Any casual observer / fantasy football player knows the stars in the game on Sunday. For the Bengals there will be much talk of Dalton, Green, the law firm. For the Broncos people know Manning, Thomas, Decker and McGahee. However, the game will be decided by the less likely known players. Below, I highlight a couple from each team. If these players play to their potential they will alter the outcome of the game.
Outside linebacker Wesley Woodyard
Broncos fans know this 5th year player. He is the reigning AFC defensive player of the week. However, he is not a household name and is a huge contributor to the Broncos defense. So far this season he has 61 combined tackles as well as multiple interceptions (2) and sacks (3). He is on pace to be the best statistical Broncos linebacker in history with 6 sacks, 4 picks and 139 tackles.
Woodyard is a special player that combines the ability to pressure the QB with the decent coverage ability to cover backs or tight ends off the line. Some think one way to exploit the Broncos is to leverage your tight end in the game to open up the short pass. With Woodyard in coverage he has the ability to neutralize that threat and if he has another monster game, could take Gresham out of the plan for the Bengals.
Left tackle Ryan Clady
Again, most people don’t follow offensive lineman from other teams. However Tackle Ryan Clady is one of the best. Clady has yet to allow a sack this season which works well with a Qb who missed a year due to a bad neck. Sure, they say it was not an injury sustained in play, but I am sure it wouldn’t be wise to allow Manning to be blown up on the blind side a couple times a game and test it. With Clady over there in protection, Manning has yet to worry about that.
So no sacks, pretty good stat. Here is a better one, no penalties. So not only is Clady just about the best at keeping his QB clean, he plays clean himself. No runs brought back because Clady had to hold on to keep from getting beat. Seems like the guy is just not getting beat, getting his job done on each play.
If both of these guys continue the play they have been exhibiting so far this season, the Bengals could be in for a long day.
So what two players can the Bengals offer that could have the same impact?
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict
OK, so I have a little bit of a man crush on the undrafted rookie that comes in the second game of the season and plays at a possible probowl level. In 5 starts he has 48 tackles. Burfict could be a huge player on Sunday in stopping the run. Each week we see a little more from him in his decision making and getting to the ball. Many times we see him making plays at the line of scrimmage as opposed to 8 yds down field as we have become accustomed to from our line backers.
Look for Burfict to have an impact in the running game of the Broncos. The Bengals are going to need to stuff the run and pressure Manning to have a chance in this game. Burfict could be a big part of half of that equation.
Defensive Lineman Geno Atkins
Geno Atkins would be the other part of the equation. While the Broncos are not starting a rookie at center, he is new to the team. Hopefully Atkins can continue his domination of the middle by exploiting the new center and hitting Manning a few times.
Atkins had an outstanding year last season with 7.5 sacks. So far this season he has 7. Needless to say he has become a force at pressuring the QB and he will need to continue that on Sunday against the Broncos. The Bengals need to pressure Manning into forcing throws or making bad decisions. Atkins up the middle can do this and I look for him to help the Bengals defense control the offense of the Broncos.