With their tails planted squarely between their legs, the Packers return home for a two-games-in-five-days stretch where we hope they will take care of business against two winless teams and get healthy for the tough two game trip that will follow. The Bengals come in embarrassed, angry and with three extra days to think about their 0-2 start.
The Bengals do provide some warning signals and we’ll get to that shortly, but let’s start with who we think will miss the game this Sunday. Starting on defense, Nick Perry is definitely out after having what appears to be finger surgery (it sounds like it shouldn’t sideline him for too long). It looks like Mike Daniels, Davon House and Kentrell Brice are long shots to play. In Mike McCarthy’s press conference on Friday he said they would have a much clearer idea of who will suit up at Saturday’s practice. None have been on the field this week.
Offensively, Bryan Bulaga appears to be on track to return, but David Bakhtiari doesn’t look ready (my guess is he misses both of these home games, with the hope that he’s back for the Cowboys game). Jordy Nelson has practiced this week and looks to be good to go, but Randall Cobb’s shoulder is a concern–McCarthy did sound vaguely optimistic that he can go, but he’ll likely be a gametime decision.
So in come the Bengals, the only team McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers have yet to beat; a dangerous team that has made the playoffs the last five years, but has gotten off to a terrible start, losing twice at home and scoring a total of nine points. Following last Thursday’s debacle against Houston, they fired their offensive coordinator.
So to add two the fact that you’re facing an uncommon opponent, you also get a new play caller who’s had a few extra days to put his own spin on things. With dangerous tight end Tyler Eifert likely out with yet another injury, I expect speedy rookie John Ross to be more of a factor–he’s had one touch so far and he fumbled. They’ll find a way to get the ball in his hands (Update: Ross, along with Eifert, have been ruled out). I also expect rookie Joe Mixon to have a bigger role. It’s been a three-headed running attack so far. Look for Jeremy Hill to see his role diminish, and Mixon and Giovanni Bernard to be featured.
Andy Dalton has looked like a different guy so far and some of that could be his new-look offensive line, which lost leaders Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler to free agency. The replacements have been overmatched by two tough defensive fronts in the Ravens and Texans. With Perry and (likely) Daniels out, the Packers won’t provide as stiff a test. Dalton will test the Pack’s young secondary by looking early and often to AJ Green, one of the game’s top receivers. But with no Eifert and the pedestrian Brandon LaFell on the other side, the Pack should be able to help out Kevin King, who will likely be tasked with covering Green, with House ailing.
The Pack’s late signing of Ahmad Brooks will pay immediate dividends. With Perry sidelined, Brooks returns from a concussion to start alongside Clay Matthews at OLB. None of us are quite ready for the Kyler Fackrell era to start, so having Brooks out there is huge, especially against a team that will try to move the ball on the ground and keep Rodgers and company off the field.
On the other side of the ball, much has been made this week about Ty Montgomery’s usage: he’s carried the biggest load of any RB in the game. Look for the Pack to work in Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones a bit this week. With Nelson and Cobb uncertain to go, Geronimo Allison figures to have a bigger role these next two weeks. And we’ll watch Martellus Bennett closely: four drops in 11 targets last Sunday was not acceptable. Maybe he’s still not totally comfortable in this scheme; but Kendricks and Rodgers are waiting in the wings if he doesn’t figure things out.
The Bengals defense has been very solid through two weeks, fifth in points and allowing just 33 point through two games. They’ve featured two run-heavy offenses (63% run plays so far, in a league where it’s 61% passes) and will see a far different style at Lambeau. Their leader, Vontaze Burfict is serving the final game of his three-game suspension, so we won’t have to deal with his crazy on-field antics. But they do have the best D-lineman this side of Aaron Donald, in Geno Atkins, who will command constant double teams, putting more pressure on the uncertainty at tackle.
Look for Rodgers to attack Pac Man Jones, still a reliable corner at 34, but one who gambles like few others. I gotta believe Davante Adams will beat him deep at least once. Rodgers is the clear-cut difference maker in this matchup. Coming off a loss, coming back home and knowing this is the last team for him to beat. He’ll be sharp and will make enough plays for the Pack to take care of business on a steamy September Sunday.
Packers 24 Bengals 17
I’ll be watching the game at the Park Tavern, in St. Louis Park on Sunday. Come on out, if you can. There are always great food and drink specials and giveaways. Walk through the bowling alley, to the 11th Frame bar in back. That’s where we’ll be. www.parktavern.net