09/20/2013 06:45 PM
The Green Bay Packers got into the win column last week after they dominated the Washington Redskins at Lambeau Field, 38-20. Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a career day completing 34-of-42 for 480 yards and four touchdowns. Also shining in the Packers’ win was running back James Starks who took over for the concussed Eddie Lacy and had the best day of his career, rushing for 132 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown.
The Cincinnati Bengals also got their first win of the season Monday night as they beat up on division rival Pittsburgh Steelers. In the win, Bengals’ tight ends Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham combined to catch nine passes for 132 yards. Rookie sensation Giovani Bernard scored two touchdowns, one via the run and the other via the pass, as the Bengals went on to win the game 20-10.
The Packers and Bengals will meet Sunday for just the 11th time in the regular season since 1971. The Bengals hold the slight advantage over the Packers with a head-to-head record of 6-5 against Green Bay.
There will be a number of story lines to watch for, but here are five in particular that we will be watching closely.
5.) How will the Packers match-up with the Bengals’ tight ends?
It’s no mystery that star tight ends have had a tremendous amount of success against the Packers’ pass coverage in recent history. Just look at week one for the most recent example. 49ers‘ tight end Vernon Davis gashed the Packers for six catches and 98 yards and two big touchdowns.
The Packers’ linebackers really struggle to cover tight ends – in particular, A.J. Hawk. Through two games quarterbacks have a quarterback rating of 125.0 when targeting A.J. Hawk and a quarterback rating of 118.8 when targeting Brad Jones - these two players are predominantly matched up with other teams’ tight ends.
That’s potentially bad news for Green Bay as Cincinnati sports two very dynamic tight ends, Gresham and Eifert. So far this season Gresham and Eifert have combined for 19 catches for 214 yards in just two games. The Packers will have to find a way to limit the production of the Bengals’ tight ends.
4.) Can Green Bay limit A.J. Green?
The quick answer is no, but that may not be a bad thing. I encourage you to read Tom Silverstein’s piece on the “big” days wide receivers have had against the Packers recently. Silverstein is a Packers’ beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In short, receivers who have had major success against the Packers’ secondary usually have come out on the losing side of the game. In fact, when opposing receivers have “big” games, as Silverstein defines, that said team is just 4-13 against the Packers in the last 17 games.
Bengals’ receiver A.J. Green is among the best receivers in the NFL and there is no doubt he is going to put up some gaudy numbers on Sunday. The key for the Packers is to hold him out of the end zone. He can gain all the yards he wants in between the 20s, but the Packers must eliminate the big scoring plays.
3.) Can Green Bay keep Rodgers upright?
This was a key to the Packers’ victory last week, and has also shown up on each of my first two game previews. It will once again be important Sunday. The Bengals have arguably the best defensive line in the NFL that is capable of dominating a game by itself.
From Carlos Dunlap to Geno Atkins, to Michael Johnson over to Robert Geathers, the Bengals are loaded on the defensive line.
It has been a solid start to his career for Packers’ rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari. He hasn’t appeared overmatched at all against some of the NFL’s best pass rushers he has faced. After a slow start in week one, guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton had great performances against the Redskins. Don Barclay also shook off a slow start last week and rebounded for a solid game. The weak link continues to be Evan Dietrich-Smith. Dietrich-Smith has been so-so in both pass and run protection and appears to be a position of weakness for the Packers’ high-octane offense.
Packers have to keep Rodgers clean all day in order to have success against a very well-balanced and stingy Bengals’ defense.
2.) Green Bay must run the ball effectively
With the Bengals’ sporting one of the NFL’s best defensive lines, it will be imperative for the Packers to be able to run the ball successfully Sunday. The Packers got one of their best rushing performances in a while last Sunday as they were able to run for 139 yards against the Redskins. That most likely won’t be the case Sunday.
The Bengals have the 7th best rush defense in the NFL and finished last season with the 12th best rush defense. It will be tough for the undersized Packers’ offensive line to move the big bodies of the Bengals defensive line, but they will have to find some sort of success to avoid becoming one dimensional and allowing the Bengals’ defensive line to tee off on Rodgers.
1.) Will the Bengals be able to score enough to win the game?
While the Bengals certainly have found a way to surround their quarterback Andy Dalton with a plethora of offensive weapons, Dalton himself has yet to take the next step in his career. To many, Dalton is still just an average quarterback with a lack of ability to stretch the field. Throwing a deep ball up for grabs to Green (which is done often) is hardly a game plan for stretching the field.
The Packers can be counted on to score at least 20 points per game. Can the Bengals score that much? So far in their two games this season they’ve scored 21 and 20 points, respectively – that won’t beat the Packers Sunday. Including the playoffs last season, the Bengals failed to score more than 23 points nine times.
Packers’ defensive coordinator Dom Capers is very good against quarterbacks who are facing him for the first time. The Packers’ defense will have the advantage over Dalton and the Bengals’ offense in terms of familiarity on Sunday. Look for Capers to keep up his heavy blitzing tendencies early in the season this Sunday