On the surface, it would appear a team led by perpetual hot-seat occupant Marvin Lewis would be a game the Packers can expect to win. After all, the Bengals despite two straight trips to the playoffs have looked more like the tune-up team for the Texans than an actual AFC contender. Look a bit deeper however, and you can see why the Bengals might be a much tougher matchup for the Packers than some are expecting. First, it's a roster littered with good draft picks. Even Andre Smith - a guy once known more for scarring the collective memories of combine attendees with his gigantic manboobs - has turned into a formidable right tackle. Basically, these aren't your dad's Bengals. Here are just five things to keep an eye on this Sunday:
A.J. Green versus the safeties
Based on the way the Packers secondary made Pierre Garcon and Anquan Boldin look, fantasy owners of A.J. Green must be salivating at this matchup. Perhaps rightfully so. Green is the Bengals most explosive offensive weapon and both him and quarterback Andy Dalton like to take shots down the field. Because of that, the Packers safeties should see a number of big play attempts come their way this Sunday. And while Garcon and Boldin were fine WR's in their own right, Green is an entirely different beast. If the safeties can keep him from getting over the top, it should go a long way in limiting the Bengals offense as a whole.
Andy Dalton versus the blitz
When Dom Capers watched tape of the Bengals I can't help but think he did so with one of those deranged, cackling, evil villain type of laughs. Why? Because as Cincy Jungle pointed out last year, Andy Dalton isn't very good when facing pressure. And as we all know, Dom Capers loves him some blitzing. Compared to week 1 that focused more on containment, the Packers showed much more of an aggressive pass rush last week. Even with a bionic knee, RGIII is still infinitely more mobile than Andy Dalton so I'd expect Capers to dial up the pressure even more this week. How Dalton deals with Clay Matthews and company in the backfield all day will be an important factor in the success of the Bengals offense.
Cincy's two tight ends
Before one became a murderer and the other became a habitually injured Chippendales dancer, the Patriots had a dynamic tight end combo that seems to have given a other teams the same idea. The Bengals are one of them. Now with Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert, they possess two young, super athletic tight ends. I'm not going to lie, this kind of scares me. While A.J. Green gets most the attention for his big play ability, Eifert and Gresham attack teams where the Packers are most vulnerable - up the seams and over the middle. In those tight ends, the Bengals have given Dalton - a quarterback without a huge arm - two almost ideal weapons for their style of offense. Expect them to test the Packers frequently.
Here's a really terrible idea for the Bengals this Sunday: Get into a shootout with the Packers offense. Assuming they don't take me up on my suggestion, the Bengals more likely will try and turn this into an ugly, grind-it-out type of game. While they certainly have decent firepower on offense, the Bengals' best chance to win is by keeping Aaron Rodgers off the field and out of rhythm. Expect BenJarvus Green-Ellis to get plenty of touches in the hopes of keeping the ball moving and clock running. Should Cincy get their way with field position and time of possession, the Packers will need to be even more efficient on offense than they've already been.
YAC, YAC, and more YAC
Give credit to McCarthy on this one. Two years ago when the Packers were setting the league on fire, it seemed like no deep ball could go wrong. Last year however, defenses committed to taking away the long ball and although it was to varying degrees, that strategy worked. This year, McCarthy and Co. have gone back to more passes that allow the receivers to do what they do best - run. Rodgers still throws one of the prettiest, most accurate deep balls in the game, but so far, the Packers' offensive success has come by more intermediate throws. Judging by last week's 480-yard performance, I doubt Rodgers minds.
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