Bengals try to go back-to-back

The Bengals.com media forum is in place to make a call on Sunday's game in Denver (4:15 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) and some don't want to make one.

Even the one guy here who has played at Mile High, former Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton, a budding analyst for the Big East network and Cincinnati sports talk guru.

And Alex "The Sheik" Marvez, who once covered the Bengals for The Dayton Daily News in the Jeff Blake era and is now one of the leading NFL writers as a fixture at FoxSports.com as well as a Sirius Radio staple, has a ton of reservations before calling it for Denver.

Mike Klis, the long-time Broncos beat reporter for The Denver Post who also once upon a time covered the Rockies, is giving the home club the edge simply because of that. They're home.  But he isn't wild about it.

ESPN.com's Bill Williamson, who covers the AFC West after he worked the Broncos for The Post, is also hesitant to call a score. Not because he's a bigshot now, but because if he doesn't have to, why, and this is a tough one.

The Bengals may have a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton, but the Broncos have an age-old quarterback controversy with the players behind lame duck starter Kyle Orton, the fans in love with pop culture icon Tim Tebow, and the suddenly invisible Brady Quinn sitting at No. 2.

Things are not good in Broncoland after Monday night's 24-20 loss in old friend Hue Jackson's head coaching debut for the Raiders in front of a cranky gathering of the Mile High faithful.

Plus, this game has been difficult to get the arms around all week because of Denver's injury situation.

"Tell me who's playing for the Broncos and I'll give you a score," Williamson said. "Is Champ Bailey going to play? Is D.J. Williams going to play? Is Brandon Lloyd going to play?"

Well….Maybe, no, and probably, but that's about all we can do after sifting through the Broncos injury report. Williams has been ruled out for sure and Bailey, defensive end Elvis Dumervil, and running back Knowshon Moreno didn't work at all this week and are listed as questionable. So is Lloyd, the wide receiver who led the NFL in receiving yards last year. He was limited Friday.

Suffice to say Denver is more dinged than the Bengals but none of the panel wants to use that to make a prediction. This one is kind of like the awkward uncle at the last family get-together. It's making everyone a bit uncomfortable. So while the forum is leaning to the Broncos, they're not fanatics about it.

KLIS: "I could see anything happening in this one, really. You never would have believed that at some point the Broncos wouldn't have a great homefield advantage. But in the last five years they're below .500 at home.

"But I'm picking them to win because I just think it's hard for a rookie quarterback to win anywhere on the road and this can be a difficult place to play. It's not going to be easy but I think the Broncos are going to play better the second time out. They're coming off a division game and those games are always different and in some ways you can't use it to judge what's going to happen in a non-division game.

"After what we saw them do against the Raiders, you wonder if their offense can do anything. They only moved the ball late and they really had trouble moving Richard Seymour and Tommie Kelly in the middle and their running game (38 rush yards) went nowhere. I think the Bengals have a good defense, but they don't have guys like Kelly or Seymour and I think the Broncos are going to be able to move it better on the ground.

"They want Orton to get the ball out fast. They like to run a lot of screens. He's a rhythm passer and he got into a rhythm late on Monday night after they didn't do anything for almost the first three quarters.

"They gave up 190 yards rushing to the Raiders but they actually played it pretty well early, they just got worn down at the end, when there were a couple of big runs. Safety Brian Dawkins played his butt off. He was all over the field.

"But I can see the Bengals attacking their secondary. They've got a 37-year-old safety (Dawkins), two 33-year-old cornerbacks (Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman) and a rookie playing the other safety (Rahim Moore).

"Plus, the loss of defensive end Elvis Dumervil is big. I don't think he's going to play. The rookie pass rusher, linebacker Von Miller, didn't do much on Monday night but he's going to be a good player and he can give guys problems with their speed.

"They've got some big legs in their kickers with Matt Prater and the punter, Britton Colquitt."

EDGE: The Broncos haven't been good at home, but I think it's a big factor here. BRONCOS, 30-21.

MARVEZ: "If the Bengals are going to play the Broncos, this is the best possible time. They're banged up, especially on the defensive line, and there in a lot of chaos with the quarterback situation. I can definitely see the Bengals giving them problems with Cedric Benson running the ball."

Marvez, who also once covered the Broncos for The Rocky Mountain News in another life, notes Denver didn't pick up Oakland's secondary blitzes particularly well on Monday night and Orton got sacked five times.

