KICKOFF: Monday, 9:00 ET
TV: ABC, Al Michaels, John Madden, Michele Tafoya
SERIES: 23rd meeting. Denver leads the series 15-7, with a dominating 30-10 win in last year's season opener. The Broncos have won 9 of the last 10 meetings in the series.
2004 RANKINGS: Broncos: offense 5th (1st rush, 14th pass); defense 1st (4th rush, 2nd pass). Bengals: offense 25th (23rd rush, 22nd pass); defense 26th (32nd rush, 12th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: QB Carson Palmer is receiving the brunt of the criticism for the Bengals' struggling offense, but the lack of a consistent running game has created far too many third-and-long situations. WR Peter Warrick is likely to miss another game, so Palmer doesn't have all of his weapons. He needs RB Rudi Johnson to be effective, and so does Cincinnati's defense.
The Broncos have the league's top-ranked running attack while the Bengals are last in stopping the run. If Cincinnati can't hold the ball offensively, the defense has little chance of containing Broncos RB Reuben Droughns. Denver will play without suspended TE Dwayne Carswell, their best blocker at the position, but they will continue to pound the ball and try to set up the play-action pass. The biggest concern for the Broncos is QB Jake Plummer avoiding turnovers that can keep the Bengals close.
FAST FACTS: Broncos: Lead the series 15-7 and have won nine of the past 10 meetings. ... Droughns has 369 yards rushing in two starts. Bengals: Have not played on Monday Night Football since 1992 and have not had a MNF home game since 1989. ... Have a combined 2-13 record after five games the past three seasons.
PREDICTION: Broncos 30-20
--CB Willie Middlebrooks practiced on Wednesday and Thursday and could be available to play on Monday night. Middlebrooks partially tore his hamstring, and might only miss one week after the initial prognosis said he could miss four.
--DE Patrick Chukwurah missed last Sunday's game because of a quadriceps injury but he has practiced Wednesday and Thursday and could return this week. Chukwurah lines up as a pass rusher in Denver's nickel defense.
--CB Lenny Walls returned to practice Thursday wearing a harness on his injured shoulder he has dislocated twice. Walls said he can do everything physically on the field but has to be cautious when he lands on his bad shoulder.
--S John Lynch may have slipped slightly in his play, but he has more than made up for it with his intelligence and leadership. Lynch, in his first year with the Broncos, is already one of the vocal leaders of the defense, which is ranked first in the NFL.
--DE Marco Coleman is one of the Broncos' defensive linemen who has played well in Trevor Pryce's absence. The Broncos' line was pretty nondescript aside from former Pro Bowler Pryce, but has played well all season. Coleman leads all defensive linemen with 26 tackles.
-- RB Chris Perry is probable for Denver with an abdominal strain. How did he get it? Surely not from playing. He has a pair of rushes for one yard and three receptions. He has not been overworked.
-- WR Peter Warrick is doubtful for the Denver game Monday night and he did not practice Thursday. His shin injury is believed to be a fractured fibula.
-- DL Carl Powell (knee) is probable and did not practice.
-- CB Deltha O'Neal declined to respond to comments made Wednesday by his former coach, Denver's Mike Shanahan. Shanahan moved O'Neal from cornerback to wide receiver at the end of the 2003 and traded him to the Bengals in April.
-- QB Carson Palmer, like many Bengals players, will be making his debut on Monday night. "Every kid does," he said when asked if he dreamed of playing on Monday night. "I remember my dad would get home from work on Monday nights -- it starts a lot earlier on West Coast. We'd eat dinner around the game and watch the game. That was our Monday night tradition."
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey has played well against every receiver he has faced this season, but his toughest test this year should come Monday night.
Bailey will be in a one-on-one battle with Cincinnati's Chad Johnson on Monday. Johnson was a Pro Bowler last year after he broke the Bengals' all-time single season receiving record with 1,355 yards in 2003.
"He'll definitely give you some challenges out there," Bailey said. "I'm looking forward to it. He's one of those guys that you see a rare combination of speed and quickness from a guy that's 6-2."
Bailey has covered the opponent's top receiver, even taking some turns against Kansas City tight end Tony Gonzalez in Week 1, and has had success. Jacksonville's Jimmy Smith had the best outing against Bailey, with three catches for 69 yards.
Bailey has faced teams who refuse to throw his way, but that probably won't happen Monday. Johnson is Cincinnati's top receiver and although his numbers are down this year, the Bengals can't afford to ignore Johnson if Bailey is covering him.
Johnson is off of his pace from last year. He has 23 catches for 334 yards and one touchdown in five games, and he had a tough game last week. Johnson dropped four passes in a loss to Cleveland after sending bottles of Pepto Bismol to the Browns defensive backs the week leading up to the game.
"I'm sure he won't do that to me," Bailey said.
Bengals: Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will again make defensive calls Monday night against Denver after coach Marvin Lewis called the defense Sunday at Cleveland.
Frazier is not in danger of losing his job, though.
"It's no indication of anything," Lewis said when asked if the move was a sign that Frazier's job was in jeopardy. "Sometimes you're suggesting a lot (as a head coach), and I don't think that's a fair way of doing things."
Lewis and Frazier create the defensive game plan in tandem, and Frazier normally makes the calls.
"I just wanted to settle our younger players down," Lewis said. "It was one way to get them something new."
Frazier clearly did not like the reduced assignment against the Browns.
"It's not desirable," he said. "It's not what I came here to do, to be in that role.
"He just made me aware ahead of time that this was something he wanted to do. He's the head coach. I helped with whatever I could do on the sidelines - taking (players) through the calls that (Lewis) might make on the next series."
The Bengals are last in the NFL against the run (160.4) this season and 29th in points allowed (25.8).
Still, eight of the regular starters are players acquired by Lewis.v The challenge will be great this weekend. The Broncos are No. 1 in the NFL in rush average at 151.7 yards a game.
"We're still working on it," Frazier said. "We've got to get it fixed. We say that every week. Hopefully this will be the week we get better at it. We've got to make small steps to get to big steps. No better place than Monday night against the Denver Broncos."
Asked if he thought his job were on the line, he said, "You've got to know, in this league, that is something that is out of your control, as well. They're going to point the finger at someone. I've got to continue to work as hard as I can to prepare our guys for every game. And those things will take care of themselves."
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