Aaron Nagler speaks with Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer to get the latest on the Green Bay Packers' opponent on Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals. (Sept. 21, 2017) USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
The Green Bay Packers are a banged-up bunch after a tough road loss in Atlanta but will be back in the friendly confines of Lambeau Field on Sunday facing a Cincinnati Bengals team that is desperate for its first win of this young season.
The Bengals are a bit of an unknown, as the Packers have faced them only twice under Mike McCarthy, games that the Bengals won.
To get a better idea of the type of team the Packers are facing, we spoke with Bengals beat writer Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer. You can find our conversation in the video above and in the text below.
1. How has Bengals coach Marvin Lewis weathered the early storm around his team? He’s been there a long time. Are there any rumblings about his message getting stale?
Nationally, Marvin Lewis’ longevity confounds most. As the second-longest tenured head coach in the NFL behind Bill Belichick but with an 0-7 playoff record, several rebuilds, it makes sense. But even though owner/president Mike Brown did not give Lewis his seemingly annual contract extension, it signaled a sense of urgency in 2017 but not a threat to his in-season job security. Marvin Lewis won’t be fired. And honestly, even after all these years, Lewis has a great grip on the locker room. Don’t buy into national parachutists talking about locker room unrest.
2. Anyone with a passing interest in the NFL knows about A.J. Green. Who else can the Bengals look to when trying to get out of their offensive funk?
Well, interestingly enough they’ll be looking to Green. He has 18 targets in two games — but it's when he’s gotten the targets that has been an issue. Not in scoring situations. Not on important drives. An early criticism of Andy Dalton (say, from 2011-14) was that he relied too much on Green. Then, through two weeks, observers wonder why he doesn’t throw more to Green. It’s a no-win when you don’t win. Expect Green to be more involved early Sunday. Outside of that, look for rookie running back Joe Mixon. New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor hasn’t spoken since his Friday conference call and that included only generalizations about what his philosophy might be — but he did allow that getting the QB and a running back into a rhythm early would be important. Giovani Bernard is a very good dual-purpose back, but he’s not a workhorse. Mixon could be that. He was drafted to be that. His time might be now.
3. There has been so much focus nationally on the struggles with the offense, but we’ve heard little about the Bengals’ defense. How has that unit started the season and how will it look to slow down Aaron Rodgers & Co.?
Well, I’m sure Mike McCarthy will note that the Bengals are No. 5 in total defense and No. 7 in scoring defense. On paper, that’s nice. But it doesn’t tell the story. First, they played Baltimore and Houston, teams with no passing attack to speak of and terrible offensive lines. And even Lewis would argue this group should be better. Why? Two reasons.
One, they continue to give up the big-chunk scoring play. Baltimore had a 48-yard catch-and-run touchdown on third and 7. Houston had a 49-yard QB scramble for a touchdown on third and 15. This was a problem with this team in the 2017 preseason, as well as the entire 2016 campaign.
Two, when it was time to really get off the field, late in the game, and the contest still in doubt — they couldn’t do it. Baltimore went on a 17-play drive that lasted over nine minutes in the third quarter in Week 1. Houston went on a 13-play drive that lasted over six minutes in Week 2. Part of that is a seemingly weekly ability to draw an inopportune flag that hurts their cause.
Now, they do get after the quarterback and they like to do it with just the four down linemen. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is a Mike Zimmer disciple and does like to come up with creative blitzes, but he picks and chooses his spots. He wants to rely on Pro Bowl defensive end Carlos Dunlap and rookie nickel edge rusher Carl Lawson to create pressure off the edge. All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins is on a six-game streak of at least a half of a sack and he will beat the Packers interior — it’s just a matter of how often and if he actually gets his hands on Rodgers. It’s a talented group with a highly paid secondary and can get “hot” in terms of forcing three-and-outs. They know this is perhaps their best test to prove they can do it for 60 minutes.