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Broncos vs. Bengals: Behind Enemy Lines

Before Jon Gruden and Mike Tirico sit down and analyze the Bengals/Broncos Monday night matchup in the Jungle, Bronco Mike of Mile High Report sits down with us at Cincy Jungle to talk all things Denver Broncos.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

After 29 TDs and 7 INTs in his first nine games, Manning has just 8 TDs and 4 INTs in his last five games. Is there any concern about his recent play?

Any rational fan that has a grasp of logic knows that the dip in Manning's recent numbers has everything to do with Adam Gase and the offense trying to find more balance.

The emergence of RB CJ Anderson is one of the reasons for the decline. Anderson has carried the ball an average of 26 times per game in the last four games. With Anderson being able to gain tough yardage, the Broncos are running the ball more in the redzone which is taking some numbers away from Manning's stat sheet. For example, Anderson had 3 TD rushes against Buffalo---all coming within five yards of the goal line. This is the same game that Manning's streak of 51 straight games with a TD pass ended.

Another issue has been the loss of TE Julius Thomas who is by far our most dangerous redzone weapon. With him out of the lineup, our redzone offense has struggled as of late.

Speaking of Manning's play, in the past four games, Manning has averaged just 210.5 YPG after averaging 330.1 YPG in his first 10 games. Meanwhile, in those same four games, the Broncos have averaged 164.8 YPG on the ground after averaging just 89.9 YPG in their first 10 games. Is this by design as they prepare for the playoffs where running the ball is so important? Or is there more to the change in the offense?

You can circle the game against the St. Louis Rams as the turning point in the Broncos approach on offense. That game the offense scored seven points, threw the ball over 50 times, and ran it only nine times. They became so one dimensional that the aggressive Rams front four started to tee-off and make things very uncomfortable for Manning in the pocket. It was by far the worst game of the season and highlighted the issues the Broncos faced in the Super Bowl against Seattle.

After that game, the offensive line was shuffled. Starting center Manny Ramirez was moved to right guard. Reserve C/G Will Montgomery took over as starting center, and All-Pro right guard Louis Vasquez was moved to right tackle.

The Following week against Kansas City on a cold and windy night, the Broncos ran the ball 43 times for 220 yards and passed the ball 34 times for 178 yards. Since then, the Broncos have used the running game to move the ball for positive yardage, keeping 3rd downs manageable and probably most important getting the play-action pass game going. Since the change in philosophy, the offense has averaged 2.92 points per drive as opposed to 2.49 points per drive before.

The Broncos run defense is 2nd in the NFL in terms of YPG and YPA. They have also had the second fewest run plays called against them (294). How good is the Broncos run defense? And how does the loss of Danny Trevathan hurt the defense?

I understand the skepticism about the Broncos running defense, but it is legitimate. The only 100 yard rusher on the season came from the St. Louis game where the offense had a hard time sustaining drives. Going back all the way to week three against Seattle--a game that was led by the Seahawks almost the entire way, the Broncos surrendered just 3.6 yards per carry.

The Broncos were without Danny Trevathan much of the season. His injury alone wouldn't be hard to overcome except that his replacement (Brandon Marshall)---who led the team in tackles, has also been injured and will probably be out until the playoffs. The loss of those two together along with the loss of MLB Nate Irving earlier in the season has really taken away a vital cog in the run-stopping machine. This upcoming Monday will be our first look without both of them on the field so it remains to be seen just how much the run defense will be impacted.

Are there any other significant injuries' going into this Monday night's game?

Manning had a thigh injury but of course will play. LT Ryan Clady is banged up and TE Julius Thomas has been hobbled but was eased back into action this past week.

If you were the Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, how would you attack the Broncos defense? If you were the Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, how would you attack the Broncos offense?

Attacking the Broncos Defense: No matter who the opponent, the Broncos have struggled against pass-catching TE's. Not sure the status of your guys but first and foremost I would be looking to exploit our coverage tendencies. Generally speaking the Broncos will use a LB/S bracket on base downs and pure man coverage with a safety in sub-packages against a tight end.

I also think the Bengals should test the lateral speed of this defense with our WLB's injured and out of the lineup. Lots of stretch plays, sweeps, pitches, anything to get the running back to the edge. Trying to run against this defense up the gut is a bad idea with Terrance Knighton eating up attempt after attempt.

Dalton gets the ball out fast. If the Broncos are playing a lot of man, the Bengals should stack receivers and use some 2-route concepts that will create some natural picks--especially over the middle where our coverage will be vulnerable. Against zone looks I would run a receiver across the formation on some medium crossing and dig routes to try and create some mistakes in "passing off." Some big plays against the Broncos defense have come from precisely this tactic.

Attacking the Broncos Offense: Shut down the run first of all. From there, play as physical as you can with the wide receivers.  If you're going to bring pressure make sure it's on 3rd and long when Peyton is going to hold the ball longer. Something the Jets did that worked early on in the game was to check our WR's at the line using their OLB before passing them off into the secondary--sort of an inverted Cover 2 concept. They also brought a lot of overload blitzes to get Peyton Manning moving to one side or another. If you can get Peyton moving off of his spot you have a chance at seeing a bad throw/decision.

Who wins Monday night and why?

Both teams have a lot to play for. Realistically the Bengals need at least one more win to qualify for the playoffs. On the other hand, Denver is still fighting for home-field advantage with the Patriots and need to win both of their final regular season games to remain in the hunt.

One thing I heard over the radio from someone who covers the Bengals is that they have had a hard time winning games against the better teams they have faced.

I think this will be a hard-fought defensive battle that will go down to the wire, but in the end, I think the Broncos have far too much talent on both sides of the ball for Cincinnati to handle. So long as the Broncos take care of the ball, I see them winning in a one score game. My prediction? Broncos 23, Bengals 16