Injuries are always a factor in any NFL season. Teams always have to be prepared to have the "next man up" in order to be successful. I don't think John Fox and the Denver Broncos were thinking it would be happening to this degree in week two, however. The Broncos enter Sunday's contest against the Cincinnati Bengals severely crippled by injuries at key positions. Let's take a look at how that affects their matchups against the Bengals.
As if juggling personnel this early weren't enough of a challenge, the Broncos are doing so under a new head coach, former Carolina Panthers frontman, John Fox. We've already seen teams struggling implementing new systems without having the benefit of off season workouts. The Broncos are part of that and are doing so without several front line players.
Among those questionable or out for this week's game are starting CB and potential Hall of Famer Champ Bailey, starting WR, Brandon Lloyd, starting RB Knowshon Moreno, starting DE Elvis Dumerville, last year's leading tackler, LB DJ Williams, DT Marcus Thomas, WR Demaryius Thomas, and starting DT Ty Warren. That's the nucleus of a pretty good team when healthy. There's no doubt lack of depth and inexperience will be major hurdles for the Broncos to overcome on Sunday.
Without Lloyd and Thomas, the Broncos are down to only two healthy bodies from their 2-deep roster that began the season. Quarterback Kyle Orton is already hearing the "Tebow" chants from the Denver faithful (even though Brady Quinn is listed as the backup). Without his main target, Lloyd, and inexperienced route runners, the pressure is even greater on Orton to make things happen offensively. Orton did throw for 302 yards against the Raiders, but he completed only 52% of his passes and was sacked four times, fumbling once. The Bengals showed an ability to put pressure on Colt McCoy Sunday without having to blitz and the secondary did an outstanding job containing the Browns' wide receivers. Orton will have his hands full this Sunday.
He might not be getting any help from the running game either. The run was almost non-existent against Oakland on Monday night, and their leading rusher left the game with a leg injury. That leaves Willis McGahee and Correll Buckhalter to shoulder the load against a Bengals' run defense which handled Peyton Hillis and the Browns pretty well. McGahee hasn't had much success in the past against Cincinnati, averaging just 3.2 yards per carry and scoring one touchdown in seven games versus the Bengals as a Raven.
On defense, the absence of three from their 2-deep roster will put a heavy toll on a defensive line that will no doubt be tasked with stopping the bruising Cedric Benson. And with Champ Bailey likely out, that leaves free agent Cassius Vaughn to cover AJ Green instead of the perennial Pro-Bowler. The Broncos got to Raider QB Jason Campbell only once Monday night and allowed RB Darren McFadden to run for 150 yards on 22 carries. The Bengals should be in good shape adopting a similar "run first" game plan and allowing Andy Dalton to manage the game.
One bright spot for the Broncos is the play of their first round pick, OLB Von Miller. He recorded five tackles against the Raiders and forced a fumble. For the Broncos to win Sunday, he's going to have to step up and make some big plays on defense.
Winning in the Mile High City is never easy. The Bengals haven't done so in 36 years, but they may just have caught the Broncos at the right time, learning a new system and with several key players out. If the Bengals can execute like they did last week, they have an excellent opportunity to come home 2-0.
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