Packers at Bengals: Gameday Preview - 2021 Week 5

The Packers are hot and riding a 3 game win streak, but they're missing key players and facing a Bengals team that is playing well despite a lack of household names. Can the Packers stay hot with backups playing key roles?

The last time these teams met, the Packers pulled out a 27-24 overtime win in 2017. Aaron Rodgers led a touchdown drive to tie it up with 17 seconds left. In overtime, he hit Geronimo Allison for a 72 yard pass off a free play to set up Mason Crosby's game-winning chip shot.

Before that, the Bengals had won the previous 3 meetings, each by one score.

Now, the Packers have a beat up secondary and are missing their best pass rusher as they travel to face a 3-1 Bengals team led by Joe Burrow, who just won Player of the Week honors for putting up 348 yards and 2 touchdowns. This game is looking much harder than it did when the schedule came out.

 

WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL

The Benagals run a pretty balanced offense, with Joe Mixon averaging a healthy 4.3 yards per carry and Joe Burrow looking much better in his sophomore campaign than he did as a rookie quarterback. Burrow is playing with poise and has a 113.8 rating on the season so far.

Rookie receiver Ja'Marr Chase (who played with Burrow in college at LSU) has struck up an immediate connection with his old quarterback. With 4 touchdowns in four games and nearly 300 yards receiving, Chase is an early candidate for Rookie of the Year.

With a solid build and 4.38 speed, Chase is the primary threat in this passing attack and the Packers will almost certainly be forced to cover him with Eric Stokes since Jaire Alexander is out indefinitely. However, Stokes matched up very well against Chase (who had Burrow as his quarterback at the time) when they faced off in college (2019), holding him to 3 catches for 41 yards. In Chase's previous 5 games, his yardage totals were 197, 144, 227, 140, and 123. In other words, when Burrow and Chase were lighting college football up, Stokes brought them down to earth. Hopefully he can have a similar impact in their first pro matchup.

In their lone loss (which was to the Bears), the Bengals couldn't get their ground game going (mustering only 69 yards on 20 carries), which forced the Bengals out of their balanced attack (the Bears were also able to force 4 turnovers in that game). With Joe Mixon nursing an ankle injury, the Packers run defense may find things easier than usual this week. 

Kenny Clark has been a beast lately and De'Vondre Campbell seems to grow stronger each game. If that duo can keep a physical presence in the middle, it can take away the Bengals rushing attack and force Cincinatti to throw. Thought the Packers secondary is banged up, if they know what's coming, it can get easier to play with extra defensive backs - they'll need to if they want to stop this potent passing attack, which also features Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins playing solid in supporting roles. The Packers will have their hands full even with Kevin King back.

One welcome change the Packers will notice is that the Bengals don't throw to their backs much, which should allow their defensive backs to focus on wide receivers and pass rushers to focus on getting after the quarterback.

 

WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL

Aaron Rodgers has been finding his groove, but is not in 2011 Madden-mode where he can throw every down and expect to march up and down the field.

With MVS out injured, the passing game has had to get a little more creative and Matt LaFleur looked up to the challenge last week, pencil-whipping Pittsburgh with rub routes and concepts that confused the Steelers defense.

The Packers coach might have a harder time game-planing this week.

Matt LaFleur and Bengals head coach Zak Taylor were both on the Rams 2017 coaching staff. LaFleur was the offensive coordinator and Taylor was an assistant wide receivers coach. This meant Taylor had to understand everything about LaFleur's approach to the offense so he could properly coach the receivers. LaFleur will need to get creative in his game plan this week and maybe add some wrinkles that go against his tendencies if he wants to stay a step ahead of the competition.

Aaron Jones has been a great do-it-all back, but he does not have the raw power of AJ Dillon. Last week, in the rain, Dillon got a chance to show his stuff and it was impressive. With the Packers struggling to keep their mash unit functioning on both sides of the ball, I can see them using the run even more in this game.

The Packers offensive line is a huge part of that. The group has continued to perform at a very high level despite missing two very high-caliber left tackles in David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins. But now, Josh Myers is out, throwing another level of disarray into the equation. Elgton Jenkins was a limited participant in practice this week and is listed as questionable. If he returns, it might help offset the loss of Myers.

