ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There are plenty of numbers to sift through when it comes to the Denver Broncos’ first road trip of the season.
Start with the fact the Cincinnati Bengals haven’t lost a September home game since Sept. 25, 2011 -- a 13-8 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. And the fact the Bengals are on a short list of teams -- that includes the Broncos -- that have gone to the playoffs each of the last five seasons. Or that the Broncos' 24-year-old quarterback, Trevor Siemian, will make his first regular-season road start as well in Paul Brown Stadium.
“This team has been very successful," said Broncos coach Gary Kubiak on the Bengals. “They’ve been in position every year. We played them in a big game late last year (a 20-17 overtime win for the Broncos last December) and even though this is an early game this year, I’m sure it’ll count for a lot down the road. We understand who we’re playing."
A few things to look for in Sunday’s game:
In a rush: No quarterback has thrown for more yards so far this season than Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton -- he has 732 yards passing in two games -- and Dalton is one of just nine quarterbacks in the league who have attempted at least 80 passes in the early going. The big question is, however, whether or not the Bengals will really be willing to ask Dalton to drop back to pass 40 or more times against a Broncos’ pass rush that led the league in sacks (eight) after two games. The Broncos, powered by Von Miller's four sacks, have battered Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck -- the Broncos sacked Luck five times -- in back-to-back weeks. The Bengals have largely been unable to run the ball, sitting at 31st in rushing at 51.5 yards per game, but they haven’t tried all that much, given that they're 28th in rushing attempts. The Bengals will likely attempt to run at least early in the game to try to keep the Broncos from dialing up the rush with too much fervor. At minimum, there should be a heavy dose of screens and quick-hit passes to get the ball out of Dalton’s hands.
Run it: The Bengals are last in the league in run defense -- they’ve allowed 138 yards rushing per game in the season’s first two weeks -- and the Broncos have made a concerted effort to work out of a two-back set plenty in the first two weeks. Against the Colts, the Broncos had two backs in the formation on just under 50 percent of the team’s snaps in the game. It matters because the Bengals have frustrated opposing passing attacks at times because they force people to play with patience and wait for a mistake. The Broncos could force the Bengals to commit more resources to the line of scrimmage if Denver can run the ball with some effectiveness to open the game, and that could give Siemian some room to throw the ball down the field.
Find options: Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and his defensive staff have effectively removed the top targets in the passing game from the offensive equation in their first two games. The Jets’ Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker had 32 and 37 yards receiving in Week 1, and the Steelers’ Antonio Brown finished with 39 yards receiving on four catches last Sunday. “They do a great job,’’ Kubiak said. “They are very capable if they want to take somebody out of the game and how they go about it. When you play them, you'd better be balanced in what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with. That’s a credit to them; a lot of really good teams find ways to do that.’’ It means in a week when the Broncos’ top two receivers have gone public with their desire for more catches, Siemian can’t get caught up forcing the ball into coverage. Lewis is counting on forcing impatience, especially with a young player like Siemian.
Cover up: Dalton has moved the ball around on all of those pass attempts this season. A.J. Green was his top target in Week 1 with 12 receptions – for 180 yards – on 13 targets against the Jets. This past Sunday, Green has just two receptions, but Bengals running back Giovani Bernard had 100 yards receiving on nine catches. Toss in second-year receiver Tyler Boyd, whose 11 targets this season have all come when lined up in the slot, and the Bengals have stressed opposing coverage schemes all over the field. The Broncos have matched Aqib Talib on Green in the past because Talib has a bigger reach than Harris and is taller. Chris Harris Jr. would get Boyd plenty in the slot and at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Boyd is bigger than many slot receivers in the league.