What to Watch in Packers vs Bengals: Cornerbacks facing a tough assignment

After dispatching the Pittsburgh Steelers with relative ease a week ago, the Packers will now face a tougher AFC North opponent in the Cincinnati Bengals on the road, as two 3-1 teams face off on Sunday afternoon.

The upstart Bengals will provide a real test for Green Bay, as will the atmosphere inside the Paul Brown stadium, with the game expected to be a sell-out.

Here are three things to watch as the Packers look to win their fourth straight game:

Bengals wide receivers vs Packers cornerbacks

The Packers appear to have received somewhat positive news on the long-term health of Jaire Alexander, with Matt LaFleur confirming that he is not set for season-ending surgery at the moment. In a bad NFC North, Green Bay can certainly make the playoffs without Alexander, but unless Eric Stokes is the rookie of the year, they can’t win the Super Bowl while missing number 23.

However, the more pertinent question at present is whether the Packers can beat the Bengals without Alexander. The cornerback group will have their hands full this week, with Ja’Marr Chase presenting a real challenge as a true big-play threat and Tyler Boyd an underrated slot weapon for Chandon Sullivan, who has struggled at times, to try to contain.

Stokes has performed better than most people expected in his first few games after an up-and-down training camp, but without Alexander opposite him for the foreseeable future, he will need to continue his coming of age.

On the other hand, there may be a benefit to not having Alexander playing alongside Stokes. If the rookie fares well early on against the Bengals, Joe Burrow may stop throwing at him and try his luck somewhere else. With Alexander on the field, Stokes was getting targeted relentlessly no matter how well he played, because throwing at Alexander was simply not an option.

I actually like Stokes in a matchup with Chase, as his speed should be able to help erase the threat of an explosive play from the former LSU wide receiver. Stokes would be wise to heed the words of his defensive backs coach Jerry Gray, who said of giving up five-yard gains “who cares?”. Keeping Chase in front of him will be key for Stokes.

Of course, the Packers will also need Kevin King to be the best version of himself in this game and fill the veteran void left by Alexander. You never quite know what you’re going to get from King week to week, which is part of the frustration of his green and gold career. Against the Bengals and in the next few weeks, King must step up and produce the solid play he has shown at times previously.

Is Joe Mixon playing?

Joe Burrow has enjoyed an impressive start to his second season in the NFL and appears to be all the way back from the terrible knee injury which ended his rookie year, however, the availability of the Bengals’ talented running back Mixon will be key in this game.

A chain-moving running back is a great weapon for a young quarterback to have, and Mixon helps the Bengals stay ahead of the sticks and consistently keep the Bengals in favourable down and distance. That makes Burrow’s job much easier and leaves the entire playbook open.

If Mixon can’t go, the Packers’ defensive front will have a much better chance at limiting the Bengals’ running game. Successfully doing so could make the Bengals more predictable on offense and allow the Packers to get after Burrow. With the back-end of the defense compromised, it would be helpful if they didn’t have to cover for very long due to some help from their pass rush.

The Packers’ offensive line vs another strong front

The Bengals’ edge defenders do not possess the household names of Nick Bosa and T.J. Watt, but Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard have been causing offenses all kinds of problems in both the pass and the run game.

Hendrickson is eighth in the NFL in pass rush win rate so far, and Hubbard is the best edge defender in the league in terms of stopping the run. The middle of the Bengals’ defensive line is stout as well, leaving no obvious weakness for Green Bay to attack on the ground.

The Packers may be best-served giving A.J. Dillon plenty of the ball in this one and hoping he can turn small gains into bigger ones using brute force, and with Marquez Valdes-Scantling still missing, getting the ball out quickly in the passing game to the likes of Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Aaron Jones could be their best plan of attack.

The offensive line continues to be depleted by injuries, as Matt LaFleur confirmed Josh Myers will not be available for Sunday’s trip to Cincinnati. On a more positive note, Elgton Jenkins appears to have a chance of returning from his ankle injury, and the Packers could really use him in this game.

Whether Jenkins does in fact play and whether he lines up back at left tackle or at center remains to be seen, but having their best offensive lineman not named David Bakhtiari would be a huge boost for the Packers.

