On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers return to Lambeau Field to host the Cincinnati Bengals. Scott Schulze of Cincy Jungle was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the Bengals and provide insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
APC: Though two games, the Bengals offense has barely resembled the unit that finished in the top 10 in scoring two years ago. Are the issues only related to the offensive line or have others contributed to the stagnation as well?
The offensive line clearly seems like the biggest culprit, but they aren’t alone with the blame. Dalton has had some bad throws this year, missing open guys and making some bad reads, including five turnovers in Week 1. Dalton is pretty much a middle of the road quarterback who you don’t expect to carry your team, but he’s done more to hurt them than usual this season. Another problem which plagued the team last year and into this year was the play calling and scheming. From 2011 to 2015 the Bengals had a pair of good offensive coordinators in Jay Gruden (now Redskins head coach) and Hue Jackson (now Browns head coach). They were replaced by an internal promotion of Ken Zempese, but his offense never seemed to take. He became the offense’s scapegoat and was surprisingly fired last week.
APC: The Bengals defense will play without linebacker Vontaze Burfict on Sunday. How does his absence affect the defense, and how has the team replaced him during his suspension?
I think many outsiders view Burfict as a decent linebacker who is a dirty player. But ask anybody who watches ever Bengals game with him in the game, and him absent, and they’ll tell you something a little different. Yeah, he straddles the border between tough and dirty, but he is an elite difference maker on that defense. His instincts in diagnosing plays is second to none, and his aggressive nature tends to fire up the defense.
Backup linebacker Vincent Rey has become a very familiar fixture in the lineup replacing Burfict, who has missed 24 of 50 games over the last 3+ seasons due to suspensions and injuries. Rey is a nice player, but nobody can truly replace Burfict.
APC: All-Pro wideout A.J. Green reportedly complained about not getting the ball in his hands enough following last week's loss to the Houston Texans. Do you expect the Bengals to manufacture more touches for Green, or will he continue to feel neglected?
A.J. Green tends to be a pretty low key guy, which seems rare when compared to many of the current diva wide receivers. So for him to say anything speaks volumes about the subject at hand. Green’s comments seemed to be more about the state of the team and the frustration in the locker room with the offense in general, than any personal call for more targets.
When one sees that the Bengals have targeted Alex Erickson (a deep backup at WR) more in Week 2 than they have targeted Tyler Eifert (a great TE) over the entire season, and have only given John Ross (who they used a top 10 pick to acquire in this year’s draft) a solitary touch this season, Green’s call to get the ball to its playmakers makes sense.
APC: If you were game planning against the Bengals, how would you attack them on offense? On defense?
Looking at the Packers run-pass play selections on offense, they seem to be a pass-heavy team. So the Bengals should be a good test for that, because if you take out two passing plays this year, the Bengals are allowing opposing quarterbacks less than 100 yards per game thru the air. Of course, they haven’t faced a great quarterback yet – but under 100 yards is pretty good, regardless.
I’d start my game plan by doing whatever I need to do to keep Geno Atkins double-teamed on every play. He is arguably the best 3-technique defensive tackle in the NFL, which is why he has multiple All Pro awards, and leads all interior linemen in sacks over the past few seasons, I think he has 23 sacks since 2015 (35 games).
I think our other pass rushers are pretty solid, too. So if your offensive line isn’t great, I’d probably focus on quick hitting passes. We have struggled keeping tight ends out of the end zone over the past few seasons, and Burfict, who is out, is our best cover linebacker. So I’d probably get a lot of quick passes to Ty Montgomery and Martellus Bennett, while using Aaron Rodgers’ ability to avoid pass rushers and extend plays, to find a deep receiver who finally works his way into an open spot down field.
APC: Finally, it's prediction time. Which team wins on Sunday and why?
The Bengals hold the all time series lead, and won the last time these two teams met in Green Bay, but if they can’t outscore a pair of bad offenses, could they outscore a good offense this week? I think the Bengals have too many weapons on offense to go three weeks without scoring a touchdown, but I don’t see them providing an offensive explosion, especially with the suspect offensive line. I think the defense continues to play well, but again will be on the field way to frequently thanks to a struggling offense. Final verdict, I’d go 17-10 Green Bay.
We'd like to thank Scott and Cincy Jungle for answering our questions. Be sure to check out our Q&A session over there, as well as their fantastic coverage of all things Bengals. As always, keep your internet machines tuned to Acme Packing Company this Sunday for our comprehensive game-day coverage of Bengals vs. Packers.