After easily dumping the Washington Redskins last Sunday in their home opener, the Green Bay Packers once again hit the road and tomorrow face the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals, like the Packers, are 1-1 and are tied for first place in the AFC North with the defending world champion Baltimore Ravens. Cincinnati was the chic pick by many to win the AFC North and after an opening day loss to the Chicago Bears, they bounced back nicely against the Pittsburgh Steelers Monday night, defeating their archrival by a score of 20-10.
Despite some accuracy issues by quarterback Andy Dalton, the Bengals were able to move the ball in the second half and a depleted Pittsburgh team just couldn’t keep up. Rookie running back Giovani Bernard took some of the pressure off of Dalton and helped put the Steelers away.
The last time we met
The last time the Bengals and Packers met, the game ended in heartbreak for Green Bay. During their Week 2 game in 2009, the Bengals edged the Packers 31-24 after Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers failed to stop the clocked in a frantic last minute drive to score the game-tying touchdown.
This also was the same game former Cincinnati receiver Chad Ochocinco/Johnson performed the Lambeau Leap he was promising/threatening all week. Carson Palmer was able to move the ball down the field almost at will with Green Bay still adjusting to their new 3-4 defense.
The Bengals lead the overall series between the two teams, 6-5.
What’s up in the ‘Nati
The Cincinnati offense has tremendous potential, especially with the acquisition of Bernard in the draft, but like many NFL teams it has a question mark at quarterback. Since the team went its separate ways with Carson Palmer the Bengals have placed their faith in Andy Dalton, the third year quarterback out of TCU.
Dalton’s performance thus far has been rather, well, average. To date, he has thrown 50 touchdown passes in his career to 31 interceptions. Dalton is one of those solid yet unspectacular quarterbacks, much like Kyle Orton when he was with the Chicago Bears. There remains a lot of doubt about whether or not Dalton can take the Bengals to the next level, especially with how much talent is now around him on the offense.
Speaking of wide receivers, A.J. Green was selected by the Bengals in 2011 as well and is the biggest weapon Cincinnati has on offense. At 6’4” and 207 lbs, he is Dalton’s security blanket. He is poised to have a big day against the Packers given Green Bay’s inability to stop a team’s number one receiver the past two weeks (final score against the Redskins aside, Pierre Garcon had over 140 yards receiving last week), but Green can’t do it alone.
Enter Bernard. If you have been reading this site at all over the past few months, you know that our own Marques Eversoll was very high on Bernard entering the draft and early returns are proving Marques a prophet.
Bernard has gained 95 yards on 14 carries to go along with two touchdowns in the first two games of the season. Combine that with original starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis and his lackluster performance, then you see Bernard at least earning a 50-50 split with Green-Ellis.
Then you have Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati’s two strong tight ends. Even if the Packers are able to limit Green’s production, the two tight end sets the Bengals like to run will provide Green Bay a unique challenge. Any two tight end sets against the base defense means the Packers could be eaten alive. Having their linebackers cover a Cincinnati tight end is not a good look for the Packers.
Defensively, the Bengals are plagued by that same P word the offense is facing: potential. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has been in the rumor mill for head coaching position the last several years, but he just can’t seem to close the deal. His front four is anchored by one of the best young defensive tackles in the game in Geno Atkins.
With Atkins leading the front four and the still hard hitting former Steeler James Harrison and Ray Maualuga leading the linebackers, the front seven for the Bengals are not to be taken lightly. The Bengals are coming off a short week and the chance to face off against the high-octane Green Bay offense gives the Cincinnati defense its first real chance at realizing its potential.
Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said earlier in the week his unit has to be prepared to score 40 points this week in order to win because of how dangerous Rodgers and the Green Bay offense is. Gruden emphasized he has faith in Zimmer but his offense still has to be ready.
Cincinnati is the Bungles no more. Despite some questions at quarterback, their defense is stout and their wide receivers and tight ends are some of the best in the league. If the Green Bay defense continues to leave the middle of the field open, this one could be a shootout.
Same goes for the Packers offensive line. If they continue to allow sacks in the first quarter, eventually they will pay for it. However, if they can play solid pass protection for a full game then the Packers should be able to handle the Bengals.
It’s Green Bay’s last game before its early bye. A win here is key before the team enters a grueling 12 game stretch to close the 2013 season.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke