When the Cincinnati Bengals play host to the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football, they will do so without ever having previously won against Peyton Manning, period.
Not exactly the confidence boost you were looking for? My bad.
The Broncos have been one of the two best teams in the AFC for the last two years alongside New England. The teams boast an arsenal of weapons other than Mannning as well, including both the Thomases, C.J. Anderson (one of our featured Fantasy waiver wire adds prior to the playoffs), Saunders, Welker, and a defense that prides itself in its more-than-effective rush defense.
All that being said, the Denver Broncos can be stopped. This is a winnable game, but only if the Bengals are able to succeed in certain aspects of the contest. Here are three keys to beating Peyton Manning and Co.
- No turnovers. This might be considered a given, but it's also a must. And when I say no turnovers, I mean zero turnovers. None, nada, butkus. If you give the Broncos the ball on a mistake, Peyton Manning's offense will capitalize. Dalton has been prone to turnovers in his last 10 games, throwing 13 interceptions and losing two fumbles, averaging 1.5 turnovers a game. Even when not throwing often against Cleveland, the Browns recorded an interception on a throw that lacked vision. Most of Dalton's interceptions have come on either a bad decision, not being aware of additional defenders near his target or throwing into coverage from the get-go. This simply can't happen against a team that will already be favored.
- Be smart on defense. As illustrated before, the Broncos have a variety of weapons, both through the air and on the ground. However, the greatest asset remains the mind of Peyton Manning. The star signal-caller is a genius with recognizing blitz packages and coverage schemes, and then systematically tearing them apart, not with his arm strength, but by his awareness. Paul Guenther needs to take care in disguising his blitzes, and he also needs to be careful with his coverage schemes. Movement by the linebackers and safety are essential to covering up the defensive schemes and keeping Manning on his toes. This is a game for Guenther to be creative. However, it is not a game for Guenther to be experimental. Play the defense you're used to playing. If it's not broke, don't change the recipe, but don't be afraid to add a few spices here and there.
- Utilize play-action. A lot. Often. Frequently, if you will. The Broncos' strength on defense is their run-defense, where they're ranked No. 2 in the league. That also happens to be the Bengals' strength. However, instead of playing into this counter, you turn it into your advantage. Jeremy Hill leads all rookie running backs this year, and Giovani Bernard is an explosive player out of the backfield. The Bengals need to use both extensively in the first quarter, alongside quick passes out on short drop-backs. This will force the defense to play up to defend against the run and play man coverage on quick slants and outs, if the play-calling is successful. Once that part of the offense is established, allow Dalton to make use of play-action following other plays with similar run formations. This is NOT to encourage the 40-yard NASA shots into the endzone that Hue jackson called against Cleveland. Not one of those came to fruition. Instead, force the cornerbacks into the middle of the field with extended slant and corner routes. If given the chance, A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu can be a deadly combination on intermediate routes. That way, you maximize accuracy and stretch the defense, without being unnecessarily vertical in the pass attack.
And that's it. That's how the Bengals beat the Broncos. Yes, far easier said than done. But, in the NFL, if you don't have the "any given Sunday" mentality, bad things are going to happen. Expect the unexpected. The Bengals can win this game, but only if they go about it correctly.