Broncos Game Plan: How Denver matches against the Bengals, injury report and predictions

GAME PLAN

WHEN THE BENGALS RUN

Cincinnati ranks high in yards per carry (4.7-No. 9) but low in average rushing yards per game (93.5-No. 28). When second-year tailback Joe Mixon finds open space, he’s difficult to catch and bring down, although the Bengals’ tendency to play from behind has limited his opportunities. Mixon leads the team in carries (142) and has just a single 100-yard game (123 versus Tampa Bay). Meanwhile, the Broncos’ rush defense has re-calibrated since a disastrous October to hold each of their last five opponents to under 100 yards on the ground. Edge: Broncos. 

WHEN THE BENGALS PASS

Bengals’ starting quarterback Andy Dalton was put on injured reserve (thumb) to give way for backup Jeff Driskel’s first career start Sunday. He touts size (6-4, 233) with impressive collegiate production (7,437 career yards passing between Florida/Louisiana Tech). But Driskel has appeared in just four NFL games since being drafted in 2016, completing 23-of-36 passes for 239 yards and one touchdown. Denver’s defense cannot overlook Driskel’s running ability or ability to throw deep to wide receiver A.J. Green. But the Broncos, despite giving up 452 yards passing last week, have all the tools to make Driskel’s day difficult. Edge: Broncos.

WHEN THE BRONCOS RUN

Running back Phillip Lindsay broke the century mark rushing for the second time this season in last week’s win versus the Steelers. He paces the Broncos’ backfield despite the healthy return of Royce Freeman. Lindsay has shown no signs of slowing down entering the December schedule, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. The Bengals were gashed for 100-plus yards on the ground this season by four teams — and 200-plus by three more. Denver should carry confidence in the play of their re-tooled offensive line to open big holes in Cincinnati. Edge: Broncos. 

WHEN THE BRONCOS PASS

Over the past three games, quarterback Case Keenum is playing his most efficient Broncos’ football to date: 60-of-102 passing (.58), 230 yards/game, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. The steady play of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders paired with the ongoing development of youngsters Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton has aided Keenum. And, just like their rush defense, the Bengals have been mostly helpless against the pass with 292.6 yards allowed through the air per game. A formula that should allow Keenum to thrive. Edge: Broncos. 

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Broncos lead the NFL with four blocked kicks, punter Colby Wadman has impressed the coaching staff and Brandon McManus has kicked game-winning field goals twice this season. The Bengals rank near the bottom of the league in net punting average (39.4 yards) and field goal accuracy (69.2), but rank fifth in the NFL for kickoff return average (20.6). If McManus consistently forces touchbacks, through, the Broncos should be in good shape. Edge: Broncos. 

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Unleash the dogs. The Broncos are facing a first-time starting quarterback with one of the league’s top pass-rush units. See where this is going? Linebacker Von Miller has at least one sack in each of his previous six games — a streak that ought to continue with heavy waves of Denver pressure to rattle Driskel. However, the Bengals have given up just 22 sacks this season, tied for ninth fewest in the NFL.

2. Turnover trend. Denver’s key to victory the past two weeks = winning the turnover battle. The Broncos went plus-2 at the Chargers and plus-4 versus the Steelers. Denver’s plus-six margin now ranks tied for seventh in the NFL. The Broncos’ ball-hawk mentality will be especially important Sunday on the road to help decrease crowd noise and to shift momentum when it’s needed most.

3. Secondary status. The absence of cornerback Tramaine Brock opens the door for rookie Isaac Yiadom to play as the team’s third cornerback behind Bradley Roby and Chris Harris. Yiadom has flashed physicality and range at times, mostly on special teams, through nine appearances. He’s also been targeted early and often by opposing quarterbacks when assigned man coverage. Sunday should be a building block in Yiadom’s development.

INJURY REPORT

Broncos: Out — linebacker Shaquil Barrett (hips) and cornerback Tramaine Brock (ribs). Questionable — linebacker Brandon Marshall (knee).

Bengals: Out — wide receiver Josh Malone (hamstring) and cornerback Tony McRae (concussion). Doubtful — OT Cordy Glenn (back).

STAFF PREDICTIONS

Mark Kiszla: Broncos 23, Bengals 21

Guessing this game will be tougher than anyone in Broncos Country anticipates

Record: 8-3

Ryan O’Halloran: Broncos 30, Bengals 17

Back to .500 for the first time since Week 4 as Chris Harris returns a Jeff Driskel INT for a TD to blow game open.

Record: 7-4

Kyle Fredrickson: Broncos 38, Bengals 21

Phillip Lindsay makes his best case yet for offensive rookie of the year. Will the rest of the NFL pay attention?

Record: 8-3

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