CINCINNATI, Ohio -- The last time the Cincinnati Bengals lost a September home game, Alex Smith was the opposing quarterback. In 2011. With the San Francisco 49ers.
San Francisco escaped with a 13-8 victory, a score that offers a snapshot of how the Broncos could pull off the upset. Coach Gary Kubiak stood on the podium after Super Bowl 50 and told general manager John Elway, "You can win in all kinds of ways." The Broncos were grinders, willing to get dirt under their fingernails and grease on their hands. This game provides an ideal opportunity to win ugly again.
With that, let's look at My Take 5 of Keys to a Broncos' victory
1) Give life to Dead, er, Red Zone
Winning on the road brings staples. Take care of the ball. Turn the field over in the punting game. And don't live on field goals alone. Quarterback Trevor Siemian makes his first road start in the Jungle, as it is nicknamed. Guns N' Roses will welcome him. The music will be loud. The crowd will be crazy. He must manage the bedlam and finish drives. The Broncos own 23 red zone points, which ranks 21st overall. Siemian has yet to throw a red zone TD. He will need one on Sunday on a misdirection play set up by running the football. Receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are practically begging him to throw their way inside the 20.
2) Keep running the ball
Nothing creates a buzzkill for a big crowd like long, ground-devouring drives. The Broncos are equipped to push the ball with C.J. Anderson. Denver has shown it can punish opponents between the 20s. It will be more difficult Sunday without right tackle Donald Stephenson (left calf). He told Denver7 it's strongly possible he could miss next week as well. Ty Sambrailo is expected to start. He won't be on a play count. The Broncos need him to play well because their best line features Michael Schofield at right guard, not tackle.
3) Keep the Bengals one dimensional
The Bengals boast a terrible running game. They should get better, and if they do this week, the Broncos will be doomed. Cincinnati enters the game with 103 total yards rushing, second worst in the NFL. The Bengals' 2.78 yards per carry is third worst. Andy Dalton is solid. He averages 42 attempts per game. If he eclipses 35 on Sunday, the chance of a strip sack or pick six increases dramatically. Containing receiver A.J. Green remains critical. Cornerback Aqib Talib embraces the confrontation
4) Let Von loose
The common refrain is simple: No DeMarcus Ware, no way the Bengals will let Von Miller beat them. Miller leads the NFL with four sacks. He will miss Ware. Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett are talented, but not as good as Ware. It doesn't mean defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will concede anything. I look for him to be creative -- Karl Mecklenburg style -- by moving Miller around. Line up left, line up right and even over center if needed. The more the Bengals worry about Miller, the better for the Broncos.
5) Win a squeaker
The Broncos love close games. They excel in them. When the game is tight they are loose. The Broncos script Convert a red zone touchdown and gorge on field goals. The Bengals are favored for a reason. They play well at home early in the season. Just as they lost to Alex Smith, the Broncos need to follow the blueprint and keep the score low.
RENCK PREDICTION: Broncos 18, Bengals 15