The Packers have a history of unusual games with the Cincinnati Bengals, dating back to the day Brett Favre burst onto the scene in 1992. Since then, we’ve seen a fan snatch the ball out of Favre’s hands on the field, Jonathan Franklin go from hero to zero, and Geronimo Allison show up as an overtime hero.
With that kind of backdrop, anything mundane enough to be considered “normal” might almost be a disappointment, but with the Packers fielding a banged-up roster, who knows what could happen on Sunday. For a preview of some of what might go down in Cincinnati this weekend, we turned to Jason Marcum of Cincy Jungle for a look at how the Bengals have fared through the first month of the 2021 season.
Acme Packing Company: Zac Taylor was basically a meme from the moment he was hired in Cincinnati, seeming to be the epitome of the “do you know Sean McVay?” wave of hires throughout the NFL a couple of years back. But the Bengals are 3-1 and things seem positive from the outside looking in. What do you think of the still-young head coach?
Jason Marcum: It’s been a rocky road to say the least with Zac thus far. 6-25-1 is about as bad of a two-year stretch as you’ll see from a head coach that manages to keep his job for a third term. But despite all of the losing, the players have constantly played hard for Zac and never laid down the way most would while losing that much.
That was kinda evident by the 2-13-1 record he had in one-score games. The Bengals consistently fought hard but typically couldn’t make that one more play they needed to win. Even when Joe Burrow went down last year, the guys just kept fighting and managed to win 2/3 down the stretch and are now 3-1 this season, so he’s 5-4-1 over his last 10 games.
But having your players buy in isn’t enough. You have to execute and actually win these close games, which the Bengals are doing thus far this season. He’s also been very aggressive, as evidenced by going for it on 4th-and-1 from his own 30-yard line while up two scores in the second half vs. Minnesota in Week 1. Not a good decision, but players seem to respect the aggressiveness and fire he has to make this franchise a winner.
APC: Preseason reviews seemed shaky, but the in-season connection between Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase has been strong. What’s your assessment of the pair? Are Bengals fans satisfied with their two high draft picks?
JM: For sure. The running joke now is that Chase was just pulling off the biggest preseason troll move ever with how bad he was compared to what he’s been in the regular season. He’s been a star and helped Joe Burrow make a leap forward after many wondered if he’d start slow this year while working out the rust from his ACL tear. You really couldn’t have asked for a better start from those two this season, and Bengals fans believe this franchise has a world of potential with those two leading the offense.
APC: Who’s flying under the radar in Cincinnati that might affect the game on Sunday? Feel free to go offense or defense here.
JM: Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt for sure. The Bengals’ top two linebackers have both made a big leap this year and are a big reason why this defense has been so surprisingly good through four weeks. Linebacker play has consistently been a major weakness for this team really since Vontaze Burfict was in his prime. Pratt and Wilson are playing like the best backer duo Cincinnati has had in some time. They both play the run well and hold up in coverage, as evidenced by the defense allowing just nine catches to tight ends thus far after allowing 82 last season. They’re also going to play a big role in how well Cincinnati’s defense handles Aaron Jones this week. That’s one of my biggest battles to watch for this game.
APC: Turning to the defense, the Bengals are currently a top-10 scoring unit. Is that a “real” number, or have they benefitted from playing a weak schedule?
JM: I think it’s a mix of both. The Steelers’ offense is hot garbage. I’m not sure the Bears are any better. The Jaguars have potential but also a first-year head coach and rookie QB, and that game was on a short week. What they did to the Vikings was impressive, especially if you take away the touchdown they got off the Bengals’ failed 4th-down call at their own 30. But there’s no question the Packers’ offense is a tier or two ahead of what Cincy has faced thus far. They rank seventh in yards allowed and eighth in points allowed, but I would say the Bengals are probably in the 10-14 range of NFL defenses if they’d played better offenses thus far.
APC: If you were going to attack the Bengals' defense, where would you start? And how do you expect the Bengals to try to slow down the Packers?
JM: Throw, throw and throw some more. Cincy’s cornerback group has been very erratic thus far, but the pressure of the front seven has kept offenses from taking advantage more. Aaron Rodgers is far and away better than anyone this group has faced thus far, and he’s mobile enough to escape pressure and scorch the Bengals’ secondary. The good news is they’ll have star safety Jessie Bates back from injury this week, but that cornerback group is still way too suspect to think this defense will hold the Packers offense to under 27 points.
APC: Last question: what’s your call for Sunday?
JM: I think this will be a fun back-and-forth affair that comes down to the fourth quarter. If both teams are fully healthy, I think this one is a more comfortable win for the Packers, but missing several starting offensive linemen, Za’Darius Smith and corner Jaire Alexander will help Cincinnati have a chance to win this before the road team escapes with a 27-23 victory.