The Bengals roster looks might different now then it did back in September, but the Broncos don’t care about that. Both teams are 5-6 and still have playoff aspirations, regardless of what adversity they’re overcoming. Fortunately, the Bengals can expect to see a few notable names return to the field this week in a must-win home game. Here are the five key players that need to play well for the Bengals to get back in the playoff hunt.
For the first time since 2016 and for the fifth time since the 2011 season, the Bengals will have someone other than Andy Dalton starting at quarterback. Driskel is Dalton’s fifth backup in his eight years and aside from Josh Johnson, he’s undoubtedly the most athletic one yet. But the Bengals won’t win any games with Driskel at the helm solely because of his running ability, though it will undoubtedly help considering which defenses the Bengals have left on their schedule.
I broke down what we can expect from Driskel starting in this offense here, but one has to wonder what his production will be like considering the offense will be getting back a very important player in the lineup...
Though he’s been limited in practice up until today, Green has said he will indeed suit up for the first time since Week 8. By practicing in full today, Green will make good on his statement. In his absence, the Bengals offense has put up just over 18 points and 208 passing yards per game in their recent 0-3 stretch. Now they get back their best offensive player in time to face the third-best defense in the NFL per FootballOutsiders weighted DVOA metric.
In five career games against the normally stout Broncos defense, Green has 34 receptions, 407 yards and four touchdowns. In his one game without Dalton throwing him the ball, he hauled in five receptions along with 57 yards and a score. How he and Driskel play together will have important implications on the short-term future of this offense.
Is it too early to anoint Smith as the offense’s Chris Crocker? Let’s assume it isn’t.
This week the Bengals brought back Smith for his third stint with the team that drafted him sixth overall in the 2009 NFL Draft after they placed Jake Fisher on injured reserve. Smith becomes the team’s effective swing tackle behind both Cedric Ogbuehi and Bobby Hart while Cordy Glenn is nursing a back injury, but it isn’t clear if Ogbuehi will indeed start this week against the Broncos.
Ogbuehi filled in for Fisher last week and looked like his usual self, so how confident is the team in trotting him out against rookie sensation Bradley Chubb? Smith could be starting this game, or he may just be brought out as an extra blocker on the edge to slow down the Broncos’ pass rush. Whatever the case may be, there’s a reason Smith was brought back the moment he hit waivers this week after getting cut by the Cardinals.
Like Green, Dunlap has had much success when playing the Broncos. In their last four meetings, Dunlap has seven sacks and 14 quarterback hits, including two and four each respectively last season when Cincinnati traveled to Mile High Stadium and beat Denver 20-17.
Dunlap is at seven sacks on this year alone, but he hasn’t recorded one since before their Week 8 bye. He just hasn’t been getting consistent pressure that we’re accustomed to seeing from him since Carl Lawson went on injured reserve. His fortune may not be turning this week as he’ll face off against a solid right tackle in Jared Veldheer, but the Bengals’ defense desperately needs Dunlap to replicate his past success against the Broncos this week.
Four years ago, Kirkpatrick ran back his first pick-six in his career against the Peyton Manning Broncos to clinch a playoff birth for the Bengals. Two years later, Kirkpatrick and the entire Bengals defense got ran off their own field by none other than Trevor Siemian. Now in 2018, Kirkpatrick should look to create another iconic moment in his career instead of being an accessory in such infamy.
After missing last week’s game with a concussion, Kirkpatrick looks to be on track to return to the starting lineup against an offense that is noticeably more successful when targeting the right side of the field. Kirkpatrick’s domain was held by Darqueze Dennard and Darius Phillips depending on what personnel the defense was in, but Kirkpatrick should be pretty busy whenever quarterback Case Keenum drops back to pass.