The Denver Broncos enter yet another must-win showdown, this time against the equally desperate Cincinnati Bengals, in what figures to practically serve as a playoff game.
Two teams will enter, but only one team will exit with the heart of their playoff hopes still thumping as the other’s goes cold.
How can the Broncos ensure they’ll emerge victorious? Let’s look.
How the Broncos beat the Bengals
Creating pressure with four: Vic Fangio’s conservative, two-deep safety style of defense is taking the league by storm, but one area in which that style of defense can struggle is the ability to create pressure, as it largely relies on a four-man pass rush to get the job done.
The problem for the Broncos defense this season has been consistently created pressure with those four rushers.
Fortunately for them, they should have no problem creating pressure against this atrocious Bengals offensive line.
They’ve been pretty strong in their run-blocking responsibilities, but few units have been worse when it comes to protecting the passer. In pass-block win-rate, the Bengals rank 31st, and in sacks allowed, they rank 32nd. While recent analytical deep dives have proven that sacks are also a product of the quarterback, that doesn’t appear to be the case here, as only six quarterbacks are unloading the ball faster than Joe Burrow.
It’s remarkable to have that dichotomy of one of the NFL’s quickest-release passing games and one of the most sacked quarterbacks, and that’s a scorching critique of Cincinnati’s men in the trenches.
To make matters worse, the Bengals are also projected to be without Riley Reiff and his top backup, meaning they’ll be forced to start their No. 3 right tackle.
Teddy Bridgewater returns to form as a quality game manager: Some in Broncos Country have had beef with Bridgewater all season long, as a result of rooting for the quarterback that lost the competition.
While it’s been easy to disagree with these fans, as their critiques have been inaccurate for much of the season, the regression in Bridgewater’s play over recent weeks is giving some credence to their arguments.
Bridgewater appears injured, and ever since suffering that injury against the Los Angeles Chargers, his accuracy has been a little scattershot. That’s a major concern for a quarterback whose greatest tool is accuracy, and who has very few other tools in their belt.
Those problems will have to be corrected this week as the Bengals have one of the league’s better run defenses and one of the best run defenses the Broncos have played this season. If they’re able to successfully stifle Gordon and Williams by loading the box, it will be on Bridgewater to make them pay through the air.
If Bridgewater can play as he did for much of the first nine games of the season, the Broncos should cruise to victory.
How the Bengals beat the Broncos
Joe Burrow continues to make explosive plays: The connection between Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase has been remarkable this season, as the Bengals presently rank fifth in the NFL in terms of the rate at which they’re creating explosive passing plays.
That’s a concern for this Broncos defense. Although they’ve been playing much better in recent weeks, we can’t entirely forget their struggles against the Baltimore Ravens, Las Vegas Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers. All of those embarrassing losses shared a common theme — a long passing touchdown where a speedy receiver got behind the Denver defense to create a game-altering play.
The trend even carries over to the recent streak of fantastic play from the Broncos’ defense. Their one ugly game, since their loss to the Cleveland Browns, came against the Philadelphia Eagles, who capitalized on a deep touchdown strike to Devonta Smith.
When this Denver defense is playing like an elite unit, they’re making you work hard for every single point, and that often results in the opponent making a mistake and being forced to punt, or with the opponent having to settle for a field goal in scoring position.
Deep touchdowns completely unravel this philosophy, which is why the Broncos must eliminate them, and that will be especially difficult this week.
Final Thoughts and Score Prediction
Once again, it’s worth noting the Broncos’ Jekyll-and-Hyde act, which has led to them blowing far too many opportunities.
There’s always the potential for Denver to show up flat, and fall apart in this big spot, as they already have multiple times this season.
However, barring that very real possibility, the Broncos should win this game. The Bengals are a solid run defense, but they’re also expected to be without three of their seven rostered linebackers, and multiple others remained on the injury report this week.
That carries throughout the roster as the Bengals are incredibly beat up.
Also, while Zac Taylor has been better this year, this should be one of the few weeks the Broncos have a coaching advantage. Taylor’s offense is pretty formless and lacks an identity, as it’s a hodge-podge of a lot of successful concepts stolen from around the league. It’s been an effective strategy for the Bengals, but it also demonstrates that Taylor isn’t an offensive mastermind or a genius strategist.
Fangio should be able to cook something up that can befuddle Cincinnati’s attack, while the rushing attack and Teddy Bridgewater do just enough offensively.
Broncos win 22-13