Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers travel to take on the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3 of the NFL season.
The Green Bay Packers got victory No. 1 against the Washington Redskins in Week 2. This week the Packers go on the road to take on the Cincinnati Bengals, who are also coming off a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football.
Both the Packers and Bengals were expected to be two of the better teams heading into the 2013 season. While they haven't disappointed through the first two weeks, neither team has looked as impressive as they should, either.
This week's matchup will be a great gauge for both teams moving forward. The winner will likely be considered in the upper echelon of NFL teams, while the loser will have an uphill battle to make a playoffs.
Let's take an in-depth look at Green Bay's game plan for this big Week 3 battle.
The Competitive Edge
Quarterback: Instead of taking steps forward, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton appears to moving in the wrong direction. He missed numerous throws against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2. As for the Packers, no quarterback has looked as dominant as Aaron Rodgers did last week. Big advantage for Green Bay in this area.
Running Backs: While the Packers got their first 100-yard rusher in nearly three years last week, the Bengals still get the edge. Rookie Giovani Bernard had a solid game last week with two total touchdowns and BenJarvus Green-Ellis is still a solid back. The Bengals aren't likely to run the ball too often, but they'll be more successful than the Packers when they do.
Wide Receivers: This is the closest group out of all of them. Green Bay boasts Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones. The Bengals boast A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu and Brandon Tate. While Green is the best of the bunch, the Packers have more depth.
Tight Ends: If Jermichael Finley continues to play at the level that he has to start the season, he could end the year as a top-five tight end. However, that's still 14 games away. As of right now, the combination of Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert is a better duo than Finley.
Offensive Line: The Bengals boast two legitimate Pro Bowlers in guard Kevin Zeitler and tackle Andre Smith. The Packers potentially boast one in guard Josh Sitton, but he's been surprisingly bad this season. Give the edge to Cincinnati here.
Defensive Line: This one isn't even close. While the Packers' defensive line has been playing better than last year, they are nowhere near as talented as the Bengals. Cincinnati has the best defensive tackle in the game in Geno Atkins and two solid pass-rushing defensive ends in Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap. Advantage Bengals.
Linebackers: This might be the closest battle of the group. The Bengals have a great group of starters who understand their role within the defense. The Packers may have more overall talent at linebacker, but they've failed to play up to level of their talent. It's definitely a close battle, but Cincinnati gets the slight edge.
Secondary: If Morgan Burnett and Casey Hayward were healthy, the Packers would have the advantage. However, they aren't and that means the Packers will throw the same secondary on the field that has been dominated in the first two weeks of the season. While the Bengals' secondary isn't great, it's easily better than the Packers as of right now.
Special Teams: Cobb's ability in the return game gives Green Bay the slight edge. Punter and kicker is basically a wash at their respective positions, but Tim Masthay of the Packers is the best tackler of the group.
Packers offense vs. Bengals defense
The Packers offense usually has the advantage against any defense in the league, but that might not be the case this week. The Bengals defense is ridiculously talented against both the run and the pass.
The key matchup will be the interior offensive line for the Packers squaring off against the defensive line of Cincinnati. More specifically, how will the Packers slow down the All-Pro Atkins?
He's so disruptive against the run, and with his ability to put consistent pressure on the quarterback, he is truly a game-changing player. With Sitton, T.J. Land and Evan Dietrich-Smith playing rather unimpressive football through the first two weeks, Atkins has the potential to completely dominate on Sunday.
However, if the Packers can slow down Atkins, they should be able to have success in both the run and pass game like they did last week. The Bengals simply don't have the talent at cornerback and safety to match up with the likes of Cobb, Nelson, Jones and Finley. Even if they can slow down one of those receivers, Rodgers is so good at finding whoever is open that Green Bay is almost guaranteed to have success through the air.
The wild card will be whether Green Bay can continue to have success on the ground like they did in Week 2 against the Redskins. James Starks was an extremely pleasant surprise in that game, and if he runs with the same decisiveness that he did last week, it could be a long day for the Bengals defensively.
Packers defense vs. Bengals offense
There is no doubting that the Bengals offense has the potential to be extremely explosive, but that hasn't quite happened through the first two weeks of the season. They've been pedestrian at best in both the run and pass game.
However, they've also played two much better defenses than the Packers defense in the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers. While Green Bay may be able to slow down the ground game of Cincinnati, it's unlikely that they'll be overly successful against the pass.
The Bengals simply have too many weapons for the Packers to completely slow them down. The big question mark will be the overall play of Dalton. Through two weeks, Dalton has graded out as the 21st-best quarterback, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
While he hasn't had as big of an impact as the Bengals would have liked to see, he's still got an immense amount of receivers and talented running backs to showcase in the passing game. All he needs to do is get hot and it will become another long day for the secondary.
If the Packers can have even a little success at slowing down Dalton and Co., their defense will have a great shot at keeping them in the game.
Last week the Packers gave Cobb some more opportunities in the return game. It clearly didn't take away from his ability in the offense, as he still recorded nine receptions, 128 yards and a touchdown. If the Packers want to win the special teams battle, they'll need Cobb back there returning punts and kicks.
Neither kicker or punter for either team is overly talented, although Mason Crosby has proved capable of missing field goals in bunches at times. He's been surprisingly good this year, but could come crashing back down to Earth at any moment.
Wednesday Injury Report Analysis
Wednesday's injury report from Jason Wilde at ESPN.com is a little longer than last week.
#Packers injury report: Burnett - limited Bush - DNP Finley- DNP Hayward - OUT Jolly - Full Kuhn - DNP Lacy - DNP.— Jason Wilde (@jasonjwilde) September 18, 2013
Lacy shouldn't come as a surprise. The team hasn't had too much to say about his timetable as of yet. The most likely outcome is that he won't play this week and with a bye week in Week 4, the Packers will hope to get him back for Week 5.
Finley was listed on last Wednesday's injury report, but still played in Week 2, and played rather well. The big concern and question, once again, is safety Morgan Burnett, who was limited last week and didn't play.
Much like Lacy, don't be surprised if the Packers don't push Burnett back onto the field this week and wait until after their bye week to have him suit up.
The Packers Will Win If...
The secondary plays its best game yet.
There is no doubting the amount of talent that the Bengals have at wide receiver and tight end. In fact, this will easily be the most talented group of receivers that the Packers have played this season. That's some bad news considering how vanilla the secondary has been this year.
Will the Packers Beat the Bengals?
Tramon Williams and Sam Shields are going to need to be successful at slowing down the Bengals' top receivers. They simply can't allow another 200-yard receiving game like they did in Week 1.
While the receivers will certainly be a handful, the big threat for the Packers secondary is going to be the tight end combo of Gresham and Eifert. Both of those players are immensely talented and will be the biggest test for the linebackers and safeties yet.
Simply put, the secondary is going to need to have its best game of the season this week if Green Bay wants to go into Cincinnati and come out with a win.