Broncos-Bengals Preview

The Denver Broncos have surged into the AFC West lead as quickly

as the Cincinnati Bengals have watched their promising start

disappear.

It may not be a coincidence given the rise of Peyton Manning’s

play and the recent struggles of Andy Dalton.

Manning has never lost the Bengals, and his Broncos seek a third

straight victory while dealing host Cincinnati a fourth consecutive

defeat Sunday.

Denver got off to a disappointing 1-2 start as Manning’s 85.6 QB

rating ranked 11th in the NFL. The future Hall of Famer has been

stellar since, though, posting a league-best 127.9 passer rating

while throwing 12 touchdowns to only one interception as Denver

(4-3) has won three of four to take sole possession of the division

lead.

Manning went 22 of 30 for 305 yards and three touchdowns in last

Sunday night’s 34-14 blowout of New Orleans, becoming the first

quarterback in NFL history to pass for at least 300 yards, throw

three TDs and complete 70 percent of his passes in four straight

games. He battled through a thumb injury to pass for at least 300

yards in a career high-tying fifth straight game after banging it

on a defender’s helmet in the second quarter.

“Quarterbacks, probably the biggest fear is always the thumb on

the helmet of the defensive lineman,” said Manning, who has won

each of his seven career starts versus the Bengals while throwing

17 touchdowns to three interceptions. “It’ll be sore, but I’m

probably a little bit lucky.”

Though luck seems to have little to do with Manning’s latest

surge, Dalton and the struggling Bengals (3-4) likely would welcome

some coming out of their bye week.

Dalton finished 14 of 28 for 105 yards in a 24-17 loss to

Pittsburgh on Oct. 21, tossing his sixth interception during

Cincinnati’s three-game skid. He’s thrown at least one pick in

every game this season.

“You have to play (well) at quarterback in order to win. That

stands out,” said coach Marvin Lewis, whose team held a 14-3 lead

against the Steelers. “You have to take care of the ball on

offense. You have to play efficiently at quarterback. That’s the

way it is when you look at the games across the league. Turnovers

beat you.”

Cincinnati has turned the ball over eight times during its

losing streak which has wiped away a promising 3-1 start, but Lewis

hopes the bye week helped the Bengals regroup.

“I thought we were very, very good at stinking up October and we

need to do a cleanse,” Lewis said. “We have an opportunity to fix

a lot of the things that are ailing us right now, and that’s what

we’ve got to do.”

Cornerback Leon Hall said the current slump may provide some

motivation.

“We like that position, to be honest,” Hall said. “No one gives

us a chance after losing three games in a row and Denver is playing

really well. You have to give it to them, but we like that

position.”

Cincinnati allowed 167 rushing yards versus Pittsburgh, which

may not bode well against a Denver team that finished with a

season-best 225 yards on the ground last week.

Willis McGahee ran for a season-high 122 yards and a touchdown

for the Broncos, who had combined for 127 rushing yards over their

previous two games.

“We just showed glimpses of what our offense can do when we all

work together,” McGahee said.

The Bengals’ ground game hasn’t been nearly as good, averaging

78.7 yards over the last three. They haven’t had a 100-yard rusher

this season, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ 3.4 yards per carry average

ranks 38th in the NFL among 49 qualifying players.

Denver held New Orleans to only 51 yards rushing as Wesley

Woodyard led a strong defensive effort with a sack and strip, an

interception and 13 tackles to earn the league’s defensive player

of the week honor.

“We’ve still got to continue to get better,” said Woodyard,

who’s the first Denver defender to record 50 tackles with multiple

sacks (three) and interceptions (two) before the midway point of

the season. “We don’t want to be satisfied with what we did

(Sunday). We want to come back next week and show the same

thing.”

It’s a similar message coach John Fox is trying to instill in

his team during its surge.

“You’re never as good as they say you are, you’re never as bad

as they say you are,” Fox said. “The key to this thing is getting

better each and every week. That message won’t change with our

group.”

McGahee rushed 28 times for 101 yards and a score in last

season’s 24-22 win over Cincinnati, marking Denver’s third straight

victory in the series.