If there is one frustration that Bengals fans have to have through the first two weeks of the NFL season, it has to be that the team has suffered many self-inflicted mistakes. In week one against the Bears, there were three turnovers--two interceptions and a fumble--and the team still only lost by three points on the road to a solid Chicago squad. Last Monday versus the Steelers, the Bengals cleaned up the turnovers, but had many shoot-themselves-in-the-foot penalties that could have really hurt them. Luckily, Pittsburgh didn't capitalize on them and the Bengals came through with a ten-point win.
Now, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers come to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday and Cincinnati faces its biggest test in quite some time. Both teams have high aspirations this year and the media has been high on both squads for the 2013 season. Though the season will be far from over after this week three matchup, it does mark a pivotal point in each team's direction the rest of the way.
Like Cincinnati, Green Bay is 1-1, with their lone loss a one-possession heartbreaker on the road. Unlike the Bengals, however, the Packers have relied on a high-flying offense in both games led by Rodgers and his potent supporting cast, averaging 33 points per game. That's not to say that the Bengals and their 40 total points this year haven't had their moments, but they aren't where the Packers are on that side of the ball right now.
Conversely, the Packers aren't where the Bengals are on defense, either. Sure, they have some big-name players in Clay Matthews, Jr., B.J. Raji and the emerging second-year cornerback Casey Heyward, but the unit just isn't as balanced as Mike Zimmer's stout group. So, basically the main battle on Sunday comes down to the Bengals defense being able to contain, if not shut down Rodgers and Co.
Few defenses are able to do that though, and the expectation should be held that Rodgers will make at least some plays on Sunday. After all, he did put up 28 points on the road against the vaunted 49ers defense in week one. However, the defense will need to do a couple of things in this game to help the Bengals avoid a shootout with Rodgers. A game like that won't play into Cincinnati's hands as much as it will for The Pack.
The defensive keys to this game are interrelated: create pressure/sacks on Rodgers and hopefully turn that into turnovers for the team. Rodgers has an innate ability to limit poor throws that could become interceptions, but with that also comes his willingness to take a sack. The Bengals' defensive front woke up against the Steelers after going M.I.A. in week one versus the Bears, so they will need to continue that momentum that they built last Monday night.
Even if the pressures just lead to punts and good field position for the offense, that's working in Cincinnati's favor. They need to find balance offensively and the Packers defense will inevitably give up points. A 23-17 game works well for the Bengals, whereas a 38-31 game doesn't really fit into what Cincinnati wants to do in this matchup.
The offensive keys are simply to cut out the above-mentioned mistakes that plagued the Bengals through the first two weeks. The three turnovers from week one and/or the nine penalties from week two play right into Rodgers' hands and will bury the Bengals if that should continue on Sunday. The Bengals playing clean offensive football keeps Rodgers off of the field and will let Cincinnati hold the ball and chew clock.
Obviously, a win is a win and you want to take one however one can get it. It's just that the chances of a Bengals victory have to lessen if they want to go toe-to-toe in a bombs away game with Rodgers. The Bengals need to play their brand of football, not Rodgers'.