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Mark Oldacres is a sports writer from Birmingham, England and a Green Bay Packers fan. You can follow him on twitter at @Marko7LW

3 points

Comments (11)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Lphill's picture

October 09, 2021 at 03:11 pm

Give Stokes safety help with Chase , if 13timesachump approves of course .

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JohnnyLogan's picture

October 09, 2021 at 06:10 pm

Chase, Boyd, and you never even mentioned Tee Higgens. As for never knowing what you'll get with King?... really? I know.

Rodgers and the offense will have to score almost every possession and try to sustain long drives to keep their offense off the field.

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Coldworld's picture

October 10, 2021 at 08:58 am

Play him in off coverage on the boundary and the odds are good he will struggle. Let him play his natural game and he might have a better chance.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

October 09, 2021 at 06:14 pm

So that's a fun little website. GB has given up 7 explosive plays against the pass (at least with Alexander playing). Here are the number of explosive plays teams on GB's schedule this year have given up in the first four games:

NO: 15 (2 by GB with two more at 19 yds, but those don't count). NO has problems.
Det: 19 (2 by GB). Det has problems with 17 in 3 other games.
SF: 12 (2 by GB).
PIT: 6 (4 by GB). Just 2 in the other 3 games against Buf, LV, and Cincy.
CHI: 14
WAS: 11
ARI: 7
KC: 15
SEA: 10
MIN: 14
LAR: 12
BAL: 14
CLE: 12

TB: 18
Buf: 6
Car: 11
Dal: 19
Den: 12
Ten: 16
LV: 9

I got tired of this. But 12 doesn't sound nearly as bad as it initially sounded. 12.33 is the average and the median.

Checked 22 teams and only 8 have fewer than 12 explosive passes allowed, and two of those allowed 11. And I didn't check some of the terrible teams and teams i can't work up interest in. The GB offense only has produced 10 explosive plays, which is in line with fan's perception that AR missed a couple.

Cincy allowed 12 and has produced 10 explosive passing plays, the same number as GB.

https://www.sharpfootballstats.com/explosive-passes-visualized--def-.html

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PatrickGB's picture

October 09, 2021 at 06:44 pm

Methinks that those numbers go up for both teams tomorrow. Even though both teams can and want to run the ball, the temptation to throw the ball might be irresistible. A high scoring game and down to the wire shootout would not be a surprise.

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Leatherhead's picture

October 09, 2021 at 10:32 pm

I actually have some questions about some of the author’s hopes/wishes.

🤔. If Cincinnati is a below average run team (with Mixon hurt)…AND they’re a little above average at passing, why do we want them to pass more against our depleted secondary?

🤔. Last week, we had no Jenkins and an injured Myers. This week, we could have a rested Jenkins but no Myers. If Jenkins is a better player than Myers, doesn’t that mean our line should be better this week?

🤫 This is our plan on defense. Priority #1 is preventing chunk plays. Without several of them, Cincinnati cannot score enough points to win. They can’t get to 30 unless we help them. We’ll play a lot of man with Stokes, King, and Sullivan, with deep help by Amos, Savage, and sometimes a third safety. We’ll get a couple of takeaways. and there’ll be a couple of punts, so the Bengals will have to score on half their drives. In the last three games, we’ve held our opponents to 17, 28, (should have been 21), and 17, and I don’t think the Bengals are going to do any better.

🙏 Packers win, 33-20

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croatpackfan's picture

October 10, 2021 at 01:28 am

As I already stated, I like optimists. .

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Spock's picture

October 10, 2021 at 06:50 am

I do too (I'm an optimist myself). Of course I've heard that the definition of an Optimist as a Pessimist who has more facts, lol. If the Packers are as well coached as last game I see a W.

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egbertsouse's picture

October 10, 2021 at 07:34 am

You got it backwards..

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ricky's picture

October 09, 2021 at 11:54 pm

One member of the Bengals has already called this game a "statement game." That the Bengals haven't really beaten a team with a winning record, and want to prove they're real by beating the Packers. Similar to the Packers v 49ers on their turf. Don't be too sure about this game. Cincy is going to be fired up, with a chip on their shoulder and with something to prove. If the Packers don't bring their "A game", especially on offense, this could be a much closer game than some think.

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egbertsouse's picture

October 10, 2021 at 07:36 am

Winners find a way to win and losers find a way to lose. I’m confident the Bungles will find a way to screw it up.

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