The Denver Broncos are the front-runners in the AFC West and unless something happens to Peyton Manning will remain the favorites, but are they Super Bowl contenders? That’s something the Broncos will have to prove in the second half of the season against a schedule featuring just one team with a winning record.
Right now, the Cincinnati Bengals are not a very good team with the only wins against powerhouses like Cleveland, Jacksonville and Washington. The Broncos should not lose this game, but without a good game plan that’s a very real possibility.
The Bengals are coming off a bye week playing at home, and the Broncos have to go two time zones east. Although the Broncos don’t have the same disadvantage traveling east as the teams in California and Washington, they will still play the game at 11 a.m. Denver time. Starting slow is something the Broncos have done several times this season, and if the Bengals can score early, the Broncos might not be able to climb out of a hole against a rested team on the road.
The Broncos have had trouble scoring in the first quarter this season and continue to put the pressure on Manning to dissect the defense and bring the team back. On three occasions Manning was unable to come back, and that’s why the Broncos are 4-3, barely above .500 and needing a win to maintain sole possession of first place.
According to teamrankings.com, Denver is 26th in first-quarter points per game (3.1). Considering the Broncos are fourth in points per game overall (29.1), this is an alarming statistic. The Broncos can’t keep putting themselves in a hole and expect Manning to be able to climb out of it. Eventually, a team will score just enough and slow down Manning enough to win a game that they have no business winning.
A big part of the problem is the game plan which tries to get Willis McGahee and the running game involved early to the detriment of the offense. The Broncos seem to run more effectively when the passing game is working and should establish the passing game early and work in the run sparingly like they have in the second half of games.
Taking the home crowd out of the game will make it easier for Manning to operate the no-huddle offense, which has been an important weapon for Denver this season. Cincinnati’s pass defense is ranked 16th in yards and seventh in touchdowns allowed, but just 25th in first-down percentage and have just three interceptions on the season.
Stop A.J. Green
Having Champ Bailey on your team really comes in handy when facing an elite wide receiver like A.J. Green. According to ProFootballFocus, Bailey has allowed just 15 receptions this season on 30 targets and no touchdowns. Among cornerbacks that have played 75 percent of their team’s snaps, no cornerback has been targeted less.
Bailey took Julio Jones out of the game in Week 2 and forced the Falcons to go to Roddy White. Shadowing Green with Bailey seems like a prudent move to make the Bengals go to their other options. Green has accounted for 28 percent of Andy Dalton’s completions, 35 percent of his pass yardage and 54 percent of his touchdowns.
When Green has 100 yards receiving the Bengals are 2-1, and when he doesn’t they are 1-3. Shutting down Green basically shuts down the Bengals offense. Green is averaging six receptions and 91 yards per game, and only one team has held him under five catches.
Green is the type of rare receiver that can still explode and have a big day against good coverage and good cornerbacks, so the Broncos will have to prepare. They can look to the Pittsburgh Steelers for an example of what a secondary can do to slow Green down. The Steelers did a better job slowing down Green in Week 7 than any other team has this season, and he caught just one pass for eight yards.
One tiny misstep or mistake by a safety could leave Bailey in a one-on-one situation that he might not always win. The safeties need to be ready to help. The Bengals still had opportunities for Green to make plays against the Steelers, but smart, hustle plays foiled him.
A good example is this deep shot to Green that was broken up by the Steelers. Green was the only wide receiver on the field, and the Steelers countered with a single deep safety making it a prime opportunity for the Bengals to go deep. The Bengals had the tight end run through the middle, knowing that the safety would have to come up or Dalton could hit him behind the underneath zone.
The safety bites on the tight end leaving Green alone in front of the cornerback with space to make the catch. It’s a touchdown if not for the safety on the opposite side who saw the play developing and hustled to get in position to make a play.
Dalton never expected the safety, who lined up only five yards from the line of scrimmage at the snap, to be able to get back and make a play on the ball. The safety tipped a sure touchdown away from Green, and the Steelers went on to win the game by seven points. It was a very smart play by the safety, and hustle enabled him to get in position to knock the pass away.
Bailey will make life difficult for Green, and the matchup between the two will be extremely fun to watch, but Denver’s safeties are going to need to help from time to time. Mike Adams, Rahim Moore and Jim Leonhard need to play smart and hustle in coverage to help out with Green if he manages to give Bailey the slip.