Preview: Packers vs. Bengals
The NFC North-leading Packers will attempt to win their fourth consecutive game on Sunday afternoon when they take on the young and talented Bengals, who are 3-1 for only the second time since 2015. If Green Bay is to come out on top, here are five keys to victory:
1) HOLD UP AT CORNER
Some defenses can overcome the loss of a No. 1 corner, but that seems unlikely in the case of the Packers. That’s because Jaire Alexander is a truly special player and because the depth at the position is so questionable. While No. 1 pick Eric Stokes is getting a little better every week, vets Kevin King and Chandon Sullivan haven’t been good enough since 2019. The only way the pass defense will survive without Alexander on Sunday is if the front seven can…
2) MAKE BURROW UNCOMFORTABLE
Joe Burrow is the best quarterback the Packers will face until Arizona’s Kyler Murray in Week 8. The Heisman Trophy winner is extremely accurate when given time to throw. Slowing him down would be difficult enough with Alexander and Za’Darius Smith; without them, it’ll be next to impossible unless the front seven makes Burrow as uncomfortable as possible. He’s really good, but he’s also still very young, and like all very young quarterbacks, he’s prone to mistakes when pass rushers are in his face. The Packers need to be in his face for 60 minutes on Sunday.
3) SHUT DOWN THE RUN
The easiest way to get pressure on Burrow is to make the Bengals’ offense one dimensional by shutting down the run. This will be much easier to accomplish if Joe Mixon doesn’t play. The former Oklahoma star, who’s third in the league in rushing with 353 yards, didn’t practice all week and is listed as questionable with an ankle injury. Samaje Perine isn’t bad, but like most backups, he’s not nearly as talented as the starter. If the Bengals can’t run on early downs and are faced with enough third and longs, maybe the Packers’ undermanned defense can force three or four punts.
4) KEEP RODGERS CLEAN
The Bengals don’t have a Nick Bosa or a T.J. Watt, but Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard are a very good pair of edge rushers. They’ve combined for 30 hurries and four sacks and each plays with a motor that never quits. And by the way, defensive tackle B.J. Hill leads the team with three sacks. The Packers’ young and constantly shuffled offensive line has handled every challenge so far this season, and Sunday afternoon will be yet another test – one they’ll have to take without impressive rookie center Josh Myers, who won’t play due to a nagging finger injury. If Aaron Rodgers has time to throw, he should be able to take advantage of a collection of mediocre and banged up corners.
5) DEAL WITH THE HEAT
Heat shouldn’t be an issue in Cincinnati in early October, but it will be on Sunday. It’s expected to be in the low 80s throughout the game. The Packers haven’t seen temps this high since Week 1 when they looked sluggish and tired easily against the Saints. Limiting snaps on defense is always a good idea on a hot day, but without Za’Darius Smith and Chauncey Rivers, that’ll be harder to do at outside linebacker. If Preston Smith and Rashan Gary are asked to play too many snaps, they might have nothing left by the fourth quarter in what figures to be a close game.
PREDICTION: The Bengals are 3-1, and while they’ll struggle to make the playoffs in the tough AFC, they are a legitimately good team. They are loaded with high draft picks on offense, and their defense, while not as talented, plays hard. You can be sure Paul Brown Stadium will be rocking as the Bengals look for a statement win against one of the elite teams in the league. But are they truly ready to go toe to toe with the reigning MVP and the rest of the Packers?
The upstart Bengals aren’t as talented or experienced as the Packers, but they’re healthier, more rested (their last game was against Jacksonville on September 30), and playing at home. This has the feel of a high-scoring contest that could come down to which quarterback has the ball in his hands last. Since I’ve been going back and forth all week on which team to pick, I’ll just take the 3 points. CINCINNATI 34-31 (Season record: 2-2 straight-up; 1-3 vs. the spread)