NFL Preview - Cincinnati (0-1) at Green Bay (1-0)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Green Bay Packers erased the awful memories of last season's 6-10 finish by pulling out an exciting win over the NFC North-rival Chicago Bears in a Week 1 thriller at Lambeau Field. The Packers hope they won't have to use the two-minute drill this Sunday, when the team faces the Cincinnati Bengals in its second straight home game.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers orchestrated a five-play, 72-yard drive in the final minutes of last Sunday's 21-15 victory over the Bears and connected with Greg Jennings for a 50-yard touchdown with 1:11 to play to give Green Bay the lead. A Packers team that was 0-7 in games decided by four points or less last season rebounded this time for the 14th win in its past 19 tries at Lambeau Field.
Head coach Mike McCarthy was impressed with Rodgers' poise in the pocket, even though he was sacked four times and knocked down on nine occasions, but the offense still had a slow start and produced just 104 yards at the half. Green Bay must get out of the gates quickly against Cincinnati in what could be another back-and-forth affair decided by turnovers.
McCarthy's defense registered four interceptions of Bears new quarterback Jay Cutler which led to seven points and sacked the former Denver Bronco twice. Cornerback Al Harris sealed the victory with a pick late in the game for Green Bay, which led all NFL teams with 124 points off takeaways in 2008. The Packers' defense is favored to have another big day with hopes of starting a season 2-0 for a third consecutive year.
While the Packers won late in stirring fashion on Sunday, the Bengals were victimized by a fluke play in their season-opening loss to Denver. Broncos wideout Brandon Stokley caught a tipped pass by Cincinnati defensive back Leon Hall and raced 87 yards with only 11 seconds remaining to give Denver a 12-7 win at a shocked Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals headed into this season with such promise after winning their last three games of a disastrous 4-11-1 campaign, but that optimism was dashed in a matter of seconds last week. It's just one game for head coach Marvin Lewis, but he knows every one counts after he fell to 3-3 in season openers.
Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer played in just four games last season because of a nagging elbow injury, and was in rusty form versus the Broncos. Palmer passed for 247 yards, but was picked off twice and sacked three times.
Cedric Benson scored the lone touchdown for Cincinnati and had a fairly decent day, gaining 76 yards and a score on 21 touches before defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer saw his secondary come up short in pass defense. Zimmer's unit is in for a treat at Lambeau Field against Rodgers and his gun-slinging right arm.
In a more interesting side story, Bengals flamboyant wide receiver Chad Ochocinco vowed to do a "Lambeau Leap" into the crowd if he scores a touchdown on Sunday. Ochocinco did just that in Cleveland a few years ago and was doused with beer by the opposing fans. Ochocinco should expect the same kind of treatment this time around if he's able to beat Green Bay's secondary.
The all-time series between the Bengals and Packers is knotted, 5-5, with Cincinnati evening the series by virtue of a 21-14 home victory in the most recent meeting, in 2005. The Packers won the previous matchup, a 13-6 affair at Riverfront Stadium in 1998. Cincinnati is 2-4 in series road games all- time, but is 0-4 at Lambeau Field including a 24-10 loss its their last visit there, in 1995. The team's road wins came in Milwaukee in 1977 and 1986.
Lewis is 1-0 in his career against the Packers, while McCarthy will be meeting both Lewis and Cincinnati for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL
Palmer (247 passing yards, 2 INT) hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since October 5 of last season and still looked a bit shaky against Denver. He was sacked three times and picked off twice, giving him six interceptions over his last five games. Palmer, a Pro Bowl pick in 2005 and 2006, is 7-17 in his last 24 starts and has a tall task with Green Bay and Pittsburgh on the horizon. The former USC star, however, scorched the Packers for 237 yards and three touchdowns in his only start against them, back on October 30, 2005. Palmer still has the connection with Ochocinco (5 receptions), who had 89 receiving yards last Sunday. He had his best game since catching four passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns in a win at Miami on December 30, 2007. The speedy wideout is second in the NFL with 8,665 receiving yards since 2002. Second- year receiver Andre Caldwell had a career-high six catches for 54 yards last week, while veteran Laveranues Coles had one and a few drops in his Bengals debut. Wideout Chris Henry (18 yards) shined through the preseason, but finished with only one reception.
The Bengals passed for 221 yards against the Broncos, while Green Bay surrendered 266 yards and one score to the Bears but got solid play from Harris (8 tackles, 1 INT), who came away with the late pick to seal the win. Free safety Nick Collins (2 tackles, 1 INT) and reserve cornerback Tramon Williams (2 tackles, 1 INT) had the other interceptions for the secondary. Williams also recorded a team-high three passes defensed. With safety Atari Bigby (6 tackles) out for about four weeks with a knee injury, Aaron Rouse (3 tackles) gets the starting nod on Sunday. He saw plenty of action in the opener and expects to see a lot of passes thrown his way from Palmer and the Bengals. Corner Will Blackmon didn't play Sunday with a quad injury, but is expected to be available this week.
