The Denver Broncos have taken care of business to start the season with big wins at home against the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts. Two wins against competitive opponents was an impressive way to start the year, but they will have their first road test this weekend when they square off against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Are you ready for a rumble in the jungle? There have certainly been some wild games in the past!
The Broncos will be without several key starters in Sunday's game at Cincinnati. DeMarcus Ware, Virgil Green and Donald Stephenson have all been ruled out for the contest due to injury. Corey Nelson, Justin Simmons and Dekoda Watson are all listed as questionable, but should be ready to go for tomorrow's gridiron battle.
The Bengals are also dealing with some injury concerns that could have an impact on tomorrow's outcome. Star tight end Tyler Eifert is listed as doubtful and will not play against the Broncos. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard and offensive Eric Winston are listed as questionable, but are expected to play.
It's a tough match-up for Denver, but it isn't one of their hardest games on their plate this season. Nevertheless, the Bengals are a formidable team with great players on both sides of the ball and they would love to come away with a victory this weekend against the Broncos. Here are some of my thoughts, observations and things to look for in regard to tomorrow's game.
A Concern for Cincinnati - Offensive Mediocrity
Last year the Cincinnati Bengals had one of the most productive scoring offenses in the NFL, ranking seventh overall out of thirty-two clubs in the league. It is still early, but so far this season, the Bengals offense has been less than stellar and rank nineteenth in scoring despite being in the top ten league-wide in regard to yards.
But what could be causing those issues?
This off-season, the Bengals lost several of their key offensive weapons in free agency when Marvin Jones took his talents to the Detroit Lions and Mohamed Sanu joined the Atlanta Falcons. Their replacements have performed decently, but not to the level their fans have hoped for.
In two games, the Bengals have only scored three offensive touchdowns and have done a terrible job on third down conversions, registering only 7 conversions on 27 attempts thus far. Their pass protection has been a troublesome aspect for the team, with quarterback Andy Dalton to get sacked eight times through two games.
Though they have managed to rack up decent yardage in the passing game, Cincinnati ranks as one of the worst rushing offenses in the league with only 103 total yards on 37 attempts. None of the aforementioned is a good recipe for obtaining victory on Sunday's and they will face their toughest defensive opponent of the year when the Broncos storm onto the field Sunday afternoon.
What does that mean for the Bengals? Bad news for the Bengals.
In order to beat the Broncos, the Bengals will certainly have to improve their efficacy on the offensive side of the ball. If they can't establish the running game against Denver, it will be up to Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and the rest of the Bengals' offense to try and win a chess-match against defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and the vaunted No Fly Zone. If I had to gamble on a victor in that regard, I'd take the latter each day and twice on Sunday's.
Look for the Broncos defense to get after Dalton repeatedly and register some big plays with sacks and turnovers to help propel them to victory.
The X-Factor for Cincinnati - A.J. Green
As mentioned above, the Bengals offense has struggled, but you cannot forget or underestimate the prowess and productivity wide receiver A.J. Green brings to the field. He is arguably one of the top receivers in the game and has the skills and the speed that kills to beat secondaries deep and change the overall momentum of the game in a single snap.
Aqib Talib has been phenomenal this season, but facing Green one-on-one will be his toughest test so far this year. Expect Talib to get physical with Green coming off the line of scrimmage and to have occasional safety help over the top. This won't be the first time the two premier players have gone head-to-head. Talib shutdown Green two years ago (no catches) and last year, held the star wideout to only 5 catches for 57 yards.
Under no circumstance can the Broncos afford to let Green have a big game, because it will be hard playing catch-up offensively and the last place Denver would want to be is in a shootout against the Bengals.
Key Matchups to Watch
Trevor Siemian vs. Cincinnati Bengals Secondary
Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian faced a decimated Colts' secondary last weekend and though he was able to make some plays in the passing game, it wasn't the breakout aerial performance many were hoping for.
The Bengals' secondary will provide a large challenge for Siemian on Sunday and have done a great job shutting down the top receivers of opposing teams so far this season.
Can Siemian take the next step in his progression and lead the Broncos on drives that result in touchdowns instead of turnovers or field goals? That is the big question I have for this game and one Siemian is able to answer with success.
Michael Schofield vs. Carlos Dunlap
Michael Schofield will likely start at right tackle in place of Donald Stephenson. Schofield has seen time at guard and tackle this season and appears to have improved from last years' campaign where he struggled immensely. The upward trend of Schofield is worth noting, but he will need to play lights out against Cincinnati and do much better than he did against them last season.
He will be going up against standout defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who brought the heat and eviscerated Schofield on the field and beat him for three sacks in their meeting last year. That simply can't happen again this go-around if the Broncos want to be successful throwing the ball against their secondary.
C.J. Anderson vs. Cincinnati's Run Defense
I've outlined numerous areas where the Bengals have struggled this season, but here is another one: run defense.
With inside linebacker Vontaze Burfict on the sidelines due to a three game suspension, the rush defense of the Bengals has taken a big step backwards. They are ranked dead last in the NFL and are allowing opposing teams to run for 138 yards a game against them.
Anderson has been the bell-cow of the Broncos offense, which is averaging over 140 yards per contest on the ground. In order to score another mark in the win column this weekend, the Broncos will need another big game from him. Look for the Broncos to run the ball early and often and incorporate a healthy dose of rookie fullback Andy Janovich into their scheme to make that success happen.
This will be a tough, physical game for the Broncos, but ultimately one that I think they end up winning. The Bengals have struggled running the football, as well as stopping opposing offenses from running the football. That rarely ends up being good enough to win football games and will be the primary issue they have going up against the Broncos' all-world defense tomorrow afternoon.
I expect a huge game from C.J. Anderson and believe Denver's defense will do a good job limiting the passing attack the Bengals have on the offensive side of the ball. When the game clock strikes zero tomorrow, the Broncos will have defied the odds and be 3-0 on the season. I don't think too many people were predicting that sort of success with all the changes the team has endured, especially at the quarterback position.
Broncos, 27. Bengals, 16.