|Struggling Bengals visit reeling Broncos|
DENVER -- The Denver Broncos are having problems converting in the red zone. The Cincinnati Bengals are struggling big-time to run the football.
The 3-6 teams are trying to iron out their troubled offenses as much as possible heading into Sunday's matchup. Both clubs will be challenged to move the ball against top-tier defenses.
Denver enters with a five-game losing streak, a skid marked by repeated failures to convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns. The Broncos' futility was epitomized in last week's 41-16 loss to New England when they settled for three field goals early rather than counterpunching Patriots' touchdowns with touchdowns of their own, and letting the game get out of reach.
Denver coach Vance Joseph said the solution for the stalled Broncos' offense comes down to improving the overall level of play.
"It's basically execution," Joseph said. "If it's the first quarter, second quarter, third or fourth quarter, we've been down there early in football games and not scored touchdowns. It's execution. We have to play better down there and get it done and push the ball into the end zone."
Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler said the team has to redouble its focus when it gets into the scoring territory.
"I think we did a tremendous job of moving the football on the field (against New England)," Osweiler said. "Now when we get to the red area, we're just talking about keeping the same focus you had in the field to get to the red area. In fact, sharpen that focus to make sure that we're scoring touchdowns rather than kicking field goals."
The Bengals, meanwhile, have struggled to establish any semblance of offensive balance, putting tremendous pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton and the passing game to carry Cincinnati's attack.
Cincinnati has the worst rushing attack in the league, and more than halfway through the season, its 3.1-yard average per carry is well below the team's franchise record of 3.6 yards per rush in a season.
It hasn't helped that the Bengals lost running back Jeremy Hill to a season-ending ankle injury. Rookie Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard have struggled to gain yardage on a consistent basis behind a line that has trouble opening holes as well as protecting Dalton.
"What's really been the problem is losing on first down, getting negative plays on first down," Bengals receiver Brandon LaFell said.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said he is not expecting any additional breathing room for the Cincinnati offense against Denver's defense, which has been battered in lopsided losses the past two games.
"I don't know if there's been a whole lot different," Lewis said. "Even in the game on Sunday, New England made a couple plays, but they had a hard way most of the game. And Philly made a couple plays, and that's the difference: Right now, teams are getting some different types of plays on them, but (on) the consistent down-to-down, they're very ferocious."
Denver was hit hard by special teams miscues against the Patriots, surrendering a kickoff return for a touchdown and muffing a punt that led to another TD. Joseph said Jordan Taylor would replace Isaiah McKenzie as the punt returner against the Bengals.
On the injury front, Osweiler was expected to start at quarterback for the Broncos despite practicing in limited fashion Wednesday due to shoulder soreness. Paxton Lynch, who hasn't played this season because of a shoulder injury suffered in the preseason, was taking practice snaps as Denver's No. 2 quarterback this week ahead of Trevor Siemian.
Depth at tight end could be an issue for the Broncos on Sunday. A.J. Derby (shoulder) and Jeff Heuerman (knee) missed practice time in the days before the Bengals game.
For Cincinnati, cornerbacks William Jackson III (toe) and Adam "Pacman" Jones (concussion) missed practice earlier in the week. LaFell was held out of practice because of a knee injury.