Two of the AFC’s best teams will clash this Sunday as the Cincinnati Bengals return home for the first time this season to host the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. Last year, the Bengals could have taken the Broncos’ spot as the AFC’s top seed with just one more point scored in regulation in Week 16, or one more stopped drive on defense. This year, the two teams are again expected to be competing for playoff positioning. So, this result could again be pivotal.
Unfortunately, the Bengals will still be without Vontaze Burfict for another week and Tyler Eifert is doubtful to play. But, Burfict will return next week when his suspension ends and Eifert could make his debut in Week 4 too as his progress remains on track. Therefore, the following matchups will be even more vital as the Bengals’ seek their second win of the season.
OLB Von Miller vs RT Cedric Ogbuehi
It has been a bit of a rough start for the Bengals new starting right tackle. Against the Jets, he was a big part of a unit that allowed seven sacks on quarterback Andy Dalton. Against the Steelers, he was improved along with the rest of the offensive line. But, he wasn’t nearly as improved as the rest of the starting unit, who received four of the top five offensive grades for the Bengals from Pro Football Focus.
It would be surprising if Ogbuehi went from being essentially red-shirted in his rookie season to playing great right away in his second season. But, he has a chance to continue to improve against the NFL’s premier pass rushers and one of the best players in the game.
Von Miller leads the NFL in total sacks this season with four. But, he has never recorded a sack against the Bengals in his career. With DeMarcus Ware out and a seemingly favorable matchup against the learning Ogbuehi, you can bet that Miller is going to focus on the right side of the line, rather than trying to punch through Pro Bowl tackle Andrew Whitworth. Even if it means exploiting his “little brother” and former Texas A&M teammate.
Ogbuehi will need to utilize his athleticism and improve his anchor this week if he wants to continue the Bengals’ tradition of keeping Miller away from Andy Dalton. If Ogbuehi has another week of getting pushed around by opposing edge rushers, it could result in a rough day for a Bengals passing game that needs to be at it’s best on Sunday.
LT Russell Okung vs RDE Michael Johnson
The Broncos’ offensive line has been one of the better units in the NFL so far, only allowing quarterback Trevor Siemian to be sacked three times over the first two weeks. Only five other units (Redskins, Jets, 49ers, Patriots, Steelers) have allowed less sacks on quarterbacks with at least 59 passing attempts.
A big reason for that has been the exceptional play of left tackle Russell Okung, who left the Seattle Seahawks for the Broncos in free agency this offseason. He has been a leader on an offense in desperate need of leadership, given the offseason retirement of the legendary Peyton Manning. In the absence of any notable star power on the rest of the line, Okung’s ability to lock down the left side has been vital to the Broncos’ ability to make an impact on the offensive side of the ball.
Heading into Week 3, Okung is going to be relied upon as much as ever. With starting right tackle Donald Stephenson out for the game, the Bengals will have an incredibly favorable matchup with one of the NFL’s best defensive ends, Carlos Dunlap, going up against Michael Schofield, who’s moving back to right tackle after playing right guard in Week 1 and to start Week 2.
Last week, Michael Johnson showed that he can push his way into the backfield without too much issue. Granted, a combination of his lack of ability to finish and some questionable uncalled holding by the Steelers offensive linemen essentially made all of those pressures irrelevant. But, the point is, Johnson can be a handful when he wants to be. If he can utilize that ability to disrupt the backfield, not allow himself to be shut down by Okung, and give Dunlap some assistance, it could turn into an ugly day for Siemian.
CB Chris Harris Jr. vs WR Tyler Boyd
Chris Harris Jr. has been one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL over the last few years. As a result, he was voted to the Pro Bowl and was named a second-team All-Pro last year. But, the emergence of guys like Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby have allowed the Broncos to utilize Harris’ talents in a more concentrated role at slot corner. So, his impact tends to be swept under the rug.
Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd has been performing well in the slot so far this season. So far, he has recorded eight catches on 11 targets for 102 total yards. Technically, his performance so far is marred by that awful fumble at the end of the Bengals’ loss in Pittsburgh. But that call should have been overturned and the refs are blind. I don’t care what Dean Blandino says.
The point is, Tyler Boyd has been a surprisingly solid contributor through two weeks, the surprise being that rookies don’t typically get much of a chance to contribute in the Bengals’ system under Marvin Lewis. That said, Boyd has been going up against No. 3 cornerbacks. Due to the way the Broncos’ defense works, this time he will be going up against a guy who would almost definitely be a boundary cornerback on most other NFL teams.
This will be a litmus test for Boyd to see if he truly is ready to be seen as a dangerous receiver in the NFL or if he has just benefited from favorable matchups. Granted, the Broncos will likely focus on slowing down the incredible A.J. Green and won’t want to forget about Brandon LaFell. But, it will still take plenty of focus and preparation for Boyd to come out on top of this matchup.