With back-to-back wins, the surging Denver Broncos take their act to Cincinnati to play the Bengals, a team also in the midst of a streak: three consecutive losses.
But ask anyone around Dove Valley, and expectedly, this is a game to not be taken lightly.
For one, the Bengals have their core talent from last season’s playoff team, and even currently at 3-4, remain in the mix for an AFC wild-card spot, though this is likely a must-win game for tiebreaking purposes. Secondly, the Bengals are coming off a much-needed bye, and lastly, there’s head coach Marvin Lewis’ recently public “motivational tactic” to inspire second-year quarterback Andy Dalton and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga:
“We’re looking for our quarterback and our middle linebacker to take hold of our football team. I think both guys are such good people, that you got to be a little bit of a dick.
“We are looking for Andy to take the next step of being the leader of the football team. Confident, being vocal if it needs to be, but grab this football team by the back of its neck and let’s go. Let’s move forward.”
Lacking leadership is not a problem for Denver, and for quarterback Peyton Manning, neither is Cincinnati. Manning is 7-0 all-time against the Bengals – a perfect record amassed while with the Indianapolis Colts.
When Cincinnati has the ball: The Bengals offense has been up-and-down this season, from an explosive 36 points a game in their three wins to a lackluster 17 points per outing in their four losses.
Dalton has thrown a least one interception each game this season, so based on current trends, you might as well go ahead and make that eight.
That’s not exactly a knock against Dalton, but more a testament to the Broncos red-hot secondary, particularly cornerback. Tracy Porter is out again, but Chris Harris (2 INTs) will get the nod as starter, with expected support from Tony Carter. And then, of course, there’s Champ Bailey, who will have the duty of defending stud WR – and a fellow Georgia alumnus – A.J. Green, who has a touchdown reception in six consecutive games.
Perhaps the biggest must improve key to the Bengals’ offensive success is third-down conversion; Cincinnati ranks next-to-last in the league. One solution hinges on Dalton. The Bengals are working with the quarterback to hold the ball longer in hopes of creating a play. Dalton needs to work on connecting with his second or third reads. Right now, he’s quick to either throw an ill-advised pass to his first target (usually Green), or simply throw the ball away. Should he hold onto the ball too long – a problem for so many young quarterbacks – there’s the risk of taking a sack. Talk about a fine line. It may be difficult to encourage Dalton to hold onto the ball when Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil are lined up opposite.
The Broncos’ third-down defense against the New Orleans Saints, one of the best in the league on third down, was simply stellar. The Bengals are clearly an inferior team in this category, but the Broncos cannot afford a letdown.
When Denver has the ball: The Broncos are in an offensive groove…and it could even be better. Think this offense looks good now? Imagine if it cut down on turnovers.
Manning has looked his typical self in practice this week, hopefully putting that much-ballyhooed right thumb issue to rest.
Good for Denver. Bad (potentially) for Cincinnati.
Manning, the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for October, has been lights out recently. His 126.7 passing rating last month led all NFL quarterbacks, and Manning’s other numbers were at or near the top. Manning’s garish October stat line has thrust him atop the league MVP discussion.
But maybe overlooked in Manning’s flashy month is the offensive line protection. Manning was only sacked twice in 106 passing plays in October – zero sacks in the team’s two most recent games. The Bengals’ 23 sacks tie for second in the league this season, putting the onus on Denver’s offensive line to hold strong against Cincinnati’s interior pass rush, led by Geno Atkins and Domata Peko. Interestingly, Denver’s O-line hasn’t given up a sack against a 4-3 defense, which is what the Bengals operate.
Denver 37, Cincinnati 24
Make no mistake: This game won’t be nearly as exciting as Denver’s most recent visit to Cincinnati, but barring an inordinate amount of turnovers, expect the Broncos to roll.