November 24, 2011; Detroit, MI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) looks over offensive line before a play against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving at Ford Field. The Packers won 27-15. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Green Bay Packers at Cincinnati Bengals: Tigers Can Change Their Stripes

Sep 15, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) reacts to a play during the second quarter against the Washington Redskins at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday afternoon the 1-1 Green Bay Packers travel to Cincinnati to take on the 1-1 Bengals. These are not your father’s Bungles. This game is no gimme. The Packers will have to play solid defense against Cincinnati’s many offensive weapons and their offensive line will face another talented defensive front.

Something’s got to give on Sunday. The Packers are playing much better offense than Cincinnati is in every category. The Bengals are playing much better defense than the Packers are in every category.

Dec 23, 2012; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields (right) celebrates an interception with cornerback Tramon Williams (38) during the game against the Tennessee Titans at Lambeau Field. The Packers won 55-7. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Especially conspicuous are the Packers defense’s 30th ranking in total yards allowed and 31st ranking in pass yards allowed. On the plus side offensively the Packers are second in points scored, first in total yards, and second in pass yards.

Offensively the Bengals are 19th in points scored, 12th in total yards, and 12th in pass yards. Defensively they rank 8th in points allowed, 6th in total yards allowed, 14th in pass yards allowed, and in what might be their strength on defense they rank 6th in rush yards allowed with only 62.5.

This early in the season stats can be misleading or even straight up erroneous indicators of trends and capabilities. But my analysis of the Bengals roster and their play so far this season tells me their defense is for real. Strength against strength…lace ‘em up and get after it Packers. Wins don’t come cheap in the NFL.

Going into this game the Packers are comparatively healthy. Granted Eddie Lacy is still wondering where he is after the blatantly illegal hit Washington S Merriweather laid on him last Sunday, but even he could potentially play if needed. DT Johnny Jolly, RG T.J. Lang, and TE Jermichael Finley are all dinged up but should be able to play. S Morgan Burnett, CB Casey Hayward, and CB Jarrett Bush are out and RB John Kuhn is probably on the shelf too. CB Tramon Williams showed up on the list as probable with a groin issue. He’ll have his work cut out for him going up against A.J. Green.

The Bengals are listing twelve players on their injury list. The only players listed as definitely out are DE Robert Geathers and CB Brandon Ghee. S Jeromy Miles, G Mike Pollack, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, and WR Marvin Jones all missed practice. RB Giovani Berbard, TE Alex Smith, CB Adam “Pac Man” Jones, and DE Wallace Gilberry all participated on a full or limited basis. So some key Bengals players are going to have a tough time getting on and maybe staying on the field Sunday.

Here are some things I’ll be looking for while I watch the game:

Dec 9, 2012; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers guard Don Barclay (67) during the game against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. The Packers won 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Packers offensive line. These guys will be the key to the offensive performance in Cincinnati. Granted…not much of a stretch as anyone will tell you this is always the case. However, the Bengals have a solid defensive line and a group of linebackers who can shut down the run game and get after the quarterback. The Packers young tackles will be tested early and often in this game. I’ll be watching to see how the O line handles pass pro against the Bengals pass rushers. I’ll also be watching to see if the O line can open up anything for Starks or maybe Franklin to run through.

Packers run game. As important as any yards James Starks or his running mates can gain on the ground will be their ability to do things in the pass game. They’ll be called upon to make solid blocks when picking up pass rushers. They’ll also need to make sure that when screens and short passes to them are called they catch the ball, get every yard they can against the stingy Bengals defense, and maintain ball security. I’ll be watching to see how well the RBs
take advantage of what running room the O line provides and how they back the O line up in pass protection.

