Following the Kansas City Chiefs victory over the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday night, any realistic slivers of hope at the AFC West title went out the window. To make the playoffs, the Broncos will need to trek through the wildcard rounds. To do so, they’ll probably need to win at least three of their next four games, and possibly all of them. It starts on Sunday with a game against the 7-6 Cincinnati Bengals. To get a better idea as to what’s ahead, I reached out to Cincy Jungles’ Patrick Judis.
1st and 10
There’s little question Joe Burrow looks like the real deal. He’s very good at processing the action pre and post snap, and better than I expected at manipulating the defense to throw his receivers open. Meanwhile, Cincy has the kind of weapons to really perplex most secondary’s in the league. Jamar Chase has 6 40+ yard plays this year, Tee Higgins makes 50-50 catches look routine, and Tyler Boyd’s quietly one of the best slot receivers in the league. How can Fangio slow this passing offense down?
Judis: I think the only way to slow down this passing attacks is to hope the pass rush can get home. This offense hums beautifully if Burrow is able to sit back there. Teams have been able to get free blitzers fairly often due to some inexperienced players in lineup and just generally misreading things from time to time.
Even then, last week wee saw Burrow lead a fourth quarter drive to tie the game, and each time he was practically swallowed by a defensive lineman.
If Burrow is cooking the only person stopping him is head coach Zac Taylor taking the ball out of his hands.
Joe Burrow leads the NFL in Big Time Throws over the last 10 weeks (21) pic.twitter.com/6SCkD0CxcT— PFF Bet (@PFF_Bet) December 15, 2021
2nd and 9
In spite of the injuries throughout the linebacker corps., the Broncos continue to field a very good pass defense. They’ve been quite vulnerable to the run, however, especially around the goal line. Joe Mixon already has 12 touchdowns this year, which hints at just how good this redzone rushing offense is. What do you expect from the ground game in this contest?
Judis: Mixon is one of the best running backs in the league. He often makes the first defender miss. However, the first defender is in the backfield a lot of the time.
The offensive line is better at run blocking than pass blocking, but there are still times you can see they miss an assignment or get beat bad.
The running game is at its best when the Bengals are playing with the lead and when the passing game is in sync early. That was the case for a few games straight it seemed, but it has fallen back off a bit the past two weeks in big games.
If the running game gets hot early than they will ride it the whole game. Otherwise it just ends up sputtering with a big play or two sprinkled in.
3rd and 13
People still seem to be sleeping on this Bengal defense, but I’m not. Teddy Bridgewater’s been struggling for a few weeks now, which leaves me nervous about how Lou Anarumo will attack the Broncos’ pass protection on passing downs. What will the gameplan look like for Sunday, and is there anything Denver can exploit?
Judis: One of the biggest reasons this defense has played much better than last year is because the defensive line often can get pressure on the quarterback. Last year Cincinnati had one of the worst pass rusher. Now they have on of the best. Trey Hendrickson deserves most of the credit for that, but guys like Larry Ogunjobi, BJ Hill and Sam Hubbard have really splashed onto the scene as well.
I explain that because their gamelan usually relies on the four man rush to get home. Anarumo also isn’t afraid to drop Hubbard or Henderson into coverage to really throw off quarterbacks.
One of his favorite plays is to have a linebacker blitz the A gap just to drop back into a middle zone to take away in breaking routes where the quarterback has already banked on the linebacker blitzing. He loves to mess with player’s expectations like that.
The one area the Bengals have struggled is tight ends. Noah Fant may be in line for a big day after everyone watched George Kettle put on a one man show last week. Also getting cornerback Mike Hilton down the field one-on-one with a bigger receiver has pretty consistently worked. This could also be Trae Waynes first game back off injured reserve. He likely should be tested in the passing game.
The running game will be interesting to watch. Linebacker Germaine Pratt is great at stopping the run, and he doesn’t let guys fall forward. Defensive tackle D.J. Reader has also quietly been one of the most valuable Bengals’ defenders. He just takes away the inside running game.
Trey Hendrickson is playing at an All-Pro level for the #Bengals and certainly deserves a Pro Bowl trip.— Willie Lutz (@willie_lutz) December 16, 2021
Among AFC pass rushers:
- 12.5 sacks
- 38 quarterback hurries
- 10.9 pass rush productivity
- 37 pressures (4th best)#ProBowlVote + Trey Hendrickson pic.twitter.com/MKIlAJZvok
4th and 5
Four years of Tom McMahon means Broncos Country is awfully familiar with awful mishaps from the forgotten unit. Two muffed punts cost the Bengals 10 points last week, while the 49ers kick coverage held Stanley Morgan and Darius Phillips to 13.3 yards a return. How do you expect the special teams battles to go?
Judis: Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons is probably the best special teams coordinator in the NFL. An injury to the original kick returner, Brandon Wilson, really saw an impact there. The team was also without running back Chris Evans who has practiced as a returner. Essentially, the only backup punt returner Cincinnati had last Sunday was Tyler Boyd who the team obviously wants to keep out of harms way.
Darius Phillips obviously had his worst day as a Bengal last week. He seemed to get hurt after the first muffed punt, and they tried to let him redeem himself with the second.
This unit isn’t known for getting huge plays out of the return game without Wilson, so I imagine they will continue to focus on just catching the ball. If Evans gets an opportunity, that could be interesting though since he has shown to be fairly elusive.
Cincinnati’s kick coverage is impeccable, though. Morgan may he one of the best gunners in the league. When he and Wilson are healthy, one of them often got to the returner instantly.
The Bengals second muff came after their defense forced a 4&O with a minute left before the end of the first half.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 16, 2021
49ers got a touchdown out of it. pic.twitter.com/czgl3zO5zg
What’s your prediction for the game? Bengals win if...? Broncos win if...?
Judis: I think the Bengals start off slow again, but the defense doesn’t let the Broncos run away with it early.
Denver wins if they can build a quick lead for Cincinnati to have to try and catch up to in the second half. That probably happens if the offense gives up a few turnovers early.
The Bengals win if they can play relatively clean football without shooting themselves in the foot. They also need to protect Burrow to let him play point guard with this offense.
Bengals 30 Broncos 23
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