The Cincinnati Bengals are supposed to be in utter disarray.
Veteran QB who retired rather than suit up: check
Starting rookie QB: check
Coach who should have been fired at the end of last season: check
Apparent lack of talent at key positions: check
Excellent chance of having first overall pick in 2012 NFL Draft: check
Week 1 victory: check
Momentum, if you can really call a victory against the who-knows Browns ‘momentum building,’ seems to be with Cincinnati as we enter Sunday’s matchup in Denver. Momentum is certainly not on the Broncos side, thanks to nagging injuries, billboard fodder, and overall dismal play to start the 2011 season – so dismal, the Broncos rank dead last in Sports Illustrated’s current Power Rankings.
But it’s only Week 2, and far too soon to jump to conclusions. However, Denver needs this game. Otherwise, the Andy Dalton led Bengals will arguably be the league’s biggest 2-0 surprise.
Call me crazy, but after watching the Broncos training camp practice, four preseason games, and one regular season game, I still think Denver is the better team. Better, despite the Broncos still-lousy run defense, which surrendered 190 rushing yards to Oakland, 150 to Darren McFadden alone.
Think there’s a reprieve for Week 2? Meet Cedric Benson, who rushed for 121 yards against Cleveland. Knowing the Broncos porous run defense, Benson will get plenty of carries Sunday. Perhaps helping the Bengals’ offensive plans is the banged up Broncos. Defensive starters Champ Bailey and Elvis Dumervil are expected to sit.
Topping the Broncos defensive ineffectiveness was the one-dimensional offense. With a woeful 38 rushing yards, it was up to Kyle Orton’s right arm to generate offensive production. The results were predictable…a lot of throwing to Brandon Lloyd…a lot of ignoring other receivers…a lot of third-and-longs…and a lot of punts.
Is that progress? Are you kidding? That’s simply a stymied running game rearing its ugly head.
Running back Knowshon Moreno (hamstring) is officially listed as questionable, but he missed Friday’s practice, an indication he’ll sit Sunday. That puts even more pressure of Willis McGahee to resuscitate the running game.
(Note: DHF will post latest official injury report Sunday morning.)
Key Improvements (and Reality)
The incredibly short version of this game preview could be, “the Denver Broncos need to get a whole lot better.” In the interest of offering slightly more in-depth commentary we’ll take a look at three things in particular Denver needs to do much better on Sunday if they want to avoid an 0-2 start.
Discipline: This may improve simply because the Broncos will not be playing the Raiders, which make penalties contagious. Still, Denver committed 10 penalties in its debut for 91 yards. In most situations 91 yards is a touchdown drive. Give away that many yards due to mistakes, and chances are you’ll lose most games by at least 7 points.
Run Defense: Probably makes the “needs improvement” list for every game this season. Perhaps the most disparaging reality of the Broncos debut was that basically no progress has been made in Denver’s ability to stop the run. Much like Oakland, Cincinnati has a questionable quarterback. Much like Oakland, the Bengals will likely rely on an ability to run the football to relieve pressure on said quarterback. Denver knew Oakland wanted to run, yet still allowed the Raiders backs to put up gawdy numbers on the ground.
The Broncos defense will likely be without CB Champ Bailey. (personal photo)
Running Game: As I touched on last week, quite possibly the emptiest statement by a new coaching regime is “we’re going to be a running team.” It’s a ridiculous claim. It implies that the coach who was there before had a great running game, but just opted against using it.
If I’m a quarterback and my new coach makes this claim I’m trying to use my throwing arm as little as possible for the next 6 months as I know it’s going to be getting plenty of use on game day. A poorly designed rushing package wasn’t the reason the Broncos couldn’t run under Josh McDaniels. The Broncos couldn’t run because they didn’t have the personnel to run. Here’s the thing…that personnel didn’t really change in the past year. Yes, the young offensive line has a little more experience, but is still far from dominant.
When Moreno is healthy he’s fairly inauspicious, and McGahee currently has a season average of less than one yard per carry. The Broncos need to improve their ground game, but it’s looking like the reality is that there’s no way of doing that with the pieces they have in place.
Fingers crossed I’m wrong…
This week’s TeboMeter Index: 3
The chanting fans on national television, and the prospect of billboards supporting the promotion of Tebow to starting quarterback likely haven’t done much to influence John Fox (it would be kind of sad if they did). I see those moves prompting one of two things. In the most likely scenario, Tim Tebow remains on the sideline the entire game, with coach Fox now even less likely to play him as kind of “you’re not the coach…I am” statement. Or things could start to unravel so quickly against the Bengals that Fox throws in Tebow for a few plays just to see what happens.
Final Score: Cincinnati 20, Denver 24
Follow Denver Horse Force on Twitter at @Aerys_Broncos and Facebook at www.facebook.com/denverhorseforce.