Barring a zombie attack (it had to be said - after all, he of the CIWT is one of our ultimate fans this week!) between now and Monday night, the Broncos will be hopping on a plane to take on a rather sporadic Cincinnati Bengals team that boasts an able-but-not-so-special quarterback, a handful of dangerous wide receivers and some pass rushers that will most definitely test our offensive line once again.
But the Bengals need to win in order to stay alive in the playoffs while the banged up Broncos are playing on the road - a combo that could mean a letdown by our favorite team if players and coaches don't treat this game with the importance it deserves and the necessary urgency our ultimate fans Calikula and WillyBFree2Bronc believe it absolutely needs.
After all, a first-week bye in the playoffs sounds really, really awesome right about now, doesn't it? But before we get carried away, let's talk Bengals.
MHR - Takeaways from the road game against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday?
- Our secondary is playing with its hair on fire is my first takeaway. Chris Harris Jr. does not take plays off, and they made life very difficult for Rivers.
- The loss of Brandon Marshall and Trevathan really, REALLY hurt us when Rivers kept dumping off into the flat. Whether this was due to loss of personnel, or design flaw, is difficult to tell, but those two typically would have the speed and recognition to chase those plays down.
- Connor Barth is as good as advertised. I was SUPER relieved to watch both of those kicks go right down the middle from 40+. Prater statistically misses one of those.
Aqib Talib is named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week http://t.co/ABVuwzfn75 pic.twitter.com/DvtUjG5h77— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) December 17, 2014
MHR - Thoughts on the game last week against the Chargers?
WillyBFree2Bronc: It's never easy going into a hostile environment, and trying to pull out a win.
I think the Chargers are struggling to find their own identity, and facing a Denver team that is thirsty for a third championship didn't make their course any easier. The Chargers kicker untypically missed three field goals Sunday, and that, along with the two Rivers' INTs were the catalyst for a Broncos' victory there.
MHR - How is your confidence in the Broncos offense now - both in the run game and the passing attack?
Calikula: Not the greatest to be quite honest. For the running attack, I feel we are way over-using C.J. Anderson and not giving enough reps to Juwan Thompson, who has looked good in his limited carries. Should C.J. go down, I think our run game is toast, quite honestly. Think 2012 playoff game where we lost Moreno and all we had left was Lance Ball and Hillman. Our passing attack hasn't been the greatest, #18 has looked off for the past 6-7 weeks. He did look good vs SD considering he had the flu, so I'm willing to give him a mulligan on that.
WillyBFree2Bronc: Establishing a balanced offense has always been a priority in my opinion; it was just that the pieces weren't all in place to make that happen. Now we have fans and pundits complaining that there is something wrong with Peyton, and that not having the "Air Coryell" offense that the team had last year will make them struggle once again in the Super Bowl if the Broncos get there.
That could be true, if they face a great run defensive-minded team, but using a balance of both running and passing at strategic times will allow them to hoist the trophy once again.
If Adam Gase abandons the run if it doesn't work at first, that will ultimately lead to defeat, just like it did in February. I don't want to see that this year. Just keep pounding the ball on first or second down on every drive and wear the opposing defense down by the 4th quarter. Then go to work in the air - or if the run is working, keep pounding the ball down their throats.
MHR - The Broncos offensive line has gone up against some of the best defenses in the NFL this season - theRams, the Dolphins and the Bills. How do you think it will fare in the playoffs? Is it good enough to be a Super Bowl-winning O-Line?
Calikula: I'm not quite sure to be honest. So many times this line has looked good in the regular season, yet in our last two postseason losses, you see OL struggles as well. I'm hoping Big O emerges as the vocal leader of that group to keep them focused in the postseason. I feel this is what is missing from our line - a leader like Tom Nalen always was.
MHR - How important is this Offensive Line for winning a Super Bowl?
WillyBFree2Bronc: It's imperative to establish the run in the playoffs for success. We cannot allow a good/great defense to pin back their ears and get after Peyton, and that's where an offensive balance plays into the equation. I've come to the conclusion that the Seattle Seahawks were determined to eliminate Peyton's passing attack/limit any rushing damage, and it worked marvelously, especially when Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball were hobbled. That, and the lack of team preparation for the spotlight. I believe head coach John Fox and Adam Gase have seen the error of their ways and will attempt to get the run game going and not abandon it at the first glimpse of struggling with it.
