Vance Joseph returns to Paul Brown Stadium for the first time as a head coach when his Denver Broncos play the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
The former Bengals defensive backs coach hasn’t been back since his two-year stay in 2014-15 but called this “just another game” – an opportunity for his Broncos to keep their momentum going.
Both teams are 5-6 and looking to get back to .500 with this game; however, they’re both on very different trajectories. Denver opened the season 3-6 but is coming off two big wins against quality opponents, and Cincinnati is trying to right the ship after losing five of its last six, including three straight.
Joseph, who left the Bengals to become the Miami Dolphins’ defensive coordinator in 2016 before elevating to Denver head coach the next year, spoke to Cincinnati area media on a conference call Wednesday. Here are five things he said about the matchup with the Bengals:
1. Denver isn’t done yet
The Broncos collected wins over the eight-win Los Angeles Chargers and AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers the past two weeks to end a rough stretch where they lost six of seven games.
Joseph said those two wins were important for his young team to gain some confidence, but Denver hasn’t “accomplished anything yet.”
“Guys are working hard, guys are putting in extra time and when you don’t have success it’s tough to continue to do that but when you do have a chance to win a couple close games — we lost some close games early — it allows guys to believe in the process and believe in what they’re doing and to keep pushing forward,” Joseph said. “So, I think it’s been good for our young football team to win a couple, but again, we’re still 5-6 and we’re pushing to win one at a time and obviously get a win this week.”
2. Driskel poses unique challenge
With Andy Dalton out for the season and Jeff Driskel about to make his first NFL start, the Broncos are finding he might actually be more difficult to prepare for as more of a dual threat.
“I think with the young guy we have to prepare to take care of his legs,” Joseph said. “He’s a 4.5 guy, he’s been clocked at 21 miles per hour in an NFL game. Those guys used him even when Andy was healthy so obviously that speaks to his talent, that speaks to his physical ability so we have to prepare for that and I went back and pulled every film he made in this league and he can throw the football also. … It won’t be easy for our defense to play this guy because of his skill set, and we have to go out and try to play great defense.”
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3. Undrafted rookie surprises
Denver leading rusher Phillip Lindsay is an undrafted college free agent in his rookie season, and Joseph said he would be lying if he said he expected Lindsay to be this good.
Joseph watched him play at nearby University of Colorado and went to his Pro Day after the Combine and saw enough to give him a chance. He made the team and has 780 yards and six touchdowns rushing.
“He’s a guy that’s got a high football IQ, but from the first day he’s gotten in here, he’s been a leader among his rookies and he’s been a good football player. It’s Week 13 and he hasn’t changed,” Joseph said. “It’s not a fluke. He’s a good football player, but he’s still young and he can grow some in pass protections and he still misses some little leads on game day but he’s engaged and he loves to play. He works at it.”
4. Bengals defense different but same
Cincinnati’s defense has changed quite a bit from 2015 when Joseph was last coaching with the Bengals, but even he is surprised they aren’t doing better on that side of the ball.
“It’s a gifted, talented defense, and those guys have the capability of being a really good unit so teams go through slumps and things happen, but I’m assuming these guys will give us their best shot,” Joseph said. “When you watch them play, it’s still Dunlap and Michael Johnson and Geno Atkins. Those are Pro Bowl type of players. Vontaze is back, he’s healthy. I’m watching Vinny Rey, he’s making plays in the back, and that’s my guy with Dre, he’s going to get better if he can play, and Shawn and the young kid, Jackson, I didn’t coach him. I was gone. And 30 (Jessie Bates), that guys going to be a great player so it’s still great players there and it’s going to be a challenge for us to move the ball on that defense.”
5. Coaches need to prepare for injury
The Broncos have had their share of injuries this season with nine players on injured reserve or the physically unable to perform list, but that hardly compares to what the Bengals are going through with 14 on injured reserve and a weekly injury report full of names.
Joseph said that’s just life in the NFL and teams need to make up their practice squad with the anticipation those guys will eventually be playing.
“I told our guys during the summer, the 10 guys who make our practice squad, seven of you will actually play and probably four or five of you guys will start a game for us,” Joseph said. “Every guy you keep on your roster you better make sure they are your kind of guy and they can play in NFL games because right not we’ve got four or five guys that have been pushed up to the roster that are playing for us. Injuries happen, but you have to prepare your roster to overtake injuries and you have to pick your team that way to overtake injuries.”
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