, coaches, all of us are. I have great respect for that room down there and I think these guys, they'll rise up. They'll be ready to play."
The Bengals were unbelievably bad on third down with eight straight three-and-outs to start the game on a ratio of 17 passes to seven runs. Jackson noted in the previous five games the Bengals had been heavily-run oriented on first down and it couldn't stay that way.
But he did second guess himself on Monday.
"Based on what I felt we needed to do in the game, the game got out of hand. It was still 10-0 for a while, but it was just that feeling there were a couple of plays if we could have made them," Jackson said. "You look back on it and say, well, maybe if you run the ball more, maybe you have more chances. Could I have given it more of a chance? Yes. That's easy to say today. I didn't yesterday.
"I think we all know in order for running game to have feeling, you have to give it a chance to happen," Jackson said. "One play here, one play there doesn't do it. You have to be stubborn with it sometimes and yesterday I didn't think at the time that's what it was going to take. It didn't t work. It went the other way. Back to the drawing board you go."
But he's not going to blow it all up. Not now.
"I don't think this is going to be the common theme," Jackson said. "It happened, we'll address it, and I think our guys will respond. I really do. I don't anticipate this being who we are by any stretch."
STAT CHECK: The Bengals have allowed 1,442 yards in three straight games, a number they haven't reached in nearly 35 years. According to Elias, from Nov. 18-Dec. 2, 1979 they allowed 1,443, but won one of those games, 34-28, at Riverfront Stadium against the St. Louis Rams despite 329 yards passing from Jim Hart. The next week in Pittsburgh, Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann caught five balls for 192 yards in their 37-17 victory.
MORE RUN: No one played well on offense Sunday, although it was tough to get on the running backs because Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill simply had no room or carries (just 11) to judge. According to profootballfocus.com, right tackle Andre Smith gave up two sacks and two hits on the quarterback and right guard Kevin Zeitler, in his return from a month-long calf injury, allowed a sack and a hit. All told, the Bengals allowed four sacks, four hits and four hurries after five games they had allowed a combined two sacks, six hits, and 18 hurries.
Jackson acknowledged he could have helped the line.
"I've got to help them more. I have to take into account the environment we're in on the turf, and it's a team that's where they play even though I know we play on turf, too," Jackson said. "The crowd noise, which I know has not been an issue for us thus far, with us. But it was a little louder. They opened the top of that deal and all of sudden it was a new deal. It was cold and it was loud. But at the end of the day, again, all those things you just mentioned falls at my responsibility, making sure that we're on top of everything, and honestly I don't think I did a very good job of that. When I look back at me, I don't think I did a good enough job to put our guys in the best position to have success. It starts with me and we'll go from there."
And that gets back to the run, which helps an offensive line against all those hostile factors. While Jackson second-guessed himself for not sticking to the run, here's why he went so pass heavy:
"On first downs we're probably 80 percent run or 75 percent run. So at some point in time you have to break who you are, and in doing so that didn't work," Jackson said. "They played us totally different. Like I said, there are some chances we had there but we just didn't make the plays. For whatever it's worth, we didn't make them. And that doesn't mean it isn't anybody else's fault other than we didn't get it done. That's important."
The run also would have helped a defense that in the last three games has taken 82, 80, and 78 snaps. Again, Jackson could see the benefit on Monday.
"I looked from where I was, and I was pissed. I was pissed for our defense because we left them out there quite a bit," Jackson said. "And you look out there; we were three-and-out I don't know how many times. It seemed like every time you turned around, it was three-and-out and here comes the defense back out there. That's not how you play as a team. Our job is to protect them and their job is to protect us and we both try to protect special teams. So we didn't do our part yesterday and we understand that."
Bernard had the most carries with seven and Jackson understands that runs counter to his philosophy of making the running game the center of his scheme. But he has also faced a defense that dared the Bengals to throw by putting in eight and nine players at the line
"They had a couple of stunts that worked in the running game," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "But really, unless you were running the ball a whole lot you weren't going to be able to filter through it. They're going to win when they do stuff like that as a defense and pack the box up."
JONES BACK: Bengals cornerback Adam Jones is back on top of the NFL punt return list at 16.5 yards per, less than a yard ahead of the Eagles' Darren Sproles.
After drilling a franchise-tying 11 punts Sunday, Kevin Huber is third in NFL punting with a 43.8-yard net, a yard behind leader Pat McAfee of the Colts. He had his first touchback on Sunday out of 27 punts when his coverage team had a rare miss and couldn't down it inside the 5.
HEY ROOK: Even if you're playing a lot, if you're a rookie nose tackle Domata Peko is still going to call you by your number. Sixth-round pick Marquis Flowers got his baptism by fire Sunday when he had to replace Pro Bowl WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict for the last three quarters and took 46 of his first 48 NFL snaps.
"I think 53, at first he was not too in tune to the game but after a while he was making plays for us," Peko said. "He was wrapping up running backs, making tackles and as the game progressed he got better. That was real positive on his part. I told him today, I said 'Hey man, it's your time to shine and step to the plate' and I believe he will."
INJURY UPDATE: Always hard to read the injury tea leaves with Lewis, but it sounded like defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (knee) and SAM backer Emmanuel Lamur (shoulder) would return to practice. But until you see Wednesday's injury report, you can't call it.