The Cincinnati Bengals (0-2) travel north to take on the Green Bay Packers (1-1) at historic Lambeau Field this afternoon. The Packers look to bounce back from a 34-23 loss to the Falcons last Sunday night, their third consecutive loss in Atlanta in less than a year. The challenge for Mike McCarthy’s Packers entering Week 3 will be overcoming the rash of injuries that have already piled up. Green Bay lists seven key players on the injury report as doubtful, and two more as questionable.
The Bengals are still searching for their first win and have even bigger concerns – the most obvious being that they have yet to score a touchdown. In an effort to help jump-start the floundering Cincinnati offense, quarterback coach Bill Lazor was promoted to offensive coordinator following the firing of Ken Zampese. The Packers’ injury woes could help Lazor’s cause, but his first test is a daunting one nonetheless – finding a way to outscore an Aaron Rodgers-led offense in Green Bay. If there is a silver lining, it is that Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis has never lost to the Packers, compiling a perfect record of 3-0.
Cincinnati at Green Bay
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 24 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Green Bay -9
Three Things to Watch
1. Run game anyone?
The Packers’ offense will always be pass-oriented with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, as well it should be. But that doesn’t mean this offense couldn't use a little more balance either. Lead running back Ty Montgomery only has 29 carries through two games, as Green Bay is averaging just 71.5 rushing yards per contest. Playing from behind in Atlanta last week forced more pass attempts, but there should be ample opportunity to at least try and run the ball with more consistency this afternoon against Cincinnati. The Bengals enter this game with the second-most rushing yards (325) allowed in the NFL as of the conclusion of Week 2. There’s no reason for the Packers to not at least try and run the ball and see what happens.
For Cincinnati, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard and rookie Joe Mixon give the Bengals plenty of options in the backfield, but the production just hasn’t been there in the early going. None of the three backs have more than 50 rushing yards through two games. As a team, Cincinnati is averaging just 79 yards per game on the ground. A suspect offensive line may be largely to blame for the lackluster rushing effort. But it still comes as a shock to see such a talented backfield struggle to this degree. This trio should have a good opportunity to reverse those fortunes today against a beat-up defense. Opposing backs have averaged a healthy 5.1 yards per carry against Green Bay. The Falcons gashed the Packers for 141 rushing yards and two touchdowns last Sunday.
2. Green Bay passing game vs. Cincinnati pass defense
Rodgers put up big numbers in last week’s loss to the Falcons, but he was adversely impacted at times behind a makeshift offensive line without starting tackles David Bakhtiari (hamstring) and Bryan Bulaga (ankle). While Bulaga may return for today’s game, Bakhtiari is listed as doubtful and isn’t expected to play, and Rodgers also could be without wide receiver Randall Cobb (chest). That could complicate matters against a Bengals’ pass defense that ranks No. 1 in the league, allowing just 104.5 passing yards per game.
This loft ranking should be taken with a grain of salt, however, given that Cincinnati has not been tested by a quality passing attack. The Bengals also have seen the fewest pass attempts per game (20.5) than any other team in the league. So, while this defense may be solid against the pass, it will have to be even better than that going up against Rodgers and company. Pass protection will be important for the Packers’ makeshift offensive line. Cincinnati All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins has three sacks in the first two games.
3. Will Cincinnati finally find pay dirt?
There are plenty of issues that new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor must address in short order. To name a few, quarterback Andy Dalton has the lowest total QBR (10.0) in the league, the Bengals’ run game has been almost non-existent to this point, and a revamped offensive line may just be at the heart of all the problems on offense.
The first order of business will be getting the passing game going. The absence of Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert (back) and first-round pick John Ross (knee) will make that more challenging. However, Dalton still has elite target A.J. Green at his disposal. In one of the key matchups of the game, Green will likely be paired against rookie cornerback Kevin King, who is subbing for the injured Davon House (quad). This is a matchup that could bode favorably for Cincinnati. That said, King was one of the few bright spots for Green Bay’s defense last week, as none of the four passes thrown in his direction were successfully caught.
The Bengals clearly have plenty to fix on offense, but facing two of the NFL’s best defenses in the first two games didn’t do them any favors. And while the Packers’ defense looked great in Week 1, it struggled badly against Atlanta. Green Bay’s defense also is dealing with its share of injuries. So it would come as a big shock if Cincinnati fails to find the end zone this week.
The Bengals’ offense should show improvement this week and finally score that elusive touchdown (or two) against the dinged-up Packers defense. The big question is, can the Cincinnati defense hold Aaron Rodgers and company at bay? While the Bengals are solid on the defensive side of the football, it is always a tall order to keep Green Bay out of the end zone, especially at Lambeau Field. The Packers’ injury situation should allow the well-rested Bengals to make a game of it. But Green Bay will have more points on the scoreboard when all is said and done.
Prediction: Packers 24, Bengals 17
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.