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Bengals defense gambled and lost vs Broncos

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Paul Guenther’s game-plan backfired due to his own mistakes in playcalling, bad performances by the cornerback unit and lack of pressure up front.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Trevor Siemian, the former seventh-round pick, on the first road start of his career, played well and made some pretty good throws against the Bengals on Sunday. But the Broncos quarterback also got away with some bad ones and the Bengals helped him by making some mistakes, while also getting flagged often.

The narrative is that the Broncos might have their quarterback of the future after destroying Cincinnati with four passing touchdowns and 312 yards. If you look at the box score you might think Siemian, who had only one passing touchdown and three interceptions prior to this game, torched the Bengals all day long, but that is simply not 100 percent true.

Not taking anything away from the kid, but Paul Guenther’s game-plan and the Bengals defenders helped him frequently, and on key situations. Siemian still had to make some throws under the heat, and he also showed a lot of poise sliding head first for a first down in the first half, but Cincinnati made the error of daring him to beat them and that ultimately cost them the game.

From Geoff Hobson at Bengals.com:

Playing eight men in the box to challenge Siemian’s arm, the Bengals blitzed maybe a handful of times, figuring their four-man rush against a battered Denver offensive line would take care of the pressure and Siemian wouldn’t be accurate enough under the heat.“They put it on the secondary,’ said cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who gutted out a calf strain to get back on the field late. “Obviously we didn’t get the job done in the end. That’s the thing that’s frustrating. Players are going to make plays, but in the end you have to buckle down.”

Cincinnati’s game-plan was to stop the run and the dink and dunk offense the Broncos had showcased in the first two weeks of the season, and then going all out on third down. But Denver, after some complaints from their two star wide receivers, was ready for a change. And it looks like this:

They were especially effective against Adam Jones and his replacement for a couple of snaps, Chris Lewis-Harris. The former had his worst game in years, and the latter showed he might lack the size to play outside - even though he had a chance at breaking up the pass on the Demaryius Thomas touchdown.

Cincinnati’s secondary lacks speed. Jones is 33, Darqueze Dennard is still trying to get back in playing form after multiple injuries, and Josh Shaw also got hurt later on in the game. The Broncos took advantage of this, and it seemed like it was what they wanted all week long. From Hobson again:

Word out of the Denver locker room was they called the double move, “The Pacman Play.” They called it late in the game after they had got him with it early in the second quarter on Sanders’ 41-yard TD, and when Jones went out with cramps they stuck with it...

Sanders: “We game-planned all week on the double moves. In the first 15 plays, we had three or four double moves. We knew we were going to take our shots, even on Demaryius’ touchdown.”

Thomas: “Watching film, you saw guys. They’re great. They’re the best group we’ve gone against this year, but they were vulnerable to the double moves.”

The last few years, the Bengals have displayed a very conservative defense, often relying solely on their front four to get to the quarterback and playing a lot of zone defense, either cover three or cover two. Last season we saw a little bit more blitzing, and Sunday’s game against Denver was the latest example of this trend.

Problem is, if you blitz but don’t get to the quarterback there’s a huge chance of a wide receiver open down the field, and the Broncos have two pretty good ones. So if the plan was to rattle Siemian to force him to make mistakes as he’d been prone to do, the Bengals failed and put a lot of pressure on their secondary. A good example is the touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders early in the second quarter:

Jones also added that he doesn’t think they "confused him", but whenever they could have made plays, like two dropped interceptions, or Pat Sims’ sack, or the illegal contact penalty called on Dre Kirkpatrick that wasn’t, either the players themselves or some bad calls derailed their efforts. Bad tackling wasn’t going to cut it either. And giving some cushion so close to the end zone against another team struggling to score there was just bad.

The offense didn’t help them, but Andy Dalton and company were facing a Broncos defense that might be one of the best in recent history. Everybody in the building knew the Bengals would need their defense to take advantage of Denver’s pedestrian offense in order to win the game.

That didn’t happen unfortunately, and the players know it. Ultimately, the Bengals gambled on the Broncos being unable to beat them deep and tried to force mistakes from Siemian, taking away the running game and pressuring him on third down. Denver had a different idea and their quarterback made a couple of great throws to win the game. He also made some throws that could have lost the game for them, but Cincinnati didn’t take their gifted plays and the narrative is now different than it could have been.