However it shakes out, this group should be up to the challenge. After playing stout against a terrific 49ers front and having little problem with a very tough Steelers front (they have TJ Watt, by the way), the group gets a bit of a reprieve.The Bengals rank 7th in yards given up per game, but they've faced the Bears, who are dead last in offensive yardage, as well as the Steelers and Jaugars, who aren't far behind. They have not faced an offense as potent as Green Bay (even with the Packers injuries at offensive line).

Cincinatti doesn't have a lot of guys who get national recognition, but they are an all-around solid unit. Defensive end Trery Hendrickson signed as a free agent after leading the Saints with 13.5 sacks last year. He's on pace for a similar number this year and will be a good test of up-and-coming Yosh Nijman, if Nijman stays at left tackle. Second-year linebacker Logan Wilson is a converted safety who has come up with 3 interceptions. He's instinctive and quick to react, which could make it tough for the Packers in the screen game and on any sort of crossing routes. It might be a long shot for Randall Cobb to follow up on his big game last week.

I'd expect Rodgers to throw away from Wilson and lean on the run game to keep the offense humming.

 

OTHER NOTES

Corey Bojorquez is s great punter - I'll probably just say that every week. He is so fun to watch.

Outside of Bojo and Money Mason, the special teams are pretty warm garbage.

Bob Tonyan has been relatively quiet after a superstar training camp.

Jaylon Smith is an exciting pickup, but should not be counted on to have a big impact this week as he's had limited time to pickup the defense.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

This game makes me a little nervous.

Cincinatti is not a pushover. They have a lot of underrated talent and the Packers will be down 3 or 4 guys who play at an All Pro level, plus other key contributors.

Two things give me hope, and both of them are coaches. Matt LaFleur finally put together a game plan that brilliantly balanced Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones, and AJ Dillon. Their offensive line has been stellar and allowed has them to do seemingly whatever they want schematically. LaFleur has been getting better each week after a slow start. The second thing that gives me hope is Joe Barry. It hasn't been pretty, and it definitely hasn't been perfect, but the Packers defense is coming around. They've been more physical and aggressive each week. With key players out, the team can't afford to be passive and play bend but don't break. Joe Barry has come up with aggressive, successful game plans ever since halftime of the Lions game.

With all the injuries mounting up on the Packers, and the fact that the Bengals are playing good ball, I feel like I should pick Cincinatti this week. 

But I have a nagging feeling that this group is going to galvanize around these injuries and play better than the mere sum of the parts. I have faith in coaching on both sides of the ball to put the players in a position to do what they do best and pull out a very tough, very close contest on the road.

Packers 23, Bengals 22

 

 

Bruce Irons has played, coached, and studied football for decades. Best-selling author of books such as A Fan's Guide To Understanding The NFL Draft, A Fan's Guide To Understanding The NFL Salary Cap, and A Fan's Guide To NFL Free Agency Hits And Misses, Bruce contributes to CheeseHeadTV and PackersForTheWin.com.

Follow Bruce Irons on Twitter at @BruceIronsNFL.

 

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Comments (6)

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Spock's picture

October 10, 2021 at 06:45 am

Bruce, Thanks for the college info. on the Burrows, Chase, Stokes connections. Makes me a bit more optimistic that Stokes can more than hold his own. I suspect that a sore-ankle Jenkins is more likely to be at Center with Meyers out since Yosh has been doing well. Read that "the machine" that runs 10,000 game matchups gives the Packers the game; I hope it's right! Appreciate the article. Thanks!

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ImaPayne's picture

October 10, 2021 at 09:32 am

The Packers need a pass rush plain and simple. They give Burrows time and he will pick apart a pass defense that isnt very good. Barry like his predicessors, have this guys play off the receivers because they lack coverage speed and skills.
Its the lets bend but dont break philosophy for not getting shut down corners in the draft when they were available.

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PatrickGB's picture

October 10, 2021 at 09:34 am

Bruce, I agree with your assessment. Also, I worry about our secondary . Yet I see a possibility that the game ends up being a higher scoring game and the possibility of a last second loss looms high.

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mnbadger's picture

October 10, 2021 at 10:06 am

sorry, duplicate

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mnbadger's picture

October 10, 2021 at 10:05 am

great summary. intriguing matchups in all three phases and in coaching. I'll take the Packers anytime it's a "pick'm" game. 34-30 Packers. GPG

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Lphill's picture

October 10, 2021 at 11:07 am

Jenkins out again , I don’t understand how he was allowed to complete a game on a bad ankle when the Packers had a comfortable lead , someone is making bad medical decisions for the Packers .

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