COMMENTARY | The Cincinnati Bengals will have to muster a complete effort on Sunday to beat the Green Bay Packers, who represent the likeliest division winner -- if not conference champion -- that the Bengals have faced so far in this young season. While the Bengals have shown flashes of greatness that could be in their collective grasp, a win over the Packers will require more than just a couple of solid series on offense and a few good defensive stands. Here are the five keys for the Bengals to beat the Packers:
The Bengals front four and blitzers cannot give Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers the time it takes for routes to develop downfield. Rodgers has to spend virtually the entire game wondering will the next hit will be coming from if the Bengals are to withstand the Packers aerial onslaught.
Key among the Bengals pass rushers will be defensive end Michael Johnson, who will have to force chips and double teams to allow the interior rush led by defensive tackle Geno Atkins to push Rodgers out of the pocket with urgency. DE Carlos Dunlap must also dominate his end of the line, and the Bengals can not have much of a drop off in pass rush from the rotational backups if the pressure is going to keep Rodgers from having anything more than marginal success.
With cornerback Adam Jones emerging healthier as the week progresses, the Bengals slot and edge corner trio of Jones, Leon Hall and Terence Newman can provide the coverage needed to give the defensive line the time to push and collapse the pocket.
The Bengals have one of the best and most active safeties in the league in Reggie Nelson, who fills coverage gaps well with both speed and impact against both physical receivers with size and receivers with speed.
Only injury to any of these primary four secondary players will significantly impact the coverage time past the second level of the Bengals' defense. Otherwise, the secondary should free the deep front line to harass Rodgers the entire game.
Both Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga will continue to have to be forces against both the run and the short pass game. These two anchors of the Bengals linebacking corps have had impressive starts to the season and will have to be on the top of their game to neutralize any Packers' running attack, as well as the passing game in the flats and over the shallow middle of the field.
The Bengals are likely to intensify the conversion of safety Taylor Mays to more of a weakside LB hybrid, who can fare well in pass coverage over the middle and down the seams in nickel defense. Strong side LB James Harrison will start his transition to a situational end pass rusher in the 4-3 base, now that the season has ended for DE Robert Geathers. Harrison, along with rookie Margus Hunt, will become increasingly more of a part of the Bengals' defensive front with Geathers out and could both be baptized by fire against the Packers if rotational DE Wallace Gilberry is unable to play at full strength.
Bengals QB Andy Dalton and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden will undoubtedly be tempted to open fire in the attempt to keep pace with Rodgers, but the pair have to resist that temptation and revert to a primary run game against the Packers. Chewing up clock and yards will keep Rodgers and his stable of receivers off the field. The absence of a healthy Giovani Bernard would make this task harder, but the Bengals have a capable workhorse in BenJarvus Green-Ellis to take over the whole load if needed.
Short Passing Game
Dalton tends to throw to superstar wide receiver A.J. Green too much and with good reason, but the sooner Dalton and Gruden recognize the significance of the shorter pass game against the Packers, the better the Bengals' chance to win will be.
Both tight ends -- rookie Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham -- need to be targeted by Dalton even more than he's found the pair in the first two games of the season (19 receptions). With WR Marvin Jones perhaps hampered by a foot injury, Mohamed Sanu will have to expect more of a possession receiver workload than he's seen so far. If Sanu can can gain separation in coverage, he could prove to be the Bengals' leading receptions receiver against the Packers.
The short passing game will keep the chains moving, but it will also force the back end of the Packers' secondary up and that will free Green and Dalton to take their deep ball shots in a timely and effective manner.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for more than five years. He posts his NFL draft predictions each year at footballnostradamus.com
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