The Denver Broncos are 2-0 after beating the Carolina Panthers and the Indianapolis Colts to start the season, but both of those games were played within the friendly confines of Mile High Stadium in Denver.
Now, the Broncos take their first road trip of 2016, as they travel to Cincinnati to play the 1-1 Bengals.
Coming off one of the more infamous meltdowns in NFL playoff history, the Bengals are looking for some redemption this season. Last year Cincy went 12-4 but bowed out of the playoffs with a loss to their arch-rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the Wild Card round.
Holding a 16-15 lead with less than two minutes remaining to play the Bengals intercepted Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to seemingly clinch the win.
One fumble and two 15-yard penalties later, and Cincinnati was being sent home for the offseason.
It is now Super Bowl or bust for a very talented Bengals team in 2016, and they are coming off a loss to those same Steelers in Week 2, so expect the Broncos to be in for a battle on Sunday.
Here the five keys to coming back home with a win:
5. Pressure Andy Dalton
I know this goes without saying with this defense, but Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is currently the most sacked quarterback in the NFL. Dalton has already been sacked eight times in two games, so the Denver defense should be able to get to him and make him uncomfortable.
But here’s the bad news: the sacks aren’t affecting Dalton all that much so far. For being sacked four times per game, he is still leading the NFL in passing yardage with over 350 yards per game.
So the key statistic on Sunday won’t necessarily be sacks, as much as hurries.
Keeping Andy Dalton from getting too confident in the pocket could pay big dividends.
4. Convert in the red zone
The Broncos may be off to a good start with two wins, but there is no question that there is room for improvement.
The Broncos are moving the bell reasonably well so far in 2016, racking up nearly 354 yards per game.
Yet in those games, this offense is scoring touchdowns just 33 percent of the time when they get into the red zone. That ranks them 27th in the league in red zone efficiency.
This isn’t new.
Last year the offense was No. 28 in red zone efficiency.
When the Broncos get into the red zone on Sunday, they need to come away with seven points.
3. Win the turnover battle
Another area of improvement for Trevor Siemian and the Denver offense is minimizing turnovers.
Sure, the Broncos defense is capable of forcing turnovers, and they have already logged a fumble recovery and two interceptions, but the Denver offense has turned it over four times themselves, including three turnovers in Week 1, against the Carolina Panthers.
If you are going to beat the top teams in the NFL, you had better take care of the football. And if you are going to beat them on the road, you need to cause a few turnovers too.
2. Establish the run game
If there is one noticeable difference from the Peyton Manning offense to the Trevor Siemian offense, at least so far, it is the change in the running game.
Last season the Denver Broncos averaged 107 yards per game.
While we just have a small sample size so far, the early results have been very positive. Through the first two games, Denver is averaging 141 yards per contest. And right now, the Bengals could be a perfect match. They are allowing a league-worst 138 yards per game on the ground.
With the potency of the Cincinnati offense, it will be imperative to keep them off the field, and running the ball would do exactly that.
1. Shut down AJ Green
Last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the always-dangerous wide receiver was held to just two catches for 38 yards.
He will be looking to break that trend on Sunday.
And when Green is good, he changes the Cincinnati offense significantly.
In their Week 1 win over a stingy New York Jets defense, Green snared 12 receptions for 180 yards and a touchdown, and the Bengals outlasted the Jets on the road. Between Chris Harris Jr, Aqib Talib and perhaps even Bradley Roby, the Denver Broncos defense needs to stifle Green on Sunday.
Limiting his effectiveness will go a long way toward the Broncos earning an important AFC win on the road.