The Packers will be traveling light to Cincinnati for the week three matchup with the Bengals. Barely a carry on for Mike McCathy what with his running back and secondary units thinned by injury. Mike's dilemma is whether or not to play the guys who have barely practiced or just shut 'em down for one more Sunday, giving them all two more weeks to heal with the early bye next week. McCarthy would have none of that at Thursday's media session, saying all available bodies will dress. So who won't be available? Casey Hayward has already been scratched for a third straight week because of his hamstring pull suffered in training camp. Morgan Burnett has been limited again with his hammy and McCarthy admitted he's a stretch to play. Jarrett Bush and John Kuhn are also suffering from the injury of the month and haven't practiced. Then there's Eddie Lacy, off rubber leg street after his concussion last week but as of Friday, still hadn't passed the league's protocol for concussions.
That leaves the Packers with James Starks, he of a 132 yard effort against Washington, and rookie Johnathan Franklin in the backfield. Playing with only two backs is a dangerous gamble that cost the Packers two years ago in Kansas City, their only regular season loss that year. The way the offense is throwing the ball, it might not matter. Aaron Rodgers is putting up 381 yards a game, coming off the 480 yard effort against the Redskins. Against the powerhouse pass rush of the Bengals, and the maniacal blitzing tendencies of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, watch for Rodgers to get the ball out of his hand quickly, and into the hands of his prolific perimeter corps and watch 'em run. The 295 yards after the catch last week was the second most in NFL history. Cincinnati is stingy against the run, allowing just 62 yards a game so far. McCarthy will play to his strength on Sunday.
As for the defense, the patchwork collection of defensive backs fared pretty well last week until they allowed some 4th quarter garbage yards. It was a much more physical approach to coverage and they'll need more of that against the Bengals passing game which features one of the up and coming wide receivers in the league in A.J. Green. At least the quarterback won't be a read option, scrambling threat. Andy Dalton is more of a pocket passer who has a decent run game with Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis, the banger, and Giovani Bernard, the rookie slasher. What's really helped the Cincy offense is the addition of draft pick Tyler Eifert. Teamed with Jermaine Gresham, the Bengals love the short passing game to the backs and tight ends to set up the deep shot with Green. Creating pressure against the more stationary Dalton and finding ways to get turnovers will make life easier on the road.
The coach and a select group of players offer their thoughts on the Sunday matchup at Paul Brown Stadium:
Cincinnati appears to be the pretty girl with the curl in the AFC this year. Having reached the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, only to get run out by the Texans in Houston. With the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens roster overhauled, the Pittsburgh Steelers in decline and the Cleveland Browns being, well, the Cleveland Browns, Marvin Lewis' club is now a favorite for the AFC North title. They're a good team, but far from a great team. I'm not saying the Packers are great, yet, but I believe they'll have enough to avoid a two week sour taste through the bye, to get a hard earned, road victory. My pick? Packers 27 Bengals 23.