Key Matchups: Bengals vs. Broncos

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KEY MATCHUPS
DECEMBER 24, 2006

A former NFL top football executive (The Guru) and a current personnel director not in the Bengals division (The Chief) break down Sunday's game in Denver. They give the edge to the Broncos because of home field and the way the Bengals came out at Indy.

The Guru: I think the Bengals are the better team, but I don't like the way Cincinnati is playing right now. They didn't do any of the things that got them to where they are against Indy. They looked like a team playing not to lose. It was very surprising. They've got a chance to win this game with a rookie quarterback and against a defense that's a little small. But they won't if they don't get back to being aggressive. I still think they can get into the playoffs.

The Chief: I was very disappointed in the way the Bengals played in Indy. I thought they were really going to separate themselves from the pack, but it looks like they couldn't overcome the injuries and tough schedule. They made a valiant effort. Denver has a much better defense than Indy and their quarterback is going to a good one and he's coming off his first win. I think the Bengals injuries along the offensive line got exposed. It's going to be loud in Denver, too, and it's going to be a long day.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis vs. Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan

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Lewis

Lewis is taking a ton of heat for the loss in Indy, ranging from his game management to an offensive strategy that limited one of football's best passing games to go along with a bend-and-break defense.

But overall this season, Lewis has had the answer when it looked bleakest and the Bengals needed to win to stay alive. He has had to muster his very best efforts in this short week his team seemed to wallow in Monday night's tough loss for a few extra days.

His challenge is to get his club back into that aggressive, confident mindset that marked its four-game winning streak and lose that jittery team that took the field in Indy when it opened with a fumble, dropped pass, sack, lost fumble, and a Colts field goal.

And this team can come back from that. They could have folded the tent after Tampa Bay and San Diego, two losses as bad as the Colts game, but they came back to beat winning teams in Carolina and New Orleans, respectively, in the next games.

And this is clearly a Big Boy Game. The winner goes to the playoffs in all probability, the loser doesn't, and Lewis is matched against "The Mastermind." Shanahan may be a tough guy to take because he's hard to get to know, but he's a heck of a coach who knows how to win at home, win in December, protect the ball, and run it, all the things that matter this time of year.

Stat to keep in mind: The Broncos haven't lost four straight at home since 1990.

WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL
* center>RB Rudi Johnson vs. Broncos FS John Lynch*

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Johnson

"Lynch is all right, but he can't run and I think that's going to be a problem for them against Cincinnati," The Guru says. "He's not going to help them in coverage."

The massive Bengals tackles get a pair of 270-pound ends in Ebenezer Ekuban and Kenard Lang and they've always done a pretty good job on 325-pound Gerard Warren in the middle.

"The Broncos don't have the pass rushers that the Colts do," The Chief says. "And Mile High can be loud, but not as loud as a dome."

"Champ's a great player, but some think his one weakness is the deep ball," the Chief says. "He may have a depth perception problem because he has a problem when he has to go long and judge the ball. That should be a great one."

The Bengals need Henry's scoring touch with seven touchdowns among his 29 catches. The Broncos have allowed just 10 touchdown passes all season, and Bailey is anchoring a coverage that has forced 14 interceptions and a 77.3 passer rating.

But not yet.

"They don't have the caliber of runner they've had in the past," The Guru says. "The talent level isn't what it has been in the past at that position. They just aren't very remarkable with speed."

"Cutler went to him a lot in the preseason and he seems to be looking for him again and they seem to have a good thing going on," The Guru says. "It's an easier throw for him and he's got confidence in the guy. (The 6-5, 250-pound Scheffler) is going to be a good player. He reminds a little of Todd Heap in Baltimore, but he's like Cutler. He's a rookie, he's young, and he's learning."

He's averaging 78 yards per game since 2004, second only to Chad Johnson's 88 in the AFC.

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