Bengals vs. Broncos: 5 Keys to a Cincinnati Victory in Denver
Despite a win in Cleveland last weekend, the Bengals looked far from complete on both sides of the ball, and Sunday will give them an opportunity to build on a promising if inconsistent first outing.
With Andy Dalton confirmed as the teams starter heading into the weekend, his offensive teammates can rest assured that they will have continuity under center, at least for the time being.
So what do the Bengals need to do to topple the Broncos? Let's take a look.
Keep Up the Tempo on Offense
An aspect of this 2011 Bengals offense that has inspired confidence, is the tempo at which they have played under Andy Dalton.
Delay of games and false starts among other things have long plagued the Bengals offense, and whether you attribute that to poor communication between Carson Palmer and Bob Bratkowski, or Palmer and his offense it doesn't really matter.
What matters is that Jay Gruden and Andy Dalton have these young Bengals playing fast, and largely penalty-free.
It's a reflection of just how hard the likes of A.J. Green, Jerome Simpson & co. are working, with a real sense that they are listening, and that Dalton has their full attention on every down.
The pace certainly slowed down when Bruce Gradkowski took to the field, but that had to be expected. Despite the lull in speed, the Bengals stayed disciplined on offense leading to an easy TD for Green.
Tempo can mean a lot to an offense that is limited in its play-calling, as fast play can wear out a defense just as much as complexity can confuse them.
It's one crucial weapon working for Andy Dalton at this stage, and a continued push to keep things rolling at least in the early stages of Sunday's game, will be incredibly beneficial.
Target Jermaine Gresham Early and Often
As is the trend with rookie QB's, Andy Dalton has relied heavily on his tight end Jermaine Gresham on passing downs.
With the fear that rookie QB's have of risking an interception, it has been unsurprising that the bulk of Dalton's completions have come via Gresham's hands on check-downs.
The second-year tight end caught six passes for 58 yards including a two-yard touchdown pass on Sunday, and will look to continue his stellar play this coming weekend.
Gresham packs a lot of potential into his huge his 6ft 5in frame, and the former first-round pick has started turning heads early. Gresham has great blocking ability, and looks like a wide receiver when he goes up to get the ball.
Dalton couldn't ask for much more of a break in his rookie year than with Gresham on the roster, and he needs to use him on Sunday.
Continue Turnover Free Football
The 2011 preseason was not a pretty one for the Cincinnati Bengals in terms of turnovers, and despite a turnover free game in Cleveland on Sunday, they still remain a constant threat lingering on the horizon.
In the passing game it has to be expected, with a rookie QB and largely untested receivers, its something the Bengals will have to steer clear of is they want to put together complete games.
Hand offs to Cedric Benson from Dalton need to be slicker because they can't afford to fumble the football in situations like that. Obviously Benson/Dalton is a work in progress, but if Benson is going to be the focal point of the offense, we can't see him running one way and Dalton turning another.
Both Benson and Dalton will have to continue to build a rhythm on Sunday, and get on the same page more so than they have been so far.
It is reassuring to see Benson more comfortable carrying the football than his fumble plagued 2010 season, and you have to hope that continues as Cincinnati head to Denver.
Run the Football, Even When We're Losing
Something that impressed on Sunday was Jay Gruden's commitment to the run game in spite of a four-point deficit late in the game.
It's something we never really saw from Bob Bratkowski, who would often almost abandon the running game in pursuit of late-game points, more often than not resulting in a frustrated Palmer doing more damage.
The commitment to Cedric Benson paid dividends on Sunday, resulting in a 29 yard fourth quarter dagger, and saw him leading the league with 25 carries at the time of writing.
The trip to Mile High will also provide Benson with the opportunity to notch back-to-back 100 yard games, and that can be instrumental in building confidence in him as a runner, and it can also be effective in intimidating the opposing defense.
Gruden needs to continue to have faith in Benson going forward, and believe that he can be as effective as the passing game deep into the fourth quarter.
Defensive Rotation Must Continue
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the 2011 Bengals is the defense. Despite an inconsistent outing in Cleveland, the Bengals defense did a lot to inspire confidence.
Holding the Browns to just 62 yards in the fourth quarter showed just how energetic and game-hungry the Bengals defense is, and it is that effort deep in the fourth that shows how much they want to prove their naysayers wrong.
With the likes of Carlos Dunlap and Jon Fanene seeing playing time, and contributing significantly, you have to like the rotation defensive line coach Jay Hayes has brought to the table. Fanene played 25 snaps in the opener and racked up six tackles, two of which resulted in a loss.
This rotation that rests the starters before pass-rushing downs, is something the Bengals need to keep running effectively, and will be particularly useful in Denver.
With the altitude playing a role in weakening the defense, a rotation could provide a really effective way of keeping our guys fresh late in the game. It certainly proved fruitful in Cleveland, and with so many young players eager to impress, and playing with an aggression and enthusiasm not seen in Cincinnati for quite some time, it could be a great way of boosting competitiveness and as a result, production.