The last time I remember the Bengals playing a regular season game at Lambeau Field, Brett Favre made his Packer debut and led Green Bay to a fourth-quarter comeback win. It was early in the season, the Bengals were 2-0, the Packers were winless, Cincinnati was up 17-3 in the third quarter, the meltdown ensued and a legend was born. The Bengals lost 37 of their next 46 games after that and the Packers went on win a Super Bowl.
Fast-forward 17 years later and the Bengals once more roll onto the globally-warmed tundra to reverse history and set the course for their own Super Bowl victory (stop laughing). After being sucker-punched by fate and gravity last week, the Bengals should be a surly gang of roughnecks eager to deliver some unnecessary roughness and a few personal fouls. With that kind of practice way outside the agreed upon rules and general spirit of the game, Cincinnati will have to make due with clean, physical play that results in a tired and battered Packer team, and more importantly, a win.
On paper, the Bengals have no business winning this Sunday. The Packer defense has big names at every position and their offensive skill players are just as formidable.
Aaron Rodgers, a high-caliber quarterback with a strong arm and a bad mustache, has blossomed into a top-10 player at his position. His receivers, Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, have enjoyed the seemingly limitless range on Rodgers’ throws and form one of the better receiving tandems in the NFC. Cincinnati’s secondary will be challenged deep and must tackle receivers in open space, or they will be victimized by the big play. I would expect less safety blitzes from Roy Williams and more help in deep coverage this week because of the speed of the Green Bay receivers.
The most vulnerable attack point for Bengal defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer looks like the right tackle, Allen Barbre. After watching Barbre give up a few sacks to Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye last week, I would expect to see Zim load up that right side with blitzing linebackers like Rey Maualuga, to assist Robert Geathers in creating more pressure. If Cincinnati is able to get sacks or even hurry Rodgers, those speedy receivers will have less time to get down-field on deep routes and the Bengals can keep plays in front of them. Getting to the quarterback was an off-season priority that must come to fruition if this defense is going to maximize its vast potential.
The Bengals also appear to have a glaring weakness along its offensive line this week. Starting left guard Nate Livings has some kind of knee injury (Dr. Marvin Lewis described the injury as simply “a knee”), and his replacement is a person named Evan Mathis. A few years ago, Mathis started 15 games with Carolina, but hasn’t since with the Dolphins and now with the Bengals. Mathis remains a question mark going up against a beastly 3-4 defensive end in Cullen Jenkins. I would expect Green Bay to send a variety of their six talented linebackers on blitzes up the middle, testing the pass-protection of Mathis and center Kyle Cook.
Another lineman with a tough assignment will be tackle Andrew Whitworth going up against Packer sacker, Aaron Kampman. In Green Bay’s 3-4 defense, Kampman moves to outside linebacker from defensive end; a position where he collected 38 sacks in three seasons. The blocking of tight ends and running backs will also be a factor in limiting the havoc that Kampman can create.
Carson Palmer had time to throw last week and played well as a result. If the offense is going to find a rhythm and score some points this week, Palmer’s comfort in the pocket will be paramount. I expect Green Bay to blitz more than Denver did, which means more one-on-one match-ups on our receivers and possibly more chances to throw down field, but only if Carson has time.
As for the running game, if Mathis and Cook are unable to hold up in the middle, I would expect more toss plays, misdirections and off-tackle runs. Cedric Benson has looked more comfortable bouncing runs to the outside than he does pounding it up the middle. I love the way he builds up steam when he turns the corner and punishes tacklers upon impact. Complimentary back, Bernard Scott, should get a few more touches this week if the outside does prove to be a more effective running lane. His only carry last game was on a screen play that Denver sniffed out before the ball was even snapped.
Like so many other fans, I would like to see the offensive play-calling catch a team off guard; nothing too fancy, just the kind of sequence that keeps defenses guessing. The game plan for last week was solid and aside from a lack of concentration, the team executed it they way they practiced it. This week, I would expect to see a more complex game plan that is successfully ran by a team hungry to prove itself as a legitimate competitor in this league.
Green Bay is a good team which I see in the Super Bowl this year, but they’re playing the Bengals on the wrong week.
Bengals 21, Packers 17