The Green Bay Packers are dealing with a ton of injuries heading into Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, but Aaron Rodgers is still under center and ready for another signature performance.
The 37-year-old quarterback hasn’t put up the craziest numbers to start the season, but the efficiency has still been there. Excluding a Week 1 dud against the New Orleans Saints, he has completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 764 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions.
For most quarterback in NFL, that would be an incredible three-game stretch. For Rodgers, it’s relatively pedestrian, and he has even left some explosive plays on the table with some out-of-character misses down the field. A wide-open shot off play-action to Robert Tonyan at the end of the clip below is a great example of that.
If you're into watching teams pay it in flesh:— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) October 5, 2021
Green Bay ran five straight plays out of the same formation vs Pittsburgh in the 4th. Want to rotate the safety to Davante? They're running behind three tight ends to the same side.
Almost ended in a TD shot off play action. pic.twitter.com/AuGVgXkwdE
The Packers are going to need as much as possible from Rodgers heading into Week 5. Injuries are starting to mount on both sides of the ball. Although Elgton Jenkins has finally returned to practice after missing the last two games, the Packers are still going to be without David Bakhtiari, Z’Darius Smith, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Jaire Alexander.
Even rookie center Josh Myers could miss Sunday’s game. The center has missed the first two days of practice with a finger injury. Although the offensive line has done a great job of holding it together with so many injuries, Myers has been consistently reliable presence in the middle of that unit, and his absence would make things that much harder.
The good news for Packers fans is that the Bengals are dealing with some injuries of their own. Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie has been limited in practice with a groin injury, while fellow corner Trae Waynes was a late-week addition to the injury report with a hamstring issue.
One player who is expected to be good to go, however, is 2020 second-team All-Pro Jessie Bates III. One of the most underrated defenders in the NFL, Bates does a terrific job of recognizing what opposing QBs are trying to do, regularly making plays on the ball.
If you don't know the name Jessie Bates, it's time you do. @jlbiii3 | @Bengals pic.twitter.com/dYpre2S2Mn— NFL (@NFL) July 24, 2021
Statistically, the Bengals look like one of the better pass defenses in the league right now, giving up the fifth-lowest passer rating at 86.5. However, their pass defense stats are grossly inflated from playing against the likes of an aged Ben Roethlisberger, a dysfunctional Jacksonville Jaguars offense, and split time between Andy Dalton and Justin Fields in Week 2 against the Chicago Bears.
Rodgers will need to be aware of where Bates is at all times, but he can expose the rest of Cincinnati’s secondary. Despite playing against some less-than-stellar quarterback play, the Bengals have still allowed 12 explosive passing plays of 20 or more yards over their first four games.
Eli Apple is somehow who Rodgers will likely try to target early and often. Of the 79 NFL cornerbacks who have played at least 100 snaps this season, Apple has the fourth-worst coverage grade according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Matt LaFleur and Rodgers will likely have a solid game plan to attack Cincinnati’s secondary while respecting Bates and his ability. Despite losing MVS to injured reserve, the unexpected emergence of Randall Cobb in the slot last week will allow the Packers to be a bit more creative with their passing concepts this week.
A lot of how the Packers will deploy their passing game will depend on how the Bengals want to play Davante Adams. The Pittsburgh Steelers spent the majority of last week’s game bracketing the star receiver, putting two defensive backs on him at almost all times. Adams still caught six passes for 64 yards despite that strategy, and it gave Green Bay lighter boxes to establish the run, so it will be a situation where Cincinnati will have to pick its poison.
The Bengals may not have enough answers for the Packers offense, but Rodgers won’t be able to keep his foot off the gas if their depleted defense struggles to slow down Joe Burrow and his talented wide receivers.
Green Bay will be without star cornerback Jaire Alexander, meaning that Eric Stokes, Kevin King and Isaac Yiadom will be the likely cornerbacks when the Packers are in nickel personnel. As promising as Stokes has looked to start his NFL career, those three are going to have their hands full against the likes of Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Chase is especially a concern given his previous time with Burrow at LSU, and the two have already established a strong connection at the pro level.
Joe Burrow put this go ball to Ja'Marr Chase in the bucket. pic.twitter.com/XO2ltgSbOm— Mike (Sans) (@bengals_sans) October 4, 2021
A depleted Packers secondary could give up plenty of points to a dangerous passing attack, and if that happens, then it will be up to Rodgers to air it out and help Green Bay secure a win to move to 4-1.