The Cincinnati Bengals are mired in a three-game losing streak and are in danger of falling out of the AFC playoff race. Heading into the critical month of November, the Bengals face the toughest stretch of their schedule.
First up is the Denver Broncos, a team on the rise and arguably Cincinnati’s toughest opponent to date. What do the Bengals need to do to get the win? Let’s take a look at the top 10 keys.
1. Andy Dalton must play better.
The Bengals’ second-year quarterback has struggled at times this season, a departure from his stellar rookie campaign.
Dalton’s biggest issue has been patience. One of his strengths is getting the ball out of his hands quickly, but he has also been too quick at times and has not allowed his receivers time to get open. He will need to make better decisions on Sunday.
2. Another receiver must step up.
Of course, no matter how well Dalton plays it won’t matter much if the Bengal receivers can’t get open and make plays.
A.J. Green is a legitimate talent and one of the best wideouts in the league, but teams have decided to take him out of games and the strategy has worked. He caught only one pass for eight yards last game—a complete non-factor.
In order to help Green out, another receiver must step up. Andrew Hawkins and Armon Binns have both had big plays this season. One needs to have a big game.
3. It’s time for Jermaine Gresham to emerge.
Gresham was a first-round draft pick three years ago and the Bengals have patiently waited for him to develop into the league’s top tight end.
Other than a few bright spots, Gresham has not fulfilled that promise. He’s been solid and is quietly having a good season, but it is time for him to step up and take pressure off the beleaguered wide receiver corps.
4. The running game must be effective.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis was signed to give the Bengals a solid presence in the running game, but so far he has largely been ineffective.
Some of the blame for the lack of a running game must fall on the offensive line, which has struggled at times against good defenses. But Green-Ellis has not shown any explosiveness and the Bengals simply do not scare anybody on the ground.
5. The secondary must play better.
Peyton Manning looks like the Peyton Manning of old and has been shredding defenses over the past few weeks.
Now he faces a Bengal defense that has had trouble stopping even the most pedestrian quarterbacks. If Cincinnati can’t stop Brandon Weeden, what will it do against one of the greatest QBs of all time?
6. The Bengals must pressure Manning.
One of the Bengals’ strengths has been its defensive line, but Cincinnati put little pressure on Ben Roethlisberger the last time out.
Getting pressure on Manning isn’t as simple as bringing extra rushers. Manning has long taken advantage of blitzers and any time blitzes him at their own risk. Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson will have to beat their man one-on-one.
7. Rey Maualuga needs to take over.
Marvin Lewis singled Maualuga out this week as a player that must get meaner and take over leadership of the defense.
For the most part, Lewis was right. While Maualuga needs to improve his overall play, he also needs to take over the defense. The middle linebacker sets the tone for any good defense, and it needs to start this week.
8. The Bengals need to win the turnover battle.
It’s one of the oldest clichés in the game, but it’s old because it’s true. Teams that turn the ball over fewer times than their opponents tend to win.
Cincinnati has struggled in both takeaways and giveaways this year. To beat Denver, the Bengals will have to do both.
9. Jay Gruden will have to open up the offense.
The Bengals offense was a joy to watch while the team got off to a 3-1 start. Gadget plays, quick passes and innovative play-calling made Cincinnati the talk of the league.
But the Bengals have gotten conservative and the result is an ugly three-game losing streak. The Cincinnati offensive coordinator needs to get back to his aggressive ways.
10. Take the red flag away from Marvin Lewis.
Is there a coach worse at challenging plays than Marvin Lewis? The Bengal head coach never seemingly wins a challenge, but frankly, they are usually challenges that don’t need to be made.
His two challenges against Pittsburgh on Sunday night two weeks ago were downright embarrassing. The best bet is to just stay away.
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