But the Bengals may not have to blitz that much to get pressure. They're taking great pride in the heat applied by their four-man front and they've got some favorable matches up front. In the nickel package, left end Carlos Dunlap is matched up against a rookie right tackle, Orlando Franklin, a second-round pick out of the University of Miami.

Still, Marvez thinks Denver is going to be able to score despite the injuries to Lloyd and Moreno.

"They've got some good skill players and I think you saw at the end of the game on Monday night once they got settled. Plus, I think in the face of all this stuff that's going on with the quarterbacks, Orton is determined to have a good game."

EDGE: Denver, 24-19. "Not an easy place to play with a rookie quarterback."

THORNTON: "It's a rough place to play. The environment is pretty loud. They're going to face things there that they didn't face in Cleveland. I know they were booing the quarterback last week, but they have a real strong fan base and they're going to really be into the game.

"When you're a team like the Bengals going with a rookie quarterback, that means you know you're going to take the ups and downs this season and not only that, you're going to play pretty conservatively and rely on your defense. So I don't see them being as aggressive as the Raiders."

As Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis observed this week about 60 percent of his players had played in Cleveland before last week, but far less have been in Denver and Thornton wonders about the youth factor.

But he's hesitant to make a call because of the injuries.

"If they don't have Champ, that's a big factor. But I don't think they're soft on defense. They've given up some yards on the ground, but they've got good edge rushers and I think offensively they match up better against the Bengals than they did the Raiders. The Raiders were bigger and taller on the defensive line. The Bengals aren't as stout inside.

"I think one thing the Bengals have going for them is they've got nothing to lose because nobody thinks they're going to be very good. It's almost like they're playing with house money."

THE EDGE: "Broncos, but this is a game the Bengals can win. I think it's like last year. They're going to be in pretty much every game and it's going to come down to a couple of plays. It's just this year there are going to be the ups and downs with the rookie at quarterback."

WILLIAMSON: "If there was ever a team that's been hurt by the lockout, it's the Broncos. It's pretty obvious that John Fox needed more time with this team. They weren't ready for Monday night.

"You've already got a No. 32 ranked defense, and what will that be without D.J. Williams, Dumervil, Bailey, Marcus Thomas?

"I think it's going to be a game like last week for them. I see Denver having the edge because they simply can't be worse on offense. They were sloppy. It was simple mistakes. Fumbles. Interceptions. I just don't see them playing that bad on offense this week again. And I think you'll see them try and establish the run more. They ran it just 13 times and that's not what John Fox does. They tried to run some screens and some quick passes and didn't get much."

THE EDGE: "The Broncos but I could easily see the Bengals winning it. I think Denver plays better at home after getting a game under its belt."

THE BOTTOM LINE: Hard game for our guys to call with all the injuries.

It's pretty clear the Bengals aren't going to be favored in many road games because of their rookie QB. But two of their major strengths, running the ball and stopping the run, seem to hit Denver where it hurts most.

The Broncos are limping right where the Bengals have an opportunity to hurt them:

On defense, where linebacker D.J. Williams and defensive tackles Marcus Thomas and Ty Warren are already ruled out and defensive end Elvis Dumervil and cornerback Champ Bailey are limping.

Even before Fox took the job the Broncos finished next to last against the run last year and they're still grappling with it after Darren McFadden rolled up 150 yards and the Raiders racked up seven runs of at least 10 yards.

The Bengals established their comfort with the running game in their opener, but it wasn't easy. It took running back Cedric Benson's last carry to get him to 121 yards with a 39-yard TD, but new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden showed he's going to stick with it.

Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno carried just eight times for 22 yards Monday night and he didn't practice at all this week. That could put Willis McGahee in the lineup, more of a power back than Moreno but a guy that hasn't had much success against the Bengals playing for the Bills and Ravens.

In eight games McGahee has carried 76 times against the Bengals for a 3.2-yard average and the last time he played against them regularly they held him to 137 yards on 36 carries in two games the Bengals swept from Baltimore in 2007.

If the Bengals keep the same formula from their opener (stick with the run, don't turn it over, keep the crowd out of it with grinding ball control), then the Bengals will do what won't surprise The Forum and win. Orton could hurt them, but not if he doesn't have the ball.

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