CINCINNATI—At halftime, the vaunted Denver defense pass rush had no sacks but a pretty good alibi.
The Cincinnati Bengals weren’t throwing the ball. They had success running the ball with Jeremy Hill on their first series, and halfway through the second quarter, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton – who led the NFL with an average of 336 passing yards a game through the first two weeks – was just 2 of 3 for 16 yards.
But as the Broncos’ defense did so many times last season, it came through after their offense had committed what could have been a devastating turnover. On the Broncos’ first offensive play of the second half, quarterback Trevor Siemian hit Demaryius Thomas for a 9-yard gain but the receiver didn’t put the ball away and he had it poked out by cornerback Adam Jones. The Bengals recovered at the Denver 37, trailing only 16-14.
But instead of moving at least 4 or 5 yards to go ahead with a field goal, the Bengals went backwards. Dalton was sacked on each of the next two plays by Shane Ray, who was playing instead of the injured DeMarcus Ware. No sense rushing back from a fractured forearm, DeMarcus. Ray finished the game with three sacks – his first three sacks of the season.
The Bengals wound up punting from their own territory.
Former Colorado State star Ty Sambrailo returned after missing 15 consecutive regular-season games, 18 including the postseason. He also made his NFL debut at right tackle. He started the Broncos’ first three games last year at left tackle.
Until he put a 36-yard punt into the end zone – what else can you do from the 36? – rookie punter Riley Dixon had a terrific game, averaging 48.8 yards on his first four punts with a net of 47.0 yards. It was one of those wipe-your-brow, he-needed-that performances.
“Yeah I’m with ya,’’ Dixon said. “Just sticking to keys and settling in. Not trying to force anything but letting my body to do the work instead of trying to force things directionally or hang time.’’
With the exception of quarterback Trevor Siemian, no Bronco had more pressure on him to start this season than Dixon. And Siemian was only replacing a retired player in Peyton Manning. Dixon was replacing a popular incumbent in Britton Colquitt, who is still kicking with the Cleveland Browns.
Would Dixon admit to feeling some pressure late in the preseason and early in the regular season when he was given the job but his punting was inconsistent?
“Yeah, I’d say a little but I made it a competition with myself to be the best punter I could be,’’ he said. “Every day that’s what I’m trying to do.’’
Hit man Zaire
The hardest hitting Bronco has played but one defensive snap (not until the game Sunday against the Bengals), yet. Zaire Anderson did come through with a huge play when he separated Bengals punt returner Adam Jones from the ball on the final play of the first quarter. Instead of Cincinnati having the ball at midfield with a chance to pad its 7-3 lead, Shiloh Keo recovered the fumble for the Broncos and three plays later, Siemian hit Emmanuel Sanders for a 41-yard touchdown and a 10-7 lead.
“I knew he wasn’t going to go fair catch it and I saw him try to turn it up and I said I’ve got to try and deliver a hit,’’ Anderson. “I put my helmet to the ball, like his ribs. That’s my first time doing something like that. Make a play on special teams.’’
Anderson had two big forced fumbles hits as an inside linebacker in the preseason, plays that helped him make the Broncos’ game-day roster.
Boy, was it hot on that artificial surface at Paul Brown Stadium. How hot was it? Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe was struggling after the game with heat blisters on the bottom of his feet. And he didn’t play shoe-less.
“There’s nothing you can do,’’ Wolfe said. “Except complain about it.’’
Will Parks pick
Know what’s scary about the Broncos? Besides the fact they’re the defending Super Bowl champs and are off to a 3-0 start with victories against predicted playoff contenders Carolina, Indianapolis and Cincinnati. It’s that they are both good and young.
Starting with Siemian, Ray and fullback Andy Janovich, the Broncos are getting considerable contributions from first and second-year players. Rookie safety Will Parks, playing more than usual with the injury to fellow rookie safety Justin Simmons, picked off a Dalton pass in the fourth quarter after it was deflected by strong safety T.J. Ward.
“That was T.J. on the tip, and I was able to break on the ball and get it,’’ Parks said “I can’t believe I got my first career interception. Definitely not going to be my last. You just sit back and think: ‘We used to watch TV and say, ‘Dang, he got an interception, he got an interception!’ Now another kid is saying that about you. I mean I’m definitely blessed that’s for sure. That was huge.’’
It wasn’t easy for Broncos’ running back C.J. Anderson against the Bengals as he was held to 37 yards on 14 carries, a 2.6-yard average. Then again backup Devontae Booker had just 8 yards and four carries. The Broncos even gave slot receiver Jordan Norwood a try from the tailback position. He got stopped for no gain.
Clearly, the Bengals concentrated on stopping the run which opened up the pass.
“If that’s how you want to put it,’’ Anderson said. “Nah, I put everything on me. I need to play better but I’m happy with the win. I’m not going to say this is terrible. I still made plays in the game in areas where people might not see. I’m happy with the win. We’re 3-0, we just won a tough one on the road.’’
The Bengals came in ranked 32nd or last, in defending the run, so it was a point of emphasis. And then Siemian burned them for four touchdowns and 312 yards through the air.
“I’m pretty sure the Bengals came in and said, ‘If we let Trevor Siemian beat us we got to live with it,’’ Anderson said. “That’s what happened today.’’
Last week, Michael Schofield played a quarter of right guard and the rest of the game at right tackle. Against the Bengals, Schofield played a couple series at left tackle and the rest at right guard. Three offensive line positions in two weeks.
“I played all over in training camp,’’ Schofield said. “That really helped me out.’’
Strong safety T.J. Ward (neck) and left tackle Russell Okung (lower back) both missed a few plays with injuries but returned to the game. …
Simmons was inactive because of the broken bone in his left wrist. Shiloh Keo, re-signed last week, stepped in and made some big plays, coming through with a third down stop and fumble recovery. …
Bennie Fowler after missing the first two games with a fractured elbow and had one catch for 13 yards. He also played extensively on special teams. …
Brandon Marshall, who took a knee during the National Anthem for a third consecutive game, led the Broncos with 9 tackles. At $300 a tackle, that’s $2,700 he will donate to social justice programs. …
The Broncos have started 3-0 for the third time in four years.