By Rich Kurtzman
Evolution is a wonderful thing.
NFL football has changed incredibly over its existence—going from exclusively running the rock to the high tech spread offenses we see today—so it comes as no surprise that the Broncos face yet another predominantly passing team in the Cincinnati Bengals.
Denver’s defense is battle-tested; they’ve faced the Steelers, Falcons, Texans, Patriots, Chargers and Saints, each team possessing ridiculously good receivers. Some have bested the Broncos, while the defense has grown overall in recent weeks.
Champ Bailey all but shut down Mike Wallace of Pittsburgh, but he was burned by the Falcons’ Roddy White. Against Houston, Tracy Porter was torched multiple times by Andre Johnson and New England’s Wes Welker had a field day in Week Five. But against the Chargers and Saints, Denver dominated. Porter, who normally starts opposite of Bailey, has been out due to seizures and Chris Harris and Tony Carter have each stepped up. Harris and Carter were part of four Philip Rivers’ turnovers in San Diego and each one should be credited for the Broncos holding New Orleans’ No. 1 passing game to 14 points while forcing eight punts and one interception. Of course, Bailey did well himself against Marques Colston, who was limited compared to usual production, and it gets no easier.
All that practice against elite receivers seems to be paying off and this week they all get another tough test in A.J. Green. The Bengals’ sophomore wideout certainly isn’t slumping. He leads the team with 44 catches for 636 yards and seven scores and is a big play threat on any down with seven plays of 20-plus yards. At 6’4” 207 pounds, he’s a big, fast and athletic receiver—the prototypical player at the position. And Bailey, who will be lining up against him, had much positive to say about Green.
“He’s probably the best in the game at going to get it,” Bailey told the media following practice when referring to that athleticism. “It’s no secret that he’s one of the best. And he’s emerging to be the best…I welcome these challenges, I love it. This is why I still play.”
Second-year Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton has more than just Green to go to in youngsters Andrew Hawkins and Jermaine Gresham. Each are speedsters with deep play abilities as well, each with over 300 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Even fourth receiver Armon Binns must be accounted for by the Broncos secondary, a difficult assignment with so many playmakers. In all, 13 total players have caught a pass from Dalton, who’s tossed 13 touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions on the season—all part of the league’s 11th best passing offense.
Defensively, the Bengals are much weaker; they’re 16th in passing yards allowed (233 per) and 22nd in rushing (124 per), meaning Peyton Manning and his merry men are likely licking their chops in anticipation of playing them. Manning’s been magnificent as of late, throwing for 300-plus yards, three touchdowns and completing 70 percent of his passes in four straight games. He’s been so amazing that he won AFC Offensive Player of the Month for October, leading Denver to a 2-1 record over that time.
Manning and the offense will be ready to strike early and often when his Broncos (4-3) visit Cincinnati (3-4) this Sunday.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.