Four Downs: previewing the Packers at Bengals
Four Downs is, in its current form, four items relating to Sunday’s Week 3 tilt between the Green Bay Packers and Cincinnati Bengals. Outside of that, we can’t promise where this will go, exactly. But please let us know what you think – about the post, your predictions for the game, whatever you want – in the comments or on our Facebook page.
1. With the bye week looming, the Packers could be content to make it through at least one more game without some of the naggingly-injured (Morgan Burnett; Casey Hayward, who could miss additional time after the bye) and the recently headhunted and concussed (Eddie Lacy, who does seem to be progressing positively after the injury). This is a-okay with us, as the overall outlook of the season and each players’ long-term health should be on the sort of timetable that doesn’t demand rushing anyone back. If they aren’t ready, there’s no need to risk further injury. If they can play, fantastic.
This could also disprove a theory we hold: nothing good comes from an early bye. Giving these players – along with Jarrett Bush, John Kuhn and others who are banged up – extra time to heal with three-fourths of the season still ahead actually makes the week off sort of appealing right now. But we reserve the right to change our minds again on this subject at any time, and probably will.
2. Sunday’s game in Cincinnati didn’t figure to be easy either way. The Bengals are a slippery team to try and grasp, a finicky large and wild feline with a personality that makes it difficult to tell whether it’s agitated enough to pounce or posturing, content to watch you turn away and hack through a different route in the jungle. They are on a knife’s-edge between dangerous and difficult to trust.
Along the defensive front, the Bengals have predatory pass-rushers in Geno Atkins, Domata Peko and Carlos Dunlap, along with offseason signee James Harrison, a generally angry and dangerous man on the football field at linebacker. Against teams who have recently treated their quarterbacks like chum in shark-infested waters – Chicago and Pittsburgh – however, Cincinnati has generated two sacks so far (a very small sample size) in 2013. And both came against the Steelers on Monday night.
The Packers have surrendered six sacks so far this season but – KNOCK ON THE HEAVIEST PIECE OF WOOD NEAR YOU – after early struggles in Week 2 settled in for the most part and got to torching Washington. Cincy will be loud and its defense may be due to cause some chaos, but along with the obligatory need to protect Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay will need to find ways scare up big plays and keep drives going. The Bengals have given up a stingy average of 2.8 yards per carry and 238 yards through the air thus far. The longest play they’ve allowed is a 43-yard pass and a total of three passing touchdowns.
In Week 1, the Bears were 6-of-14 on third downs and aided by three forced turnovers, which ultimately gave Chicago enough possessions to sneak by in a good, hard-fought game. The Steelers were 3-of-12 on third down and didn’t force a turnover. In sum, Cincinnati employs blunt-force defense, the sort that maybe only stuns in a single serving but over the course of a game can be disorienting if it’s consistently played to their liking.
Also worth noting: their opposition to date doesn’t have offenses the caliber of Green Bay’s. Still, the Packers will be best served to convert on third downs, keep that front seven thinking by getting some sort of running game going (The Born Again Career of James Starks, Anyone?), and hitting on some of those downfield plays you know they’ll try because, well, Rodgers plays quarterback.
They haven’t made a lot of major game-altering defensive plays, yet, but the Bengals keep the game in check, limit explosive offensive plays and hope their offense can generate a few of their own.
3. Speaking of: the Bengals are also a tough cat to track because of its Andy Dalton-led offense. We’ll point out that they have some elements that have hurt the Packers’ defense in the past: a physical, top shelf receiver in A.J. Green – who, granted, causes problems for many a defense – and tight ends in Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert that could exploit match-ups in the seam. (Or is it down the seam? Jon Gruden would hate the lack of distinction, here.)
Like the tiger’s occasional feeding habits, the Bengals can be very feast or famine. Dalton either connects with Green on a few long strikes or Cincinnati can go hungry for prolonged stretches. This is obviously very generalized, but the point is the Bengals usually need to hit a few big plays to offset their periods of tiger-snoozing malaise.
4. This is how the Bengals have shown they can win. Their defense batters on an offense like waves against a ship, making every drive as uneasy and rocky a voyage as they can. Dalton, supremely color-suited in Cincinnati, and the offense try to take advantage of the down-or open-field targets they connect on and avoid dreaded turnovers. In his last five games at home, Dalton has thrown 10 touchdowns to only one interception. Green Bay’s defense has only forced one takeaway so far.
Get pulled into a cement-footed game and every successful attack means more. The Packers have the weapons to punch and prod for weaknesses if they can keep Rodgers upright and the Bengals’ pass rush (sort of) honest. Their defense may limit opportunities, but Green Bay should have the means to convert more often than Cincinnati can – albeit against a patchwork Packers secondary. It could be a little hairy in Cincinnati. But escaping the jungle, however you can, is all that counts.
(A note on the scale: Ted Thompson is a tough guy to read with a sense of humor, a pretty good one at that, dryer than Nevada at noon. In an attempt to pay homage to his flat style of delivery, we will couple our pick with a 1-5 rating scale of our confidence translated into Thompson Confidence, which, we feel, is just as ultimately silly and tough to derive meaning from as choosing a score.)
Honorary Ted Thompson ‘I feel confident’ scale of confidence: 3 ‘I feel confident’-s out of 5.