MHR - How do you see this O-line matching up against the Bengals, and particularly Geno Atkins who traditionally has been one of the team's better defenders and Carlos Dunlap who leads the team in sacks with 8 this season?
Calikula: I think we match up quite well. This Bengals D has given up 500+ yards in three separate games this year. After going through the gauntlet of the Rams, Dolphins and Bills, I'm sure our OL can handle the Bengals. Their secondary doesn't really have anyone of note either.
WillyBFree2Bronc: Geno Atkins isn't playing at the level he did in 2012 when he had 12 sacks, and that has been a concern for the Bengals. He only has three sacks so far this season, and one of them came against the "Money Maker"Johnny Manziel, so I don't know how much of an impact Atkins will have against us. Their pass rush specialist has been DE Carlos Dunlap, a very fast and physical player who can disrupt anything a quarterback will bring.
Gase and Manning will have to keep the Bengals guessing if they want to be successful, because they can hit you from any angle or any direction. It would behoove the Broncos offense to treat this like a playoff game with everything to lose, because if the Patriots lose a game this regular season, the Broncos can have the No. 1 seed, and that is important for moving on in the playoffs.
Contrary to the beliefs of some, going into Foxborough is never a good thing and usually means defeat. I don't want that to happen this year, and I'm not hoping that somebody can somehow pull out a victory over the Pats before we have to drive up to meet them.
In other words, treat every game from here on out as a playoff game and must win, even the Raiders next week.
Click through pics of Saturday practice as #Broncos stay loose before @ESPNMondayNight. [http://t.co/vOX0snPX78] pic.twitter.com/wExX0t21nE— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) December 20, 2014
MHR - The Broncos' defense has created some big plays with sacks and turnovers this season. What kind of game plan do you expect from Del Rio and Co. this weekend against the Bengals?
Calikula: I would like to see the same game plan we had against Rivers. None of the Bengals RBs scare me, so we should be able to stop the run fairly easily. Andy Dalton is having the worst year of his career, and I don't expect it to improve vs our pass rush. Their TE's can do some damage, so it will be interesting to see if Gresham and Eifert play. With our recent injuries at LB, this could be the Bengals best shot against us. I'm confident either one of CHJ or Talib can limit AJ Green.
WillyBFree2Bronc: First of all, I was proud to see Del Rio keep the pedal to the metal instead of going to pass prevent late in the game against the Chargers. In my opinion, that's the only way to beat QB Philip Rivers in his house, keep the pressure on and don't let up. And, it worked - Duh!
This week presents a whole different set of rules with the Bengals' good receiving corps - A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanuare tall, fast and physical, and can make plays all over the field (Sanu can throw a TD, too). But with a ferocious pass rush, Andy Dalton can and does make mistakes. Dalton was 2 of 12 completions with passes over 10 yards last week against the Browns, and I know that's something the Broncos defense will be looking at.
What bothers me right now is our own D-Line struggling last week against Rivers. Von Miller was limited by D.J. Fluker to only one pass pressure and no sacks, and basically the same with Demarcus Ware against King Dunlap.
The Bengals' O-Line is a group of big, physical players, and Kevin Zeitler is as good as anybody in the league at pulling and getting to a spot to take out a player or two. The Broncos' D-Line will know that they have been in a fight, and will have to play their best on Monday Night Football.
MHR - What are you hoping to see from Adam Gase and Peyton Manning this weekend against the Bengals?
Calikula: I would like to see us start off heavy on the run again, and once we have them geared up against the run, have Manning throw all over their weak secondary. We could also use some more creativity at the goal line. Can we throw a pass to Virgil Green sometime? Maybe get Mitch Unrein involved as a fullback to clear a path for C.J.?
WillyBFree2Bronc: I think the formula for success for the Broncos has been seen the last few weeks with a more balanced attack. Last week, I was hoping we wouldn't abandon the run when it struggled early, and we didn't, and for that, I applaud Gase. I am a little concerned that we might wear C.J. Anderson down (last four games on pace for over 400 carries this year), and would like to see more of a combination of Anderson, Juwan Thompson, and J Stewart. Just keep pounding the Bengals into submission, and pass the ball when the Bengals' defensive alignment dictates to throw.
MHR - Which part of the Broncos' game right now is the strongest? Weakest? How would you fix the weak parts?
