Packers Secondary Will Be Challenged by Big Cincinnati Bengals Receivers


A.J. Green (18) catches a 45 yard touchdown pass over Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings (26). Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports photograph

The first thing that jumps out about the talented Cincinnati Bengals offense is the size of their receivers.

Their top four receivers–A.J. Green (6-4, 207), Mohamed Sanu (6-2, 210), Brandon Tate (6-1, 195), and Marvin Jones (6-2, 195)–all have considerable size for the position.

Compare this to the Packers defensive backs: Tramon Williams (5-11, 191), Sam Shields (5-11, 184), Davon House (6-1, 195), and Micah Hyde (6-0, 197).

House is really the only player in the Packers secondary with comparable size to the Bengals receivers. This size differential looks even more drastic when you add in the talented pair of Cincinnati tight ends, Jermaine Gresham (6-5, 260) and rookie first-round pick Tyler Eifert (6-6, 250).

Tyler Eifert (center) makes a catch between Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings (left) and Bears outside linebacker Lance Briggs (right). Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports photograph

Cincinnati likes to utilize a lot of two-tight end sets in their offense, and the Packers young tandem of safeties will be responsible for defending both Gresham and Eifert over the middle of the field.

If Morgan Burnett isn’t ready to play this week, then Green Bay will be relying on M.D. Jennings and the combination of Jerron McMillian and Chris Banjo at safety. Burnett is the biggest defensive back on the Packers roster at 6-1, 209 pounds. Compare this to Jennings at 6-0, 195, McMillian at 5-11, 203, and Banjo at a gracious 5-10, 207.

On paper, it appears Green Bay lacks the size and length to defend the towering Cincinnati receivers. The Bengals tight ends are nearly half a foot taller than the Packers safeties, and standout receiver A.J. Green has over five inches on both Williams and Shields.

The Williams/Green matchup will definitely be one of the most scrutinized when the Packers play the Bengals on Sunday. Green is one of the best young receivers in the league. He had a field day against the Chicago Bears secondary in week one, recording 9 receptions for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Whenever Green was matched up against 5-foot-8 Tim Jennings, he took advantage of the size difference. However, a majority of his production against Chicago came against Charles Tillman, who is taller than the average NFL cornerback at 6-foot-2.

So maybe the height differential between receivers and defensive backs is overblown?

In fact, defending towering receivers isn’t anything new for Williams. Last year, he matched up twice against 6-foot-4, 230-pound Brandon Marshall and held him to an unimpressive two catches for 24 yards in the first contest and six catches for 56 yards in the second meeting. Williams also held 6-foot-3, 230-pound Andre Johnson to eight catches for 75 yards in week six.

Brandon Marshall tackled by Tramon Williams. Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports photograph

On the other hand, 6-foot-5, 236-pound Calvin Johnson has had some big games against Williams and the Packers secondary. Last year, in the two contests he recorded 5 catches for 143 yards and a touchdown and 10 catches for 118 yards. But despite this production, the Packers defense didn’t allow Johnson’s offensive production to beat them either game.

The Green Bay defense has already given up a couple of big games to subpar receivers this season. Eleven-year veteran Anquan Boldin had a career day against the Packers secondary in the season opener with 13 catches for 208 yards, and the Redskins’ Pierre Garcon had eight catches for 143 yards in week two.

So what can we expect from the Packers secondary this week against a talented and physical Bengals receiving group?

It wil be interesting to see if the Packers lack of size in their defensive backfield will hurt them against Cincinnati on Sunday. Maybe House will see more playing time because he has the size to challenge the Cincinnati receivers. He certainly played well in his limited opportunities against Washington. Green Bay began using him in the nickel package on the outside and moved Williams in the slot. I would expect them to do something similar this week.

However, even though the Packers cornerbacks will have their hands full defending Green and Sanu, I think the key to stopping the Bengals’ offense this week will be how well the Packers young safeties defend the Cincinnati tight ends over the middle of the field.

If Burnett can’t suit up on Sunday, the spotlight will be on the young safety trio of Jennings, McMillian, and Banjo.