When the Cincinnati Bengals head to Denver to face the Broncos, the game will feature a pair of teams who have had a rough time living up to preseason expectations. Both teams seem to have solid defenses, and good pieces on offense, but can’t manage to win enough games. After a strong 3-1 start, the Broncos have lost five straight games, dropping them to a 3-6 record, which they share with Cincinnati.
This week we spoke with Michael Sadaraine of Mile High Report to see what has plagued the Broncos this season, what they think of former Bengals secondary coach Vance Joseph (who’s now their head coach), and the status of their own version of John Ross, namely Paxton Lynch, who is also a highly drafted player not being used on a struggling offense.
Scott Schulze: With the Bengals and Broncos both at 3-6, I think it’s safe to say that both teams have underachieved compared to their roster talent, and where they were expected to be when the season began. With the Broncos is there one key area that has held them back, or has it been a combination of things?
Michael Sadaraine: At first, it was very much a problem of an inept quarterback in Trevor Siemian, but at this point in the season, the whole thing is unraveling at every end. Our once dominant defense has glaring weaknesses that teams are going after with wild abandon. Our Special Teams unit put on the most pathetic body of work I've ever seen in one game against New England last week. If the coaches haven't lost the team yet, they are well on their way down a slippery slope.
SS: With the struggles that the Broncos have had throwing the ball, and benching Trevor Siemian in favor of Brock Osweiler, is there any reason why Paxton Lynch isn’t playing? Do the Broncos feel he’s not as good as Siemian or Osweiler, or did his injury linger longer than expected?
MS: The main reason Paxton Lynch isn't playing is Paxton Lynch's work ethic mixed with a limited grasp of how to be an NFL quarterback from everything I've gathered listening to interviews and watching his career unfold so far. The Broncos front office and coaching staff practically threw the job at him and he couldn't beat out what is one of the most limited excuses for a quarterback I've seen in Siemian in the preseason.
Lynch hasn't been able to progress through reads. There were rumors last year that he liked playing X-box more than putting in the work. Yes, his injury happened, but I'm not so sure that's the key reason he's not been playing. I very much think the Broncos prefer both of their other options to Lynch this year which is a crying shame. Denver went up and drafted him and threw quite a bit of money at the guy. The return on their investment has been pretty awful overall and many in our fan base have been throwing around the "bust" label as the season has wore on.
SS: Broncos head coach Vance Joseph was a defensive coach in Cincinnati a couple years ago, and a few fans hoped the team would retain him as the long overdue replacement for Marvin Lewis. Obviously that didn’t work out, as he joined the Broncos this year as their newest head coach. What are the initial thoughts on him since he’s taken over? Should we be upset or relieved that he didn’t stay in Cincinnati?
MS: So far I think you should be relieved. He talks a good game, but with all the adversity this team has seen I've been pretty disappointed with the job he's done so far. One of my biggest problems is that he doesn't hold players accountable for their play. One example is rookie Isaiah McKenzie who has muffed 5 punts so far this season. That just can't happen in the NFL, yet just this week VJ got up in front of a mic and defended him by saying "that's our starting returner...it is his job" or something to that effect.
The other thing I see is signs of him adjusting our defense to run far more zone concepts than I've seen in the past 3-4 years. It is to this arm-chair coach completely idiotic. Our defense is built to run man concepts > 70% of the time. It is what they are good at and now we are seeing guys like Darian Stewart and Brandon Marshall look like shadows of their former selves in pass coverage because of it.
SS: The Broncos defense is fourth in yards allowed, but 29th in points allowed. For a Bengals offense that has struggled to score points this season, what would you do if you were game planning against the Broncos defense, trying to capitalize on getting the most of your scoring opportunities?
MS: That's as simple as 1, 2, 3. Line your running backs up outside in 5 wide looks, then throw to them when our woefully pathetic linebackers move out to cover them. Also, just use basic tight end concepts to attack the seams in our zones because it will pretty much work the majority of the time.
These are simple things in today's NFL that our team just can't handle. Go look at the all-22 from the past 4 games if you have it and you will see the exact same concepts converting big play after big play against this defense...heck you will see the exact same plays from different teams. Our defense has not been able to adjust whatsoever to passing concepts to TEs and RBs that go after our linebackers and safeties.
Dip into that well and you will score 30 easy on this defense.
[Editor's note: The Bengals have only scored 30 or more points once this season and it was against the Browns. We doubt it's happening in Denver, but thanks to MS for the optimism.]
SS: Who wins this week, and why?
MS: Someone has to, right? Both of our teams are falling far short of our expectations. As a fan of the Broncos though, I have to hold onto hope that this is a week where our team can start getting some things right. We just played the best two teams in the NFL back-to-back. No offense, but the Bengals are no Eagles or Patriots.
[Editor’s note: No offense taken... seriously.]
I have very much seen more progress from our offense under Osweiler and he looked better last week than the week before. Our run game still works. If our defense can just play decent and our special teams not spot the Bengals free points, I have to think this is a game that Denver can win. There is a lot of pride in that locker room and I believe they are capable of pulling out a win.
Score prediction: Broncos 23, Bengals 20.