The Cincinnati Bengals have a huge test this weekend hosting Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. The Packers are seen nationally as a legit Super Bowl contender. They have a Hall of Fame quarterback and went 13-3 last season, advancing all the way to the NFC Championship.
While the starting the season 3-1 is not in-line with national narrative about the Bengals, it is not shocking either. Beating the Packers would turn some heads and change some minds.
So what do the Bengals need to do to win?
Come Out Swinging
The Bengals have been slow-starters this season. In fact, they have only scored one first quarter touchdown this season. They need to come out of the gates strong this week and put points on the board early. Last week they started the game with an impressive drive, but a penalty put them in a long yardage situation and after missing a field goal, they came away with nothing.
Despite the 14-0 first half deficit, the Bengals were still able to beat the Jaguars. It would be a lot harder to erase that deficit against the Packers.
Extra long situations are downs with distances of 10+ yards to go. As mentioned above, a Ja’Marr Chase offensive pass interference penalty on third-and-eight last week led to third-and-18. On third down they ran a screen play, essentially playing to set up the field goal.
The problem is that they still don’t have confidence that their offensive line can protect in obvious passing situations.
That’s why later in the first half, much to the chagrin of fans, they ran the ball on second-and-16 after Joe Burrow sack.
They need to avoid sacks and penalties that put them behind the chains, but when they do get in these situations, they need to be able to trust their protections.
On the final drive of last week they were able to survive these situations. A false start led them to first-and-15, but they converted with a pass to Samaje Perine. Later on, a holding call pushed them back to first-and-20, but Burrow completed a seven-yard pass to Tyler Boyd. The next play he checked to a screen pass to C.J. Uzomah which gained 25 yards and put the offense in game-winning field goal range.
The Bengals need to stay out of these long-yardage situations whenever possible, but when they occur they need to have the confidence in their pass protection to overcome.
Run to Win
Remember Zac Taylor’s vision for this offense. Light box: Run. Heavy box: Pass.
If the Bengals can run the ball effectively, the Packers will be forced to put an extra player in the box. This will give Ja’Marr Chase or Tee Higgins one-on-one match-ups on the outside.
Ironically, despite there being more people closer to the quarterback, running the ball effectively makes pass protection easier because it prevents pass rushers from simply teeing off on the quarterback.
Run the ball to set up big plays in the passing game.
Move the Chains
This year too many Bengals’ drives have ended without a single first down. The offense can’t get into a rhythm if they can’t stay on the field, but as we have seen when this offense gets moving it is hard to stop.
Just as important is the impact on the defense. When the offense goes three-and-out, the defense doesn’t get any rest. Despite the nice defensive rotation the Bengals’ have up front, this will eventually wear them down and lead to points for the opposition.
The Bengals’ defense has been impressive this season, but like any other defense they have had a few letdowns. This cannot happen against Rodgers, because he will expose it.
Fortunately it looks like the Bengals’ secondary could be at full capacity for the first time this season with Trae Waynes playing in his second game as a Bengal and Jessie Bates and Chidobe Awuzie likely returning from injury. This group will be tested, and they need to deliver. If they can perform against a Rodgers it bodes well for the Bengals’ chances against other top quarterbacks as the season progresses.