Packers passing game. Don’t like watching Aaron Rodgers get harassed by pass rushers? Then don’t watch this game. Rodgers will get hit. He will be hurried. He will be sacked. He’ll be rolling out, improvising, and sliding around in the pocket in order to make his throws. I believe the Packers O line is still a work in progress. It’s too early to expect them to keep 12 clean in this game. They’ll improve as the season progresses, but in this game I’m afraid they’re just not up to the task yet. I’ll be watching closely to see how the young tackles perform in pass pro, how the line as a unit holds together, and how the TEs and RBs do as chippers against the Bengals pass rush.

Sep 15, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) is sacked by Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews (52) and defensive end Mike Daniels (76) in the fourth quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Packers defensive line / LBs. The Bengals RBs “Law Firm” Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard are talented runners who will test the Packers D line and LBs. With Bernard hurting his effectiveness might be decreased but the Cincinnati offense will still pound the ball. Rookie TE Tyler Eifert will test the LBs in pass coverage, especially up the middle of the field. Packers De linemen will have opportunities to get after QB Andy Dalton and they’ll need to finish those plays. I’ll be watching to see which D lineman stands out this week, how the LBs do in pass coverage of Bengals RBs and TEs, and the production in the pass rush department. Dalton can be rattled and he will put up a potential pick if the Packers get pressure on him. LB Clay Matthews was quoted this week as saying he wants to “pin his ears back”. He’ll have his opportunity as long as the Bengals RBs aren’t running past him first.

Packers DBs. The Packers patchwork secondary faces one of the more dynamic receiving groups this week. WR A.J. Green is as good as they come, and he’ll draw extra attention on every play. WRs Jermaine Gresham and Mohamed Sanu are also solid and TE Tyler Eifert will draw coverage from the DBs too. The Bengals can move the ball and it’ll be up to the DBs to limit their effectiveness by getting in the passing lanes, getting their hands on some balls and finishing on takeaway opportunities. The Packers have had their hands on several potential picks already this season. I’ll be watching the DBs to see how they tackle, how they finish on takeaway opportunities, and how they communicate to ensure their assignments are not missed.

Packers special teams. I’ve completely bought into P Tim Masthay handling kickoffs. Why? Because he’s doing a great job of it, his punting has not been affected, and so far (knock wood) K Mason Crosby has missed nothing at all. It’s better to make TDs than FGs, so Crosby can’t miss if he’s not trying. Let him kick PATs only! This strategy seems to be working on multiple levels. Retuner Jeremy Ross needs to be more aware of his position on the field when he’s catching punts and how deep he is in the end zone when deciding to bring kickoffs out. He’s still got the ability to break a return but so far this season his decision making has been suspect. I’ll be watching to see how many touchbacks Masthay notches, how many extra points Crosby nails, and how many yards Ross saves by allowing the touchback instead of getting nailed inside the twenty. Or even the ten.

The Bestest With The Mostest:

Oct 16, 2011; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packer head coach Mike McCarthy and his team wear throwback uniforms against the St. Louis Rams at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Best Throwback Uniforms. Packers. This is a little bit like picking the best of the worst. NFL throwback uniforms are almost universally bad, but the Packers throwbacks are well above average good. Seen the Pittsburgh throwbacks? How about those Denver stripes or the Chicago ones? All were or still are uniformly and unanimously hideous. I’ll freely admit the only really cool ones (to look at) are the light blue San Diego ones. But the Packers throwbacks are understated, tasteful, represent a uniform much older than any other throwbacks, and also represent a team championship won in 1929 and the first of three championships in a row- the first NFL championship three-peat. No other team in the NFL can wear those colors. So the Packers throwbacks might not jump off the screen but what they represent can’t be paralleled.

Best Road Advantage. Packers. When the Green Bay Packers travel they travel well. This is simple statement of fact. Whenever the Packers pull into town to play a road opponent, the local fans know they’ve got a challenge on their hands. Packers fans are vocal and boisterous. Every NFL stadium has heard the “Go Pack Go” chants. Packers fans support a great team with rich history and they know it. Other NFL teams have fans of whom they can be proud. Packers fans cheer for a team that many of them own. No contest here.

