We reached out to Connor Howe over at Cincy Jungle to get the skinny on the Week 3 matchup between the Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals.
1) The Bengals offense has looked a bit lackluster to start the 2016 season. Is that just early season rust or is there something amiss from your perspective for a usually potent offensive team?
Personally, I think it's just the offense figuring things out. The offseason departure of Hue Jackson was blown way out of proportion; he was a solid offensive coordinator, but the team's early struggles on offense have seem to come as a result of new offensive coordinator Ken Zampese getting into the swing of things. Tyler Eifert's absence due to injury hasn't made things any better. Cincinnati has absolutely ignored the run through two games, and the team will need to start having success on the ground if it wants to protect Andy Dalton as a passer and, more importantly, win games.
2) I've admired your defense for a few years now and always expect them to play tough. Who are the two impact players on your defense that the Broncos fans should watch?
Aside from the obvious Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, who are both among the top five players at their respective positions, the Bengals have a pretty loaded defense. I'm taking corners Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones here, as they are blossoming into one of the better tandems in the NFL. In Week 1, they limited Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker to five catches, 69 yards and a touchdown on 15 targets. In Week 2, Kirkpatrick -- a whipping boy of Bengals fans as a first-year starter in 2015 -- was only targeted three times, and he came away with two pass deflections, an interception and zero catches allowed. It's hard to imagine the corner could've played any better. Antonio Brown only caught four passes for 39 yards on 11 targets in Week 2.
3) Tell us about two rather unknown players outside of Cincinnati that you've seen as impressive contributors early in 2016.
Margus Hunt, another whipping boy among Bengals fans, has looked really good through two weeks. He's the primary backup at defensive end, but he plays alongside Atkins at defensive tackle when the Bengals are in their nickel defense. The former second-round pick has tallied three tackles, two tackles for loss, two batted passes and a blocked field goal through two weeks. All Pittsburgh could do to stop him in Week 2 was hold and hope the referees wouldn't throw a flag, which fortunately for the Steelers, was exactly what happened.
The offensive line has struggled through two games, but left guard Clint Boling has been playing very well opposite former first-round pick Kevin Zeitler. The two team up to form one of the best guard tandems in the NFL, and Boling -- once considered the clear lesser of the two -- has nearly caught up to Zeitler. When the Bengals' interior offensive line plays well, there's no stopping Cincinnati's offense.
4) Let's talk scheme a bit: what weaknesses do you see in your defense that Denver should try to exploit?
In terms of personnel, the Broncos would be wise to target the aforementioned Dennard and safety Shawn Williams in the passing game. Both players have been responsible for several long passes as they've been trying to get comfortable in the defense in their first years starting. But you also can't go wrong just trying to pound the rock with C.J. Anderson, as Cincinnati's run defense has left more to be desired.
5) What are your 3 keys to the game and just for kicks, your prediction?
1. Get the ball to the Bengals' playmakers (A.J. Green, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard) and let them do their job.
2. Stuff the run and get after Trevor Siemian when he's dropping back.
3. Win the battle of field position.
Prediction: Bengals squeak by in a close one, I'll say 20-17.