Green Bay Packers v. Bengals: Behind Enemy Lines

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) reacts toward the bench after timeout was called in the fourth quarter during a Week 3 NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.Cincinnati Bengals At Pittsburgh Steelers Sept 26
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) reacts toward the bench after timeout was called in the fourth quarter during a Week 3 NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.Cincinnati Bengals At Pittsburgh Steelers Sept 26 /

The Green Bay Packers are coming off a home win over the Pittsburgh Steelers and are now back on the road for a Week 5 matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals. This young and talented Bengals team is 3-1 on the season with wins over Minnesota, Pittsburgh, and Jacksonville.

It’s not very often that the Green Bay Packers face the Bengals, so to help preview this uncommon opponent, Cole Sullivan of Stripe Hype, where they cover anything and everything about the Bengals, was kind enough to answer five of my questions that will provide some valuable insight into this Cincinnati team.

Can you catch Green Bay Packers fans up on the Bengals’ first four games? What’s gone well and what hasn’t?

Cole: So throughout the first four games, the Bengals have been a very shocking team because they’ve exceeded expectations early on in the season.

Now, does this team have its weaknesses? Yes. But Joe Burrow is coming off a severe knee injury and has been very impressive through four games, ranking fourth in touchdown passes and second in Pro Football Focus rankings on passes of 20+ yards. He also has the highest QB rating in the AFC North. Ja’Marr Chase has also set the scene early, scoring four touchdowns, which is currently tied for the second-most in the entire NFL.

On the defensive side of the ball, Logan Wilson has been a pleasant surprise and will be a guy you see in many plays on Sunday. He leads the team in tackles, he’s 2nd in the AFC in tackles, he is first in interceptions, and he’s a linebacker only his second season. The run defense has been statistically one of the best so far as well.

They have holes as a team, especially the offensive line, but as of right now, the lines have been solid the last two weeks, and the defense has been very consistent through 4 weeks.

Takeaway: Overall, in many key defensive categories, the Bengals rank as one of the better teams in football. On offense, their offensive line has held up better than what I think many anticipated, and the combination of Burrow and Chase have formed one of the better deep ball duos in the NFL this season.

With that said, it’s important to note that the Bengals’ three wins are against teams who are a combined 2-10 this season. The Green Bay Packers will easily present them with their toughest test up to this point in the season.

What is the strength of this Bengals team—what makes them go?

Cole: Ultimately, the strength of this team is Joe Burrow. The group goes as he goes. His performance feeds over to everybody else. Suppose Burrow is on his game and is making throws; the team usually follows suit. For example, he struggled against Chicago and the Bengals were down 20-3 in the fourth quarter until two late touchdowns made it closer.

Burrow is the driving force behind this team’s success. And it may seem like the obvious answer. But it’s truly accurate. Cincinnati has the weapons to be very successful and dynamic, but Burrow needs to be making the throws for it to work. Burrow needs to be making the right reads for it to work. Applying the run with Mixon helps open up the offense, but most pressure still rides on Joe’s shoulders.

The defense’s best aspect so far has been the run defense. Dalvin Cook, David Montgomery, Najee Harris, and James Robinson were all held below 80 yards rushing in each game against Cincinnati.

Takeaway: Burrow has had a very fast start to the season, completing 72.9 percent of his passes while still averaging 9.2 yards per attempt, which ranks fifth in the NFL, according to PFF ($$), along with nine touchdown passes–although he does have a three-interception game. Considering that Green Bay will be without Jaire Alexander, it’s going to be important that the defensive front pressure Burrow.

As Cole mentions, the Cincinnati run defense has been quite good as well, allowing only 3.7 yards per rush, which ranks eighth in the NFL. By DVOA, the Bengals run defense ranks sixth. Establishing and sticking to the run is important for the Green Bay offense, but they’ll be faced with a tough task this week.

On the flip side, what is their weakness?

Cole: The Bengals’ biggest weakness is their inconsistency in play-calling and the shaky play of the offensive line. And what I mean by inconsistency in play-calling is that the Bengals often are a very predictable team. Now that doesn’t mean defenses always stop us, but diagnosing the play can be straightforward in regards to whether it’s a run or a pass.

The Bengals tend to run the ball a lot with Joe Mixon on 1st and 2nd down, which a lot of times can set up 3rd and longs, and the Bengals rank as one of the worst teams on 3rd down this season. Now, if Mixon doesn’t play on Sunday, that will change. It will probably be a pass-heavy offense, but the Bengals often stagger and stall themselves as an offense when they get too predictable and conservative in the play calling, which has happened more than once then season already.

