CINCINNATI --The Bengals are far more than just A.J. Green. But, boy, he's awfully good.
Five consecutive Pro Bowl selections only begin to reveal Green's value to the Bengals. Five consecutive playoff appearances since he landed in Cincinnati in 2011 -- matching the Bengals total in the previous 29 seasons -- can't be entirely attributed to him. But they wouldn't have happened without the big-play threat and consistent production he provides.
Only five receivers with at least 2,000 receiving yards since 2011 have averaged more yardage per game in that span: Odell Beckham Jr., Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown and Demaryius Thomas.
"He's going to make plays so you just can't get down on yourself," said Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr.
And that's precisely what makes the matchup between the Broncos and Green so intriguing and one of the focal points of Sunday's duel at Paul Brown Stadium.
Denver's cornerbacks give up few big plays, but against a target like Green, they have perhaps their greatest individual challenge of the 2016 season. A good example of how a typical battle between an elite cornerback and Green can go was in the 2012 Broncos-Bengals game, when Champ Bailey faced Green one-on-one. Green caught a touchdown pass, but Bailey responded with a fourth-quarter interception."You just have to keep fighting, keep attacking them," Harris said. "A lot of guys come out and play with fear with him. They don't challenge him. We're going to challenge him and make him work for all his catches."
That's what Bailey did. That's what Harris and Talib hope to do Sunday.
But if you ignore the Bengals' other targets, you'll find yourself in trouble. Cincinnati is the only team with four players who had at least 100 yards in receiving apiece during the first two weeks of the regular season; an average team has two such players.
Beyond trying to neutralize Green and his teammates, what are the other three keys to a Broncos victory in Week 3?
- GET BETTER IN THE RED ZONE**
This is a key for both offenses. The Broncos rank 27th in the league with 3.83 points per red-zone series; the Bengals are one spot below, with just 3.67 points per possession that crosses the opponent's 20-yard line.
But if scoring range is expanded to simply crossing the 30-yard line, the Broncos have amassed just 40 of a possible 84 points via four touchdowns and four field goals, with four of 12 drives ending in turnovers.
The Broncos' challenge is heightened by going on the road for the first time with Trevor Siemian as their starting quarterback. Head Coach Gary Kubiak blasted music over speakers as the offense practiced this week to try and simulate noise that he hasn't played in since he was at Northwestern two years ago.
2. STOP THE RUN FIRST
Yes, Green is a focal point of the Broncos' defensive game plan, but the Bengals have won eight consecutive games when they rush for at least 100 yards and average at least four yards per carry.
They're 13-2-1 overall in that scenario since the start of the 2014 season, when Jeremy Hill joined Giovani Bernard to create one of the NFL's most effective backfield platoons. When the Bengals don't hit those milestones, they're just 10-10.
Knowing this, the Broncos emphasized the Bengals' ground game during their first practice this week -- even though Hill and Bernard have combined for just 95 yards on 30 carries so far this season.
"We worked on a lot of run [Wednesday] because we know that they want to run the ball," ILB Brandon Marshall said.
"It's just like last week when they talk about the Colts and the pass game, every team want to establish the run, so we have to be on point with that."
3. PROTECT THE FOOTBALL, AND TAKE IT AWAY
With three takeaways already this season, the Bengals rank in the league's top 10 -- which is a place they've become accustomed to lingering over the last decade-plus.
During Marvin Lewis' 13-year tenure, only three teams have generated more takeaways than the Bengals, who have forced 385 turnovers -- an average of 1.83 per game.
Last week, the Broncos used two fourth-quarter takeaways to get the better of the turnover margin, and cut their giveaways from three to one. They might need to be even better in Cincinnati -- and will face a stern challenge from a defensive line that is one of the best at getting pressure with just four rushers, none more important or powerful than 3-techinque defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
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)