The Packers next opponent is not a familiar face. The Bengals last faced the Packers in 2017 when Aaron Rodgers rallied Green Bay with 10 points in the 4th quarter to tie the game, allowing Mason Crosby to play hero in overtime with a 27 yard field goal.
The Bengals are a vastly different team in 2021 than the 2017 Andy Dalton led team, semi-affectionately nicknamed, “The Bungels” by frustrated hometown fans. Joe Burrow leads a high powered, primarily passing attack, offense. Burrow has fully healed from his knee injury and is comfortable rolling and passing outside the pocket. Against their last opponent, Jacksonville, the Bengals repeatedly used misdirection, with Burrow faking a handoff to his right, then rolling to his left for a short throw to either tight end, C.J. Uzomah or one of their wideouts. Uzomah displayed soft hands and great run after the catch ability. Against Jacksonville he had 5 catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns. At 6’6” and 260 pounds, Uzomah is a load to bring down, especially in the open field. The other favorite targets for Burrow are Tyler Boyd and Ja’Marr Chase. Boyd is 6’2 and a shade over 200 pounds while Chase is 6’1 and 200. The rookie Chase is dynamic with a second gear that can get him open deep. Boyd is a six year vet who has nearly an identical number of catches on first, second and third down. Burrow has a strong arm and is very accurate on passes where he is dropping the ball into a receiver on the sidelines, 15-20 yards downfield in between the corner and safety in zone coverage. Because Burrows is accurate while rolling to his right and left, Cincinnati has designed roll-out plays in the playbook.
While the offense is pass first, they did have a strong runner in Joe Mixon. Mixon injured his ankle last week and his availability is questionable with his status being categorized as, “day to day”.
The Bengals defense can be attacked, but their 3-1 record shows they can battle and win. Currently Cincinnati’s defense ranks 8th in points, 7th in yards allowed, and 8th in sacks in the NFL. They have not won the time of possession for their first four games, and they have allowed 107 pass completions for a 6.4 yard average. They also have three interceptions. They have allowed a 42% conversion rate on third down against the Vikings, Bears, Steelers and Jaguars.
The Bengals have been able to shut down the opponents run game in three of the four games they played this season. They have a very good middle linebacker in Logan Wilson. Jacksonville had some success with zone and trap run plays against the Bengals. Their top rusher, James Robinson, gained 78 yards averaging 4.3 a carry with a long run of 20 yards. The Bears struggled with a 3 yard rushing average from their prime running back, David Montgomery, but that game was impacted by Andy Dalton’s early injury and the first real playing time for Bears rookie QB Justin Fields. The Bengals were able to anticipate a heavy run game and successfully stopped the Bears for three quarters. A more relevant comparison is the Bengals 24-10 win over the Steelers. The Bengals again held Pittsburgh’s Najee Harris to a 2.9 average rush. Minnesota’s Devin Cook was also held to a three yard average by the Bengals.
Trevor Lawrence struggled to find open receivers but that can be chalked up to a rookie QB learning how to read and anticipate defenses. Roethlisberger threw 2 picks against Cincinnati, throwing 58 attempts after getting behind early. The Vikings Kirk Cousins had a statistically decent day throwing for 351 yards and a QBR of 116.8. The Vikings managed to lose by committing 12 penalties and fumbling in overtime. Fields had a statistically poor game but rallied the Bears to victory in the 4th quarter with the help of four defensive turnovers that included 3 interceptions by Burrow.
A key to containing Joe Burrow must be good outside contain by the Packers outside linebackers. If we anticipate Jaire Alexander being sidelined, his replacement, be that Kevin King or Yiadom or Jean-Charles or even Sullivan, the scheme will have to protect that corner over the top and take away the top three targets of Burrow. Expect equal amounts of nickel and dime defenses and the Packers daring the Bengals to run with a hopefully hobbled Mixon.
On offense the Packers should prepare for pressure. Cincinnati has a blitz rate of almost 24% which has led to 11 sacks. They did seem to play soft coverage on early downs against Jacksonville which may give Rodgers and company the ability to work their quick pass routes and receiver screens to their advantage. If the Packers can run successfully against the Bengals and win the turnover battle the game should be theirs to win. Burrows and the Bengals are coming off a last minute 4th quarter drive that ended with a winning field goal against Jacksonville. The Packers won with a similar script against the 49ers two weeks ago. Both teams are 3-1 in the first quarter of the 2021, 17 game season. While not a regular opponent, this game will be a good test for the Packers as the Bengals have already defeated the Vikings and lost to the Bears. A classic matchup of up and coming gunslinger against the old pro awaits. Let’s hope when the dust settles, the Packers are in the drivers seat of the NFC North Division