The Bengals have had nine days to digest their second straight game without a touchdown. Cincy remain winless but more importantly they are the only NFL team still to find the endzone after two weeks. To make matters worse they face a tough trip to Lambeau Field on Sunday night. To make matters worse the Packers are seeking to avenge a comprehensive loss at the hands of Atlanta. Despite the Green Bay defense appearing dominant in week 1, Matt Ryan and the Falcons run game seemed to find chinks in their armour, will it be enough to give the Bengals a glimmer of hope? We take a look at where the game could be won and lost.
New OC, new style, finally a touchdown?
Bengals offensive coordinator Ken Zampese paid the price for the Bengals woeful start to the season last week. After significant names within the team spoke out against the offensive game plan Marvin Lewis made the decision to fire Zampese following 18 games calling the offensive plays.
In his place comes QB coach Bill Lazor who has previously served as offensive coordinator in Miami and as a QB coach in Philly under Chip Kelly. Lazor’s task will be to spark the offense without overhauling the playbook. Key to this will be establishing a rhythm and boosting confidence. Expect plenty of short, sharp throws early on and a high tempo offense to settle Andy Dalton’s nerves. The offensive line has been a major issue but they did enough against the Texans for Dalton to make plays, sadly he fluffed his lines. Lazor will focus on easing Dalton into the game by giving him manageable situations and easy escape routes such as utilizing Gio Bernard as a pass catcher out of the backfield. Vital to relieving pressure on Dalton will be establishing the run. Once again last week the Bengals trio of running backs looked disjointed as they rolled in and out of the game. Bengals beat writers have hinted this is unlikely to continue with rookie Joe Mixon getting a shot at to become the workhorse back.
Personnel was a major issue last week for the Bengals after numerous strange decisions. John Ross received one touch only to fumble on a jet sweep and be promptly removed from the game. In addition to this, last year’s second round pick Tyler Boyd was a healthy scratch leaving AJ Green, Brandon LaFell and Alex Erickson as the main targets. Boyd will likely come back into the fold as John Ross recovers from a knee problem but the biggest loss for the Bengals will be injury prone Tyler Eifert missing the game through back and knee issues.
Open-field tackling must improve
The Bengals defense has been a rare bright spot during the first two weeks of football but they face an uphill battle to contain Aaron Rodgers and crew come Sunday night. One of the keys to doing so will be tightening up on their open-field tackling. The Packers offense thrives on yards after catch. Randall Cobb (who is likely to be a game-time decision) and Ty Montogomery are electric weapons when given space. The Bengals linebacking corps was suspect in week 1 defending Ravens’ back Terence West and the problem was exploited for all to see last week as DeShaun Watson found a hole for the touchdown that swung the game. Not only did the second level defense fail to stop Watson but defensive backs Dennard and Kirkpatrick missed opportunities to bring him down. Maintaining discipline in space will be key to the Bengals ensuring their struggling offense don’t face an impossible task. Aaron Rodgers mobility will be a huge concern for Paul Guenther and tackling machine Nick Vigil will be essential in keeping tabs on the all-pro QB.
Is the Packers defense front-loaded?
The Packers week 1 performance was a frightening prospect for the NFL, the usually offensively driven team appeared to have developed a rip-roaring defense to match. Mike Daniels, Nick Perry and Clay Matthews man-handled the ‘Hawks offensive line. However, week 2 was slightly different, facing a much stronger and cohesive line in Atlanta, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones were able to link up with ease. With time in the pocket, Ryan exploited the main weakness of the Packers, the secondary. If the Bengals are to win this match-up they will need to use AJ Green in a similar style to Jones. Although the Bengals line has more in common with Seattle than Atlanta if they can provide adequate time for Dalton to find his go-to target then the Bengals could cause problems for the Packers.
Big night for Bennett?
The Packers are waiting nervously on the fitness of wide receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson for Sunday night’s clash and that could spell danger for the Bengals. If the wideouts aren’t 100% on Sunday night then expect tight end Martellus Bennett to play a major role. Rodgers and Bennett are beginning to gel and after receiving for 47 yards last week, the former Patriot Bennett will seek to exploit the Bengals main weakness. After two weeks of facing sub-par tight ends the Bengals appeared to have solved the issue that plagued them last season but Bennett has the ability to target the two-deep safety look that provides a soft underbelly to the Bengals defense. Jordan Evans and Nick Vigil are mobile enough to cover tight ends but too often last year the chains were moved and plays extended by QB’s finding their big target man in the middle of the field. This matchup could prove to be the turning point if Nelson and Cobb are limited in any way.
A new offensive coordinator may provide the impetus Andy Dalton and co. need. It is difficult to see their scoring drought continue but equally difficult to see them righting the ship in Green Bay’s backyard. The young offensive line will face tough questions from the likes of Matthews and Daniels while Rodgers’ mobility and weapons should see the Packers take this one comfortably. Expect a touchdown or two from Dalton but a healthy gap between the sides at the end of game.