Aug 29, 2013; Fans cheer before the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City won the game 30-8. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports`

Most Deserving of Worst NFL Team in the 90s Title. Bengals / Bungles. Having suffered through the Packers teams of the mid-to-late 70s and 80s I feel I’m both qualified and experienced in this area. While the Packers fielded some pretty bad teams between the 70s and the 90s, it’s impossible to ignore the Bungles of the 90s. Many teams had off seasons or even a couple of real stinkers during the 90s but the Bungles were a consistently disastrous illustration of badly played football. I could be persuaded that the Rams, Colts, or Cardinals could give the Bungles a run for the title, but I’ll still take Cincinnati based on their sheer amount of available blooper reel material from the 1990s.

Fearsome Predictions:

DISCLAIMER: The writer assumes no responsibility and claims no expertise in the area of predicting random occurrences during sporting contests. If something accidentally occurs that the writer predicted, it is entirely coincidental and not the fault of, nor can credit be attributed to, the writer. Blah-blah-legalese-blah.

Aaron Rodgers will throw for three touchdowns with one pick.

James Starks will lead the Packers in rushing yards.

Jonathan Franklin will be the second leading rusher for the Packers.

Jan 12, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson (87) during the NFC divisional round playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 12, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson (87) during the NFC divisional round playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Jordy Nelson will lead the Packers in receiving yards.

Randall “Cobbernicus” Cobb will catch at least one TD pass.

Aaron Rodgers will be sacked twice, hurried, and harassed.

– Good Jermichael Finley will make a spectacular catch.

– Bad Jermichael Finley will drop at least one easily catchable pass.

Mason Crosby will not miss a kick.

– Dalton will be sacked three times. Clay Matthews will have one of them.

– Dalton will be picked twice. Tramon Williams will get one of them.

Johnny Jolly will bat at least one pass down and have three tackles.

Datone Jones will finally get his first NFL sack.

– The Packers will have fewer penalty yards than Cincinnati.

– The Packers will have fewer rushing yards than Cincinnati.

Sep 8, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb (18) celebrates with tight end Jermichael Finley (88) after a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 8, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb (18) celebrates with tight end Jermichael Finley (88) after a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

– The Packers will have more passing yards than Cincinnati.

– The Packers will have more first downs than Cincinnati.

– The Packers will have more time of possession than Cincinnati.

– Somehow the television audience, for the third week in a row, will be stuck with the Fox broadcast team of Troy Aikman and Joe Buck in the booth. This is why they put those volume controls on the remote!

– Consequently, the television audience will yet again be mistreated to the usual Aikman quips, trips, and complaints. During this game Troy’s mistreated brain will compel him to say at least two “I don’t think that should be a penalty / I don’t see a penalty there / I don’t agree with that call” calls and a couple of “that was a textbook tackle / that was outside the rules / he didn’t lead with his helmet” laments as well.

– The television audience will be treated to lots of talk about how the Bengals are a much-improved team and that they are the favorites (in week three of the NFL season mind you) to win their division.

Because the game will be played early Sunday afternoon and won’t be televised locally here in Southeast Texas, we’ll repair to our favorite local hangout (Tailgators!) to watch the game with Packers fans and friends. Also present will be a bunch of mercurial Texans fans, scofflaw Cowboys fans, obnoxious Vikings fans, outnumbered Bengals fans, and one Saints fan whose dish is out. All in one room. It’ll be loud, close, and not very civilized. We’ll be making plenty of noise, wishing we were at the game instead, and rooting for a Packers victory!

I’ll be tweeting random thoughts on the game and the telecast to all those who dare to follow at @PackersTX.

Watch LombardiAve.com for the post game analysis.

Bye week coming up. Time to heal up and get ready for the Big Push. Gotta get another W first. Bring it Bengals! Go Pack GO!

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