Calikula: Good question. I suppose if I had to pick one right now it would be our corners. They are playing lights out right now. The weakest I would say would be our linebackers. Not a whole lot that could be done for that, unless you have some healing elixir for Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall. Safety is a concern as well.
WillyBFree2Bronc: I won't be lulled to sleep and think that our passing game is suddenly inept. It just shows the balance that has been infused to make this offense more perfect than it was. You put seven or eight in the box, and Peyton will still make you pay for it, and opposing defensive coordinators know this, so I think the new-found balance is now the strength that this Broncos team needed to get it over the hump. The weak point right now is our pass rushing, and I hope this game fixes it somehow. Ware and Miller need to be the force that drives this defense, and they know it. The secondary will do its job, and I am hoping our D-Line can apply enough pressure on Dalton to make him commit to errors and INTs.
MHR - What is the Bengals' best chance to win on Sunday?
Calikula: Tight ends running wild on us, turnovers by our offense, and Geno and Co. getting to Manning.
MHR - Will Peyton Manning play in this game?
WillyBFree2Bronc: My first thoughts when Manning drove forward to take on Butler was "Uh oh, Manning's heading into trouble," and that's the last thing you want to see your star quarterback doing - blocking for a running back. Ultimately, Manning sustained a thigh injury to go with the illness he was playing through. Not a good play, and I damned near fell off the couch when I saw it envelope.
If Manning is unable to go for this game, I doubt Brock Osweiler is prepared enough to get us a win. All I can hope for is that Manning is able to go.
MHR - Do you think Peyton FINALLY breaks out of his "slump?"
Calikula: An emphatic YES!!! I think this game the Bengals sell out to stop our run, opening things up for a refreshed PFM. I think he throws all over their secondary, and I also predict Julius Thomas to have a huge game as well, after lying quiet for some time.
MHR - Will our pass rush show up this week?
WillyBFree2Bronc: That's hard to say. Is there something wrong with our D-Line as far as being dinged up some? I don't know, but we're going head-to-head with a very good rush offense, and that starts with Giovani Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill. With Zeitler pulling and forcing holes to open, I'm concerned that we can contain them against the run. If we can contain the Bengals, that will open up our pass rushers to do their damage and cause Dalton to commit errors. That's what has to happen to be successful against this Bengals team that plays up and down.
MHR - This is our second-to-last game of the season. Besides just wanting another W, what makes this game important for postseason preparation, tune-up, etc.?
Calikula: This game has HUGE implications for us. For one, we will be on the road at a cold weather stadium, helping us to prepare for a possible trip to New England. Secondly, if we win we will lock up that No. 2 seed, and we could afford to rest starters against Oakland no matter what the result of the Bills-Patriots game. Our team is beat-the-hell up, and they need all the rest they can get.
WillyBFree2Bronc: This game is vital for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Of course we will need help from the LOLJets this weekend against the Patriots, but I think the Jets will be playing for pride and give them a tussle. Will they win? I have no idea, but Rex Ryan always tried to beat his nemesis - Bill Belichick. By Monday night, we'll know all the results, and if the Patriots fall to the Jets, the Broncos have a great opportunity to take over the No. 1 seed. That's what I want.
The #Broncos’ Top 5 all-time moments vs. the @Bengals. WATCH: http://t.co/No3Lo77tQv pic.twitter.com/HAnEb0xkqt— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) December 20, 2014
Full stat line for Peyton Manning?
Calikula: 20/26 290 yards 3 TDs, 0 picks
WillyBFree: Manning - 212 yards, 2 TDs. Osweiler - 179 yards, no TDs, 2 INTs
Number of yards total by the Broncos running backs?
WillyBFree: 176 yards and 2 TDs
Which wide receiver will have the most yards?
Calikula: Demaryius Thomas
WillyBFree: I think Sanders will have another good game, but it's hard to hold Demaryius Thomas down. Sometimes he get's over a 100 yards and it doesn't even seem like he did.
Number of sacks on Andy Dalton?
WillyBFree: ZERO if we play like we did against the Chargers. If Ware and Miller play like they know how to, then I say 4 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles.
Number of sacks on Manning?
Calikula: 1 "Manning possum" special
WillyBFree: ZERO with a balanced attack, but if they revert back to slinging the ball around, Dilbury, Dunlap and Atkins will have some fun - 2 sacks, one self-inflicted, one not.
Broncos player with the most tackles?
