The Bengals (1-1) square off against the reigning Super Bowl champs, the Broncos (2-0), on Sunday in their season home opener. Despite losing a lot of key contributors from last season’s squad, Denver still represents one of the best defenses in football and a serviceable offense that relies on striking first and controlling the tempo. And, of course, they have the best defender in the NFL, a nightmare for any offensive lineman in the league.
We’ve already gone through some of the keys for a Bengals win and now we’re reviewing five players you’ll want to keep an eye on come gameday on the Broncos’ side of the field.
Von Miller, edge rusher:
He’s so good. So good. The best pass rusher in the NFL brings havoc no matter who’s in front of him. Von Miller is the reigning Super Bowl MVP for a reason, and still, some opposing offensive coordinators don’t send help against him. Some teams even make the stupid mistake of having a tight end trying to block Miller.
Bengals’ first-year starter Cedric Ogbuehi is still a work in progress and despite the absence of DeMarcus Ware, Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has a lot of other weapons to throw at Cincinnati to keep them from double-teaming Miller all the time. The Texas A&M stud is not only an unstoppable force on his own, but also helps other pass rushers on his line like Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett shine.
Without a functional running game, Cincinnati needs to protect Andy Dalton to have any chance, and neutralizing Miller, even if it seems impossible, is the first step.
Chris Harris Jr., cornerback:
The former undrafted free agent is now the best slot cornerback in the NFL and also, according to the B/R NFL 1000 rankings, one of the overall best players in the league.
His teammate Aqib Talib might have the bigger name, but Harris is the solid all-around talent every secondary wishes it could have. As the slot becomes increasingly important in modern football, reliable nickel cornerbacks are now a necessity. What if you had a player able to shut down the best receivers outside and then go inside as well? Just like Leon Hall used to do in his prime.
With the Bengals moving A.J. Green all over the formation to try to create good matchups, the Broncos will rely on Harris’ ability to blanket him often, thus giving their pass rush extra time to generate pressure and create turnovers.
Orange Crush and No Fly Zone feed each other.
Michael Schofield, offensive lineman:
An injury to starter Donald Stephenson forced Schofield to move back to right tackle on Sunday, which is where he’ll play again against the Bengals. Schofield is better suited at guard, even though he was alright against the Colts, and the Broncos did favor that side to run the football after the shift.
Gary Kubiak, the Broncos head coach, knows how to get his quarterback in rhythm and Denver has started its games with quick passes and a lot of play action fake offs to build Trevor Siemian’s confidence.
Carlos Dunlap is yet to record a sack, but this could be his ideal opportunity to get at least his first of the year, while also disrupting Denver’s offense through their weakest link. The Bengals’ left end notched three sacks against Stephenson last season... Just saying.
Schofield was ranked just below Ogbuehi in the B/R NFL 1000 for Week 2.
Andy Janovich, fullback:
Kubiak surely loves his fullback, as Vonta Leach or Kyle Juszczyk can attest to. Janovich has shown he can run the football, run block, pass block and also catch out of the backfield.
His role is more important than what his numbers tell. The Broncos love the play action fakes off the 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end, and two receivers), and having a versatile fullback gives them plenty of options.
The Bengals need to stay disciplined in order to avoid giving Siemian easy completions down the middle for 15-20 yards.
Derek Wolfe, defensive end:
He might not have flashy numbers, but Wolfe is a key component to the Broncos’ formidable pass rush. Denver loves to use their defensive ends to create gaps for their outside linebackers in their stunts, and Wolfe is a great asset for them.
Wolfe is also one of the best pass rushers at his position in the NFL and gives the Broncos another dimension to their defense, which has a lot of depth outside but lacks a little bit inside without Malik Jackson, who left for the Jaguars this offseason.
The Wolfe-Miller combo is scary, but the Bengals need find success against them to win on Sunday.