ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --For the Broncos, it's on to Cincinnati, but without tight end Virgil Green, offensive lineman Donald Stephenson and outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware.
How the Broncos will adapt to the absence of two offensive starters is where Friday's wrap begins:
- THE PLAN AT TIGHT END WITHOUT VIRGIL GREEN**
Veteran John Phillips is expected to start while Green recovers from a calf injury, but Jeff Heuerman should see extensive work as he makes his regular-season debut.
"I think he's going to be physical; he's going to play hard," Green said. "Obviously he catches the ball well, runs nice routes. But I think what most people wouldn't think about Jeff is that he's a very strong guy and he's not afraid to get physical."
Added Phillips: "We're not one-dimensional. I think everybody here can run-block and pass-catch, [are] big targets in the red zone and stuff like that. I think all three of us can do a little bit of everything."
Green, meanwhile, will watch the game in his basement, aching to play.
"These guys are preparing mentally for the game; I'm preparing myself mentally not to get too frustrated while I'm watching," he said.
Green was in the locker room after practice, wearing a compression sock on his left leg to aid in healing.
"I think it's healing at a faster pace than some of the other calf injuries that I've dealt with," he said. "Every time I wear the [compression sock], the next day I feel much better."
- ROTATION STILL THE PLAN WITHOUT STEPHENSON**
Kubiak reiterated that no decision had been made on how the starting lineup on the right flank of the offensive line would look with Donald Stephenson out because of a groin injury.
"We're still talking about that, because we feel like we're going to have to play seven guys, and we've been operating that way all week," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said.
Ty Sambrailo is expected to be in the mix for the first time after missing the entire month of August and the first two regular-season games following a July 31 elbow injury. But Kubiak said that putting Sambrailo on a play count would be "kind of hard to do" because only seven linemen would be active.
"We can rotate and obviously get him a series or something out of the game, but it's going to be really hard," Kubiak said.
But Kubiak noted that Sambrailo was ready to go last week if he had been needed. The Broncos opted to not suit him up for the Colts game.
"I think he's been working toward game condition for a while. It's not like it happened this week," Kubiak said.
- BRINGING THE NOISE FOR SIEMIAN**
You could be up to a mile away from the UCHealth Training Center and still hear the music being blasted during practice this week to give Trevor Siemian a chance to simulate work under the kind of deafening conditions that will greet the Broncos at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday.
"We made it really, really hard on him, so practice has not been easy," Kubiak said. "But that's O.K., because the game's not easy either. We worked him hard to get him ready for what he's fixing to face."
Friday's practice also brought another complicating element: steady winds of 17 to 21 miles per hour with 30-miles-per-hour gusts.
"I think today's practice really helped us prepare for this game, because [with] the noise and the wind, it was really hard to concentrate today," Kubiak said.
- FIRST-DOWN SUCCESS LEADS TO AVOIDING THREE-AND-OUTS**
One key reason why the Broncos offense has gone three-and-out on just three of 18 possessions so far this season is the unit's success on first down.
Last year, the Broncos averaged 5.58 yards per first-down play. So far this season, they're picking up more than a half-yard more on first down, averaging 6.19 yards per snap.
On first-down runs, the Broncos have improved from 4.04 yards per carry to 4.64. On first-down pass plays, they're up by 1.10 yards, from 7.05 to 8.15 yards.
The difference is even more pronounced when compared with the first two games of 2015, when the Broncos averaged just 3.14 yards per first-down run -- which was the sixth-worst average in the NFL at that point -- and a league-low 3.37 yards per first-down pass play, giving the Broncos a 3.27-yard average that was 1.18 yards worse than anybody else.
"Clearly we've been running the ball better at the first of the year than we did last year," Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison said. "I think our success on first down really helps us. If you don't have success on first down, the chances of going three-and-out increases tremendously."
- BEING MINDFUL OF TYLER BOYD**
The free-agent departures of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones left voids in the Bengals' wide receiver corps beyond perennial Pro Bowler A.J. Green, but second-round pick Tyler Boyd has wasted little time becoming a reliable target who can take advantage of the attention paid to Green.
Boyd has 102 yards on eight receptions during the first two games, punctuated by a six-catch, 78-yard performance in the regular-season opener against the New York Jets.
"We really liked this kid coming out of the draft," Kubiak said. "He's a really good player. I know he was really well-coached in college."
Boyd's position coach at Pitt in 2014 was Greg Lewis, who played eight seasons with the Eagles and Vikings from 2003-10. In 2015, Boyd was coached by Kevin Sherman, who worked as a coaching intern on the Broncos' staff during the summer of 2004.
What makes Boyd stand out is his frame. Most slot receivers are below 6 feet of height; Boyd is 6-foot-2 and 197 pounds.
"He's actually bigger than some of the usual guys that play the slot," Kubiak said.
A look at five of the most important matchups that will help decide the game when the Broncos travel to take on the Bengals on Sunday. (Photos by AP)