Calikula: Todd Davis with 9
WillyBFree: Since Trevathan is on IR, and Brandon Marshall might not play, I would go with T.J. Ward or Chris Harris Jr.
Broncos player with the most INTs?
Calikula: CHJ abuses Dalt-off for 2, including a pick 6
WillyBFree: Harris Jr. with one
Number of penalties/yards on the Broncos?
Calikula: Ugh, somewhere around 11-13 for 90-110 yards
WillyBFree: 9 for 85 yards
Calikula: Broncos 34, Bengals 20 (late garbage time TD)
WillyBFree: Broncos 27, Bengals 18
#substituteteacher Now we dun scored and the crowds going crazy... Then we #takeabow https://t.co/blQOfdVi73— Emmanuel Sanders (@ESanders_10) December 18, 2014
Favorite team to watch the Broncos play?
Calikula: The Chiefs. Man do I love to watch them lose.
WillyBFree: The Chargers away. I love to see the many faces of Philip Rivers when things aren't going his way. The kneel-down and pleading with the sideline not to call a timeout was classic Rivers and his theatrics. I can't help but love the guy when he makes those faces.
Team you most hate for the Broncos to lose to?
Calikula: Popular choice here might be NE, but man do I hate Philip Rivers' smug, goofy face.
WillyBFree: The Patriots of course - The cheaters of the NFL!
Favorite Broncos player on the current roster?
Calikula: So many good choices here. CHJ currently, but I love me some Von Miller, both Thom,ases Pot Roast, C.J., Louis Vasquez...
WillyBFree: That's a hard one, they're all my favorites, but I love how CB/S Omar Bolden has progressed from last year. He is turning into a solid versatile player and I admire that.
Favorite Broncos player of all time?
WillyBFree: John Elway will never be replaced for that honor.
Favorite thing to eat during a game?
Calikula: I don't eat during the game. Too nervous. Might just drink some water.
WillyBFree: I try to cook something that goes along with the theme of the game - Like for instance this week we're in Cincinnati playing the Bengals - Mountain Lion stew would be awesome if I had some, but it's hard to come by anymore, so I think I'll do a cheese/salame/crackers tray with some Budweisers.
Favorite Game-Day ritual?
Calikula: I'm weird, but for some reason I feel if I don't get a good workout in the day before and the day of the game, our boys will struggle. So I hit the gym.
WillyBFree: If I were nervous, I would be fretting over every little thing out of place, but since we now have a balanced attack - I wake up pumped for game-time to commence.
What is your favorite Game-Day attire?
Calikula: Rotates between my Elway or my Von jersey. Once one of them loses, the other one gets worn the next game, along with my lucky Broncos socks.
WillyBFree: Broncos T-shirt, since I only have an Eddie Royal jersey.
Most embarrassing-to-admit superstitious behavior regarding Broncos on Game Day?
Calikula: See above. The jersey and workout are my only superstitions, among ANYTHING, not just Broncos.
WillyBFree: I'm a Christian believer, so superstitions don't live in my life. I do think that players have down days where mental processes aren't at their peak, and they have to play through them. But, no superstitions...
Best Broncos game ever played?
Calikula: Well, the last guy mentioned the Tebow game versus the Steelers, and obviously the SB wins are 1 and 2. I would have to say aside from those three wins, my favorite win was the MNF game verssu the Chargers in 2012. HUGE, HUGE implications in that game, and Manning was just...masterful. His best game as a Bronco, even over the bravery he exhibited last Sunday.
WillyBFree: The greatest game the Broncos played was Superbowl 32, a game we weren't supposed to win. I was working at the Wildland fire station at Turkey Creek, Colo., at the time, and when we sealed the win, I let the whole country hear me.
Who makes your "Hall of Fame" Broncos team?
RB: TD, Portis, Little
WR: DT, Smith, Sanders, McCaffery
TE: Sharpe, JT, Dreessen, Virgil Green
OL: The SB lines
DL: Pryor, Pot Roast, Carter
DE: Ware, Jones
LB: Miller, Gradishar, Meck, Trevathan
S: Atwater, Smith
CB: Bailey, CHJ
P: Insert name :P
WillyBFree: Basically, the same players PearlJamBroncoGaryFunk put in a few weeks back. I do know this much, the NFL writers in charge of voting for Hall members haven't done us justice, and that's a shame...