Cincinnati averages 23.0 points per game, but it really could be more if the offense stayed consistent because, I mean, your looking at a team with Ja’Marr Chase, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, and Joe Mixon. So it’s very dynamic in its offensive talent.

The offensive line can be very shaky at times. Over the last two games, they’ve been surprisingly very good, only allowing one sack, but before that game, they allowed nine sacks through two games. So I mean, it’s hard to predict which line will show up week by week. That’s likely a weakness the Green Bay Packers will try and expose throughout the game with their pass rush.

Takeaway: Given the uncertainty at the cornerback position for the Green Bay Packers, having Burrow throw more may seem like a bad idea, but if Cincinnati is predictable or become one-dimensional, that should benefit the defense, especially with a young quarterback under center–even if he is playing well.

Above I mentioned that the offensive line was better than expected, and I still find that to be true, but it doesn’t mean they’ve been great either. The Bengals are averaging just 3.8 yards per rush, which ranks 21st, and by ESPN’s pass-block win rate metric, the Cincy offensive line ranks 13th with the 11 sacks that they’ve given up being the eighth-most.

Who is one player on offense and one on defense that Green Bay Packers fans may not be familiar with but could make an impact?

Cole: On offense, Chris Evans. This will be more plausible if Mixon is out, but Evans is a rookie from Michigan, who put on a show during training camp and preseason for the Bengals at the running back position.

He is very dynamic at catching balls out of the backfield and has shifty quickness. He’s not the most athletic, but he’s an intelligent football player out of Michigan. Expect to see him around the offense lining up in the slot and the backfield if Mixon is, in fact, out this Sunday.

Defense: Akeem Davis-Gaither is a starting linebacker for the Bengals, who usually rotates in and out, but has had an excellent season for the Bengals defense so far. Not many people know who he is, but he was drafted out of Appalachian State last season right after Logan Wilson, and this is the first year he’s starting to see a lot of playing time.

Davis-Gaither ranks as one of the better linebackers by Pro Football Focus so far this year. He will be a player who is making a severe impact and may not get the recognition. He’s not known around the league yet, and most Packers fans probably won’t know who he is, but you’ll see him on the field this weekend countless times, and he will be involved in a lot of plays for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Takeaway: Evans has seen very little action this season with no rushing attempts and three receptions for 26 yards. Samaje Perine is another option out of the backfield, but he also hasn’t seen many snaps. When it comes to the run game, it is a whole lot of Joe Mixon for this Bengals offense. Mixon has, however, missed Wednesday’s and Thursday’s practices–certainly something to keep our eyes on.

Davis-Gaither has been on the field for 88 snaps this season, with about half of them coming against Pittsburgh in Week 3. He’s tallied 10 tackles, four stops, and has allowed eight receptions on 12 targets but only at 5.6 yards per catch. We may see quite a bit of him covering the Green Bay running backs and tight ends.

What does the Bengals path to victory look like—what will have to go right?

Cole: This will be one of the most challenging games the Bengals play all season, but to succeed in this one and to compete, they will have to do a few key things.

First, they will have to be very offense reliant, and what I mean is that they will need to pick up first downs and have long drives that keep Aaron Rodgers off the field as much as possible. Not turning over the football will be one of the essential things that Cincinnati can do, and winning the time of possession will also be how the Bengals keep themselves in this one late into the fourth quarter.

They will also have to attack the Packers’ secondary. With Jaire Alexander likely out, the Bengals will need to use Chase, Higgins, and Boyd all over the field and in many different schemes. Attacking Kevin King and Eric Stokes will be very crucial to the Bengals success. Quick outlet passes and getting in an offensive rhythm will allow the Bengals to score points, which will have to happen in this one.

I don’t see the Bengals winning this game if it stays low scoring and they are punt or field goal-heavy. Cincinnati will need to score touchdowns, and they will have to be aggressive in doing that. But also smart while doing it.

Applying pressure on Rodgers will be essential, but also knowing how good he is will be necessary. He is going to convert third downs; he’s going to make tough throws but staying confident and staying locked in will be significant. If the Bengals’ defense can force field goals in this game, that will be another key aspect that lets them hang around.

Takeaway: For the Green Bay Packers, their keys will be limiting the big passing plays from this explosive Bengals offense. We may seem them utilize quite a bit of cover-2 to help keep everything in front of them. They’ll want to force the Bengals to string together 12+ play scoring drives. And, of course, pressuring Burrow will be important as well.

For the offense, they’ll need to stick to the run game to avoid becoming one-dimensional, and the offensive line will have to give Rodgers time. If Green Bay is able to do those two things, it’s going to be incredibly difficult for many defenses to slow them down.