ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Bengals are who the Broncos used to be. Like last season.
In 2017, the Broncos entered Week 11 with a 3-6 record, hanging onto their playoff aspirations with a Crisco-greased rope. Denver had not fallen to Cincinnati at home since 1975. In the days leading up to the game, general manager John Elway called his team "soft," a reference to a mentality of taking things for granted.
Of course, Denver lost.
It proved a final straw for offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. McCoy virtually ignored Vance Joseph's input, despite Joseph's long history in Cincinnati, stubbornly leaning on three-wide sets and, for his efforts, was fired Monday after the 20-17 defeat.
A year later, everything is different. The Broncos look poised to make a run into the playoff conversation, but must put Cincinnati out of its misery. The Bengals have dropped five of their last six games, and lost their quarterback Andy Dalton for the season with a thumb injury suffered last week.
This is the type of team the Broncos needs to smash to change the prism in which they are viewed. As simple as it sounds, if you are any good you beat bad teams. The Bengals are awful right now.
It starts with their defense. No team allows more yards per game than Cincinnati (439.6). No team allows more points per game (31.5). The Bengals rank 31st in rush and pass defense.
In other words, there's no excuse for Case Keenum and the Broncos offense not to score 30 points. The Broncos have only pulled it off once this season, a 45-10 drubbing of the Arizona Cardinals. This is the week to take some pressure off the defense, to grab the lead and let the rushers make life miserable for first-time starter Jeff Driskel.
Keenum has played better as a result of play-calling suited to his skillset -- play-action, bootlegs, creativity in using the tight ends -- and ball security. He has thrown one interception with five touchdowns over his past four games. He requires improvement in the red zone, but Keenum has shown protecting the ball comes with rewards.
Can Keenum remain consistent with the tight end position reshuffled -- Matt LaCosse takes over as a primary receiving threat -- and Courtland Sutton struggling to gain traction? He must elevate those around him. And it can't be for one drive in the fourth quarter. This is a game to grab by the nape of the neck from the outset.
The run game should provide the platform for Keenum. Phillip Lindsay, as the rest of the NFL realizes, is not a fluke. He ranks seventh in the NFL in rushing, and provides caffeine to the huddle. Lineman love blocking for him because of the ferocity in which he runs. It's time for Lindsay to get a minimum of 20 touches -- 17 rushes, five receptions. With Lindsay gashing the defense, it sets up Keenum to connect on at least two long strikes.
Two weeks ago, Keenum began spilling cliches about the urgency of the situation. He admitted the time for talk was over. He has followed suit. This is a game for him to make a statement, pushing the Broncos to a .500 record with everything remaining possible over the final month of the season.