This week, the Cincinnati Bengals will be making an appearance on Monday Night Football. The only other Monday appearance came against the Houston Texans, and the Texans dealt the Bengals a heartbreaking loss — their first of the season. After starting the season 8-0, Cincinnati couldn’t get its offense going and the streak came to an end. The Bengals and Texans have a playoff history that isn’t favorable to the AFC North Bengals. Likewise, the Denver Broncos seem to always hook up with the Bengals in crucial games linked to the postseason. Here are five keys for a Cincinnati win.
Protect AJ McCarron
This is more like a prime directive. The Broncos’ defense is leading the league in tons of statistical categories. But putting that aside, laying a good hit on a second-year quarterback is definitely the main course for Monday’s game. The Bengals O-line hasn’t been playing up to its capabilities. That’s not a good sign, especially around playoff time. This will have to be the standout game for the offensive line. If McCarron is expected to showcase his talented arm, he’ll need extra protection while making his reads.
The Bengals will need to get it going in a hurry. In the week 15 win over the Niners, Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson opted to run the ball, even when it was going nowhere fast. There won’t be time for comparing offensive prowess. Cincinnati will have to get out to an early, commanding lead and keep the pressure on Brock Osweiler to score. The Broncos young quarterback hasn’t played a team with a defense like the Bengals. To keep him off rhythm and forced him into passing, a huge lead would make things easier on the Bengals. According to Fox Sports, the Broncos have won only one game against a playoff-caliber team. That was an overtime affair, with the New England Patriots, in week 12.
Find the running game and use it
In week 15, the Bengals’ ground game was simply horrible. Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard both ran for a grand total of 68 yards, per ESPN stats and information. The 36 carries netted 1.9 yards per rush. Those types of numbers aren’t going to move the chains or scare the Denver front seven. The forecast is for a partly cloudy sky and low temperature of 14 degrees. Hue Jackson couldn’t ask for more perfect weather to get the Bengals’ running game in gear.
The talk all year has been centered on the Denver defense. The Cincinnati Bengals have an elite – and much maligned – defense also. They’re ranked No. 1 in scoring defense and in the top 10 for total yards. This will be the game they can have no mistakes. The defense has flirted with shutouts all year. Coordinator Paul Guenther will have to rally the troops and come up with a sound game plan for the Broncos. Peyton Manning won’t be under center, but Osweiler is mobile. When the Bengals defeated Denver in week 16 last year, they were facing the slumping version of Manning. Yet he still played well enough to push the Bengals to a full 60 minutes. In order to get into Osweiler’s head, dialing up blitzes and baiting him into poor coverage throws should be on tap.
Stay clear of more injuries
The Bengals are heading into the playoffs with or without a win over the Broncos. But to be successful and avoid the embarrassment of the past four years, they need to be healthy. Getting a win will improve their odds of having a first round bye. That will allow quarterback Andy Dalton the needed time to recover from a fractured thumb. Avoiding injuries will ensure a Bengals team that could dominate through the postseason.
[Feature Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images]