The Bengals game against Denver may not be the Manning versus Dalton duel that fans wanted. But there are still a lot of reasons to get psyched about the battle. If Cincinnati wins the war, they clinch the AFC North and the No. 2 seed, this week. It’s also a clash between two young quarterbacks trying to secure the best position for their team in the playoffs. There are tons of playmakers on both sides of the ball for the Broncos and the Bengals. Breaking down the matchups can provide a better idea of what to expect.
The Bengals passing attack
This is an area that many may be nervous and skeptical about. The Bengals are giving AJ McCarron his second start. There’s no cause to be nervous. There’s nobody else available for the Bengals to start. Against the San Francisco 49ers, McCarron did a nice job. Looking at stats supplied by ESPN, he was more than adequate with his accuracy. Posting a completion percentage of 71.4 is a great day for any quarterback. As reported by Pro Football Focus, McCarrron’s numbers were even better when under pressure. He was 5-of-6 for 54 yards and a touchdown. On just those numbers, McCarron’s passer rating jumped to 143.7 and his completion percentage landed at 83.3.
McCarron will still have to navigate the Denver Broncos No. 1 ranked defense. He’ll have to bring his best game to the showdown. He’ll be facing some of the league’s best. The Pro Bowl tandem of Chris Harris, Jr. and Aqib Talib didn’t perform well against the Steelers last week. They’ll be looking to turn that around against McCarron and the Bengals.
The Broncos passing game
Brock Osweiler started his campaign for the Broncos with three straight wins. He was looking like the backup nobody expected. But since then he has managed to lose back-to-back games and the Broncos are in danger of being caught by the Kansas City Chiefs. He’s had difficulty maintaining the same level of play going into the second half of games. Against the Steelers, he had a magnificent first half and led the Broncos to a 27-13 halftime lead. After Pittsburgh made a few adjustments, he was shut down in the second half. He finished the game with a 47.7 completion ratio.
Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick will be roaming around in the defensive secondary for the Bengals. Jones is having a monster year and missed the Pro Bowl because of a foot injury. He’s looked good against the Niners and is playing with a mission. McCarron likes to hit receivers in the 10- to 18-yard range. If he has the same breakdown he suffered against the Steelers, the Bengals back seven should have a ton of picks.
There’s no hiding the fact that the Bengals have to get the ground game in gear. Jeremy Hill has been nothing like the rookie sensation that almost captured Rookie of the Year honors. Hill was a disappointment against the 49ers and didn’t seem to run hard at all. He failed to break tackles and reverted to the same habits that got him in the doghouse with offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. Giovani Bernard will have to come through as the starter and catch the ball in space. The Denver game will be a big test for the Bengals O-line.
The Denver offense lives and dies with the run. The play-action fake is the heart and soul of Bronco lore. The entire Broncos offense has been struggling lately and they are going through the same problem as the Bengals. The running game is sporadic. The Broncos gained 88 of their 104 yards rushing in the first half against Pittsburgh. The final two quarters were a nightmare. C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman provide the same one-two punch as Hill and Bernard. If either of them gets going, the Bengals will have a long night at Mile High.
Both the Bengals and Broncos have stellar defensive units. The bottom line will be the execution by the secondary and pressure from the fierce front seven. Both defenses are playing like they’re already in the playoffs. The Broncos held the Steelers to 23 yards rushing on 17 carries. The Bengals made adjustments and held the Niners to 55 yards on the ground.
Any way you break it down, Monday night should be a classic.
[Feature Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images]