By Rich Kurtzman
The Cincinnati Bengals have been an interesting team this season. They started out as one of the best in the NFL, then tied in one game, and currently lead the AFC North’s incredibly tight race. At 9-4-1, the Bengals are looking to get into the postseason for the second straight year and they’re fresh off a blowout win over divisional rival the Cleveland Browns.
It was utter domination on Sunday as Cincinnati blanked the Browns 30-0, most notably by the defensive unit. They allowed a mere 107 yards of total offense and five first downs, each shockingly low for today’s offensively oriented NFL.
Cincy’s defense is No. 1 in the NFL when it comes to passing touchdowns allowed, at only 14, or one per game. That group is led by multiple talented players. Free safety Reggie Nelson is an all-around team player with 54 tackles, has 10 passes defended, two interceptions and 1.5 sacks. Cornerback Adam Jones is one of the Bengals’ best, with two picks and 11 passes defended. He’ll likely line up against Emmanuel Sanders on Monday. There’s also left defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who’s 7.0 sacks are a team-high. Louis Vasquez may have his hands full this week with Dunlap, though he’s blocked opposing pass-rushers well this season.
On offense, Cincinnati features quarterback Andy Dalton, who’s trying to turn the ball over less. Currently, Dalton has 15 touchdowns with 14 interceptions and three fumbles, which are simply too many for a starting QB. Denver’s defense loves to pick-off opposing QBs, and Rahim Moore, Aqib Talib and Chris Harris will all have their mouths watering with Dalton dropping back. Dalton’s favorite target is A.J. Green, a freakishly fast receiver who is a handful to cover for anyone. Talib has been up to the task of taking opponents’ No. 1 receivers, which is what he’ll be asked to do again. Green’s 959 yards and six receiving touchdowns are each team-bests. There’s also the emerging Mohamed Sanu as well as talented tight end Jermaine Gresham. And with Denver missing Danny Trevathan for the rest of the season and Brandon Marshall for 1-2 weeks, exactly who will cover Gresham is up in the air.
When the Bengals run, Jeremy Hill has been strong on the ground, running through contact as he did for one of his touchdowns last Sunday. Hill has three 100-yard plus games this season and eight rushing scores, while Giovani Bernard compliments him in the run game as well. Of course, Denver’s stout rush defense is No. 2 in the NFL, allowing a mere 71.6 yards per game. So, it will be interesting to see who wins that match-up.
We can’t forget about Marvin Lewis, who is the longest tenured head coach in the NFL, in his 12th year with Cincinnati, and one of the most competitive in the league. Three weeks ago against Tampa Bay, Lewis threw his challenge flag during the last two minutes of the game and was penalized for doing so. It seemed like a boneheaded move until the referees decided to then look at the last play and decide the Buccaneers did indeed have 12 players on the field, as Lewis accused. That move helped save the victory for Cincinnati and kept them alive in the playoff race.
While Denver won their AFC West last Sunday in the win over the San Diego Chargers, the Bengals know the AFC North is still the only wide open division in the conference. Cincinnati can ill-afford a loss and they’ll undoubtedly bring their best game this Monday night when the Broncos come to town.
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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. Rich is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.