It’s been an up-and-down start to the 2016 season for the Cincinnati Bengals, as they currently sit at 1-1 after two consecutive road matchups. Unfortunately their one loss to the Steelers puts them a game down in the AFC North, but a win on Sunday against the 2-0 Denver Broncos would give them their second quality conference win.
Even though Gary Kubiak’s squad came into the season with major questions after free agency attrition, the Broncos have rode their insanely talented defense to grab wins against the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts. However, they travel to Paul Brown Stadium for another tough matchup of their own.
Here are the biggest keys to a potential win for the Bengals against the Broncos:
All Things Von:
Broncos edge rusher Von Miller appears to be hitting his prime in a big way. After nabbing Super Bowl 50 MVP honors, he has four sacks in two games, and a forced fumble in that led to a Denver touchdown return on Andrew Luck last week. He goes up against a Bengals offensive line that has been hard to figure out, as they allowed seven sacks in the opener, but just one last week in 54 Andy Dalton pass attempts.
In four games played against the Bengals, Miller has caused trouble. He’s brought down Bengals quarterbacks four times, largely beating former right tackle, Andre Smith. Cedric Ogbuehi has stepped in and has struggled a bit through his first two contests, but he has also gone up against stellar defensive fronts. He has another to face in his third start, so tight end chips, double teams with Kevin Zeitler and increased usage of Ryan Hewitt should all be part of offensive coordinator Ken Zampese’s game plan this week.
Defensive Line Keeping Both Gap Integrity and Contain:
Another trend through this tough three-game stretch for the Cincinnati Bengals is the that of frustratingly mobile quarterbacks. New York’s Ryan Fitzpatrick and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger both have the ability to ad-lib and avoid sacks. That’s played into a stout defensive line grabbing just two sacks so far. Denver’s Trevor Siemian has his shortcomings (just one touchdown pass against three interceptions in two games), but he can elude pressure if a line doesn’t fulfill their proper duties.
Margus Hunt and Will Clarke have been playing some of the best football of their careers, but we’ve seen them over-pursue and get the defense in trouble in the past. Despite an exorbitant amount of holding non-calls last week, we saw Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson overrun Big Ben on a rain-soaked field, only to see him make an unlikely play. Between Siemian’s scrambling ability and the effective zone run-blocking scheme they employ, the front four need to be on the top of their game this Sunday.
Harnessing Home Field Advantage:
Maybe it’s because I’ll personally be in attendance for this game, but I’m curious to see how the Bengals perform after finally coming back to PBS for the first time since the Wild Card loss in January. The last time we saw the Bengals at home, the end result was not good, so the team undoubtedly wants to make a better impression to their hometown crowd this time around.
There seems to be some decisive opinions among fans on whether or not the intangible factor of momentum is actually something that plays into sporting events, but if it is, playing a big game at home will provide it for Cincinnati. While the X’s and O’s and roster talent always play into a game, home field advantage is something the Bengals will need to use in an effort to get out of the tough three-game stretch with a winning record.
Better Red Zone and Third-Down Efficiency on Offense:
There has been a lot of talk about the stout defenses the Bengals have faced, but a rookie offensive coordinator has been showing his inexperience in the first two Bengals games. Cincinnati’s offense has massively failed in the critical areas of third down and red zone efficiency.
In two games, the Bengals are 7-for-27 on third downs, which is a 26 percent conversion rate, while totally failing in the red zone with a 17 percent touchdown conversion rate (1-for-6). The slim chance of the team getting back tight end Tyler Eifert this week would undoubtedly help, but a combination of more creativity from Zampese, young weapons stepping up and better job in the run game need to happen this Sunday.
Andy Dalton Avoiding The Big Mistake:
Check out this doozy of a stat, provided by NFL.com’s Gil Brandt:
In last 4 games, DEN defense has allowed combined passer rating of 60.6 to Newton (2x), Brady and Luck. DEN is 4-0 in those games.— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) September 21, 2016
Additionally, the Broncos have forced nine turnovers in those four games, with three of them being returned for touchdowns (two fumbles, one interception). While Dalton has looked skittish at times in the first two games, he has been relatively careful with the football. He’s thrown just one interception, while the running backs have only surrendered one fumble, but taking even better care of the football is of utmost importance on Sunday.