Bengals, Burrow expect big challenge from talented Broncos secondary

CINCINNATI -- Joe Burrow hasn’t seen much man defense this season, as most teams have tried to contain the weapons in the Cincinnati Bengals offense in zone coverage. But this week likely will be different.

When the Bengals (7-6) play the Denver Broncos (7-6) on Sunday at Mile High Stadium, Burrow will be facing what he considers to be one of the best secondaries in the league. Burrow is expecting to see man coverage because of that, and he will have to manage the offense perhaps a bit more carefully.

“We haven’t seen it in a couple of weeks, so, we think Denver might be playing a little bit of man. They have really good secondary players that they probably feel really good about as well. ... We’ve seen something new from every team that we played. So we’re gonna come in and be ready for all the stuff that is shown on tape and ready to adapt.”

Cincinnati will have to do some adapting this week in practice because of injury and illness precautions. Burrow wasn’t expected to practice Wednesday to help his injured pinky continue to heal, and that limitation may be in place the rest of the season.

Offensive linemen Trey Hopkins, Isaiah Prince and Trey Hill also were out Wednesday because of non-COVID illness, and right tackle Riley Reiff is doubtful with an ankle injury, according to coach Zac Taylor. Prince is Reiff’s backup. Linebacker Logan Wilson will be out again this week because of his shoulder injury, though Taylor said he is hopeful Wilson can play next week.

Burrow said his finger continues to feel “OK.” He had what Taylor said could be considered another “one of his best” games Sunday in the 26-23 overtime loss to San Francisco. The second-year quarterback has thrown for 3,483 yards and 25 touchdowns. Ja’Marr Chase is over 1,000 yards receiving and Tee Higgins is approaching that milestone, but Burrow’s 14 interceptions continue to be a concern, especially going up against a defense like Denver.

The Broncos allow just 218.6 passing yards per game, which ranks 10th best in the league, and they are second in scoring defense at 17.5 points per game. Free safety Justin Simmons has five interceptions, while cornerback Pat Surtain has four.

“You look at the film and a lot of weeks you can point to this guy like, ‘Hey we can attack this guy,’” Burrow said. “They don’t have any of those guys on this defense. Top to bottom, they are probably the deepest we’ve played.”

Last week, Burrow completed 25 of 34 passes for 348 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Both touchdowns came in the final 10 minutes to send the game to overtime after special teams turnovers and a slow start on offense put the Bengals in a 20-6 hole.

The Bengals were just 1 for 5 in red-zone chances but Burrow connected with Chase on a 17-yard touchdown for the one successful opportunity, and the game-tying touchdown came on a 32-yard pass to Chase with 11:19 left.

“I think our coaches did a great job of adjusting to what we were seeing,” Burrow said. “Zac did a great job of kind of scrapping some of the gameplan and went back to some plays that we had called earlier in the season, and he did a great job of getting those plays off the sheet and understanding what we were going up against and attacking so that was a great job by our coaching staff with making the adjustments that were necessary.”

Cincinnati’s red-zone offense typically has been much better than it was Sunday, though, and the Broncos’ defense will put that to the test.

The Bengals have scored touchdowns on 24 of 38 trips to the redzone (63.2 percent), which ranks eighth in the league. The Broncos defense has the eighth best percentage preventing touchdowns in the redzone, as opponents have scored touchdowns on 15 of 41 trips (51.7 percent).

Burrow is hoping for more consistency throughout the game this week. The game against the 49ers was one where he had to play more cautious early because of the way the game was unfolding on special teams and defense, until it got to the point he had to go for the win.

Ideally, the Bengals can play with a lead and put the opponent away, but if not, the second-year quarterback seems to thrive in late-game situations when his team needs a comeback.

“Later in the game I know what to expect from the defense more,” Burrow said. “We’ve accumulated reps of seeing what they’re trying to do to us. You bank those looks, look at the pictures on the sideline and go out and can only do so much in a game. You’ll see new stuff, you can’t put in 100 new plays each week. You know what kind of game plan it’s going to be after the first two or three series so you can bank those looks and understand what you’re looking at in the fourth quarter and usually as the game goes on you play better because you know what to expect from the defense.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Broncos, 4:05 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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