Benson (76 rushing yards, 1 TD) had the Paul Brown Stadium crowd in a frenzy with his one-yard touchdown run with 38 seconds remaining, before the freaky play by Denver spoiled the mood. He is in his first full season as a starter with Cincy and is averaging 90.4 rushing yards when he carries the ball 20 or more times. With how bad the pass offense was in Week 1, Benson has a good chance to hit that mark in Green Bay. Cincinnati posted only 3.2 yards per rush attempt, though, against a Denver ground defense that ended 27th in that category a year ago. Running back Brian Leonard (6 yards) saw action in the Wildcat formation in last week's loss. Rookie tackle Andre Smith (foot) is out for Sunday's game and left guard Nate Livings may also miss with a knee injury.
Dom Capers' Green Bay defense posted two sacks of Cutler and recorded seven points off turnovers on Sunday. Defensive end Johnny Jolly (8 tackles, 1 INT) had an interception, while defensive end Cullen Jenkins (6 tackles, 1 sack) and linebacker Brandon Chillar (8 tackles, sack) each applied the pressure with a sack apiece. Sack master Aaron Kampman (6 tackles) did not get into the backfield as much from his outside linebacker position, however. Steady linebackers A.J. Hawk (5 tackles) and Nick Barnett (3 tackles) were in midseason form, with Barnett on the field for the first time since Week 10 of last season, when he tore a knee ligament against Minnesota. Capers hopes to have No. 9 overall draft pick B.J. Raji on the field Sunday after he missed last week's game with an ankle problem. The bulky defensive tackle, who is expected to be a plug up front when healthy, was back at practice on Wednesday.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
Rodgers (184 passing yards, 1 TD) completed 17-of-28 passes against the Bears and could have an even better day versus Cincinnati's defensive backfield. McCarthy hopes that his line will better protect Green Bay's star signal- caller, after right tackle Allen Barbre had trouble with Chicago ends Adewale Ogunleye and Mark Anderson in his first NFL start. Jennings (6 receptions, 106 yards, TD) was the hero Sunday after battling through a wrist problem during the week. The deep threat has looked good so far after his breakout 2008 campaign which landed him a long-term deal in the offseason. Fellow wideout Donald Driver caught four passes Sunday and needs 107 receiving yards to surpass Sterling Sharpe (8,134) for second place on the franchise's all-time list. Driver has a catch in 112 straight games, the longest streak in Packers history.
Besides Stokley's game-changing play, Cincinnati played relatively well against Kyle Orton and Denver's passing game last Sunday. The Bengals held enigmatic receiver Brandon Marshall in check, limiting the strong wideout to 27 yards on four catches. Safety Roy Williams (9 tackles) looked better in coverage, but the secondary didn't post any interceptions. Hall (2 tackles) registered a team-best three pass breakups, but couldn't come up with the one that landed in Stokley's hands. Jennings and Driver are much better all-around receivers and will make Cincy pay for sloppy defense. Cornerback David Jones (foot) is listed as out for Sunday's tilt, with Johnathan Joseph (tackle) likely to get the start.
Packers running back Ryan Grant (61 rushing yards, 1 TD) carried the ball 16 times last week and will most likely see around the same number of touches versus the Bengals. Grant has enjoyed success at Lambeau Field, having posted 100 rushing yards or more in four of the past six home games. Green Bay is 7-1 when Grant totes the football 22 or more times in a game. New linemen Barbre, right guard Josh Sitton and center Jason Spitz should have a challenge making holes against a formidable Cincy front line.
Cincinnati has a talented trio of linebackers, including outside starters and former USC stars Keith Rivers and rookie Rey Maualuga, to chase down Grant. Maualuga (8 tackles) had a solid NFL debut and showed his quickness and ball- hawking skills on a few occasions. Rivers (5 tackles) has been helping his one-time college teammate get adjusted to the professional ranks, and so far has been doing a good job. Middle linebacker Dhani Jones (4 tackles) has revived his career with Bengals and has improved in pass coverage over the past few years. The Bengals stopped Denver on 9-of-12 tries on third down last week, and Zimmer has a few blitz packages in store for Rodgers. Right defensive end Antwan Odom (4 tackles) tied a career-high with a pair of sacks and fellow end Robert Geathers (3 tackles) will be coming from the other end. Tackles Domata Peko and Tank Johnson (2 tackles) helped keep the Broncos to 75 yards rushing.
Green Bay has a few fantasy studs this year and must-starts every week in Rodgers, Jennings and Grant. All three will get their numbers for owners each week barring injury. Go with Driver for this matchup with the Bengals at home, and the same goes for the Packers defense. Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby is battling an abdomen injury this week, but should be ready to go by Sunday. Cincinnati has a tough road matchup for the owners of Palmer and Ochocinco. Go with the flamboyant wideout and his counterpart Henry this week, however. Benson is a must-start every week.
The Packers will win this game because they play so well at home in front of the feisty Green Bay fans, but Cincinnati will make it a tough ride. The Bengals have a chip on their shoulder this week after having a win stolen from them on an awkward play in the waning moments. Their main concern is whether Palmer can stand the pressure and have enough time to find his receivers Ochocinco and Henry will be open often this weekend at Lambeau, and they need Palmer at his best. Grant and Jennings led the Packers in Week 1 and will try to do so again versus a similar defense with a solid group of linebackers. Green Bay forced enough turnovers against the rival Bears to hold on for a win, something the unit will rely on once more on Sunday.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 27, Bengals 23
09/17 18:49:08 ET