CINCINNATI – Five things to watch when the Broncos face the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium here Sunday afternoon:
1. BAILEY VS. GREEN.
One-on-one match-ups don’t get any more delicious than this. Champ Bailey hasn’t allowed a touchdown in 13 games, including the playoffs; Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green has scored at least once in six consecutive games. Andy Dalton trusts Green over any other target, and with good reason; Green is athletic, rangy and has body control in mid-air. That’s why Green has been targeted 73 times this year; his fellow Bengals wideouts have just 90 targets combined.
“I’ve been saying this guy’s in my top five since he was in college. It’s no secret that he’s one of the best and he’s emerging to be the best,” Bailey said. “I think his biggest strength is ball skills. You see a lot of guys, you see the ball up and they don’t know how to go get it. And he’s probably the best in the game at going to get it.”
Bailey has been exemplary this season, but Green, a fellow University of Georgia product, represents by far his biggest task.
2. AVOIDING THE EARLY MISTAKE.
Yes, it’s like a broken record at this point. But until it stops being a bugaboo, it remains an issue. Eleven of the Broncos’ 14 giveaways this season were in the first half; nine were in the first quarter alone, leading to 30 points.
Fortunately for the Broncos, their ghastly minus-9 turnover margin in the first quarter isn’t replicated in the rest of the game; they’re plus-1 in the second, even in the third and and plus-5 in the fourth quarter.
A noble goal for the Broncos — beyond winning, of course — would be to avoid a lost fumble for the first time this season. Cincinnati offers a chance for the Broncos to improve in this area; only three teams have forced fewer fumbles this year than the Bengals, with five.
3. DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE TIGHT END.
Once again, the Broncos face a tight end capable of making enough plays to create havoc: Jermaine Gresham. But this time, the Broncos might be at the cusp of a plan that allows for better long-term coverage when they go into their nickel package.
Jack Del Rio used linebacker Danny Trevathan on New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham often when the Broncos switched out their personnel last week. Trevathan had his ups and downs; he broke up an early pass for Graham, but also was beaten for a Darren Sproles touchdown when he and Wesley Woodyard were in coverage on the fleet-footed running back.
“(Trevathan) did okay,” defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “Some things that were really good, some things that we want to be better at. He made a couple big plays in the game for us. Danny’s done a nice job for us in the sub-package.”
It wasn’t enough to prevent Graham from scoring, and the Broncos have now allowed six touchdowns to opposing tight ends this year. Trevathan might be the best bet to change that, since he offers a better size/speed blend than any option not named Von Miller. continues to improve — and all the linebackers stay healthy — D.J. Williams might have trouble finding a home in the rotation when he returns from nine games of suspensions in two weeks.
4. THEY’RE SETTLED IN.
An early start — 11 a.m. MST — and trek to the Eastern time zone meant that the Broncos left two days prior to the contest. Early departures for the the games at Tennessee, Miami, Kansas City, Buffalo and Minnesota last year worked out more often than not; the Broncos won three of those five games that started in the brunch hour with the extra day to acclimate.
The Broncos will also depart on Friday for their games at Carolina next week, at Kansas City on Nov. 25 and at Baltimore on Dec. 16.
“It’s good to get a night away, get a good night’s sleep two nights in a row, no distractions,” Bailey said. “I love it. Wish I could do it every week — every week. Home games, as well.
The extra cost is significant , but not backbreaking — a traveling party that can range between 110 and 130, including coaches and support staff, all getting meals and lodging for an extra night. But a winning road record is justification for this to continue.
5. AVOID COMPLACENCY.
Generally speaking, if you ever get caught thinking the worst is over in the NFL, you find out otherwise — fast. It’s one thing for pundits to discuss the Broncos’ last nine games — which includes just one against a foe currently with a winning record — and to jump to conclusions based on the quality (or relative lack thereof) of an opponent, starting with the Bengals.
The Broncos play two of their next four games against teams that have just one win apiece this year. It would be easy for the Broncos to play a bit off the edge, but that won’t work.
“People think we’re just going to cakewalk these next few games. This is a good football team. It’s not like they’re getting blown out,” Bailey said. “(The Bengals) are in every game they’ve played except one. It’s one of those things where we’ve got to approach it just like any other week. We’ve got a tough task coming up this Sunday.”
PREDICTION: Broncos 31, Bengals 16.