Bowlen's Big Gamble
The biggest social and professional gamble in Denver history takes its first test Sunday against an improved Cincinnati Bengal team. Owner Pat Bowlen rolled the dice hard during the offseason—I will spare everyone the sordid details, we're tired of them by now—and we all get to see whether or not the benefits will be realized sooner rather than later.
The Broncos have improved themselves this year at every position except QB. Despite a slow start in the preseason, they appear ready to play. Even the Bronco nursery seems to be empty now, with Brandon Marshall finally acting like a professional and not throwing his toys for everyone to see. I'm sure he's not any happier, but at least he is keeping it to himself now and practiced well enough to play Sunday.
Both Denver and Cincinnati are hard to predict as both teams can be very good or very bad, often within the same game. The early advantage is for the Bengals, as this is a home game for them and that means a three-point advantage (if you listen to the Vegas line setters). Against a visiting team with 26 new players and a new coaching staff, that is probably more like a four to five-point advantage before even looking at the match-ups.
Fortunately for the Broncos, they match up very well against Cincinnati on both offense and defense, and should win the game if they do not turn the ball over and the special teams keep the field position in the Broncos' favor.
Denver Offense vs. Cincinnati Defense
The Cincinnati defense is built to play in the AFC North, with the DL and LBs built to stuff the run. The secondary is above average at the corners, but the safeties are below average against the pass and just serviceable against the run. The lack of good coverage LBs and safeties is in Denver's favor with their three and four WR sets and agile TEs.
Even though the Cincinnati defense is built to stop the run, they aren't very good at it. The Broncos running game could see a lot of success, especially between the tackles, if the passing game is successful and the defense starts to play soft.
The game plan on offense will be similar to what we've seen in the preseason with a lot of short passes, screens, and formations run to allow Kyle Orton to make quick reads and pick up chunks of yardage without having to throw deep. I will be very surprised to see the run featured in this game in the first half, although we'll see it a lot if they get a lead.
Advantage: Denver Offense
Denver Defense vs. Cincinnati Offense
The Cincinnati offensive line is not very good, and their running game is based around re-tread Cedric Benson, so the improved Denver DL and LBs should have a fairly easy time stopping them jere. The minute I say that, though, I have Corey Dillon flashbacks and start to sweat—but I'll stick with that viewpoint and say Cincinnati will not run on the Broncos.
The strength of the Cincinnati offense is their passing game, with the hardly mobile—and often brittle-Carson Palmer leading the way with a trio of very good WRs that allow him to use both short possession and deep passes. What Cincinnati doesn't do a lot of is run screens to their RBs or feature their TEs as often as they should. This could take some of the pressure off of the Denver LBs, and allow them to run nickel and dime packages on most downs.
The secondary is a strength for the Denver defense, and they'll need many of their new faces including Alphonso Smith, Darcel McBath, and David Bruton to play well with Wesley Woodyard coming in often to take away the underneath stuff.
The key for Denver is to put enough pressure on Palmer and keep the passing game off-balance and out of the end zone. The Bengals are too good on offense to shut down completely, but they do struggle in the red zone. With a good pass rush and efficient secondary work, they should be held under two touchdowns. The Broncos must tackle well and minimize the YAC damage that the Bengal WRs are capable of bringing.
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will be dialing up blitzes from just about every angle in this game to keep Palmer off-balance and allow the secondary to play more aggressively than they have in the past.
Advantage: Denver Defense
The Broncos win if.....
...they hold Cincinnati under 20 pts on offense.
...they do not turn the ball over more than once.
...the special teams win the battle of field position.
...the pass rush gets decent pressure, and the secondary plays aggressively and tackles well.
The Broncos lose if....
...they do not stop the Bengal running game.
...the blitz doesn't result in pressure and leaves them short in coverage.
...they do not score TDs in the red zone. They cannot win the game with FGs.
Final Score Prediction: Broncos 24, Bengals 13
A win here brings the team back home next week against a very weak Cleveland Browns team, and gives them hope for a 4-0 or 3-1 start. A loss would be devastating, but hopefully the weak opening day record of years past is with Shanahan playing golf and won't be anywhere near Ohio tomorrow.
Round one of the "The Gamble" will leave Bowlen and Bronco nation smiling.
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