Packers at Bengals: 5 storylines to watch in today’s game at Paul Brown Stadium

Green Bay Packers' Aaron Jones runs between Pittsburgh Steelers' Joe Haden and Terrell Edmunds during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
Caption
Green Bay Packers' Aaron Jones runs between Pittsburgh Steelers' Joe Haden and Terrell Edmunds during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

Credit: Matt Ludtke

Credit: Matt Ludtke

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals have made some noise with their fast start to the season, but face their biggest test to date today at Paul Brown Stadium .

Coming off two straight wins against Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, the Bengals (3-1) host the two-time defending NFC North champion Green Bay Packers (3-1) at 1 p.m..

The wins against the Steelers (1-3) and Jaguars (0-4) were important for the Bengals to clear past hurdles at Pittsburgh and in primetime within a five-day span, but Green Bay no doubt will be the biggest test to date. The Packers went to NFC championship games the past two years and have been dominant this season since a lopsided loss to New Orleans in the opener.

Here are five storylines to watch today:

1. Avoiding a slow start

The Bengals have totaled seven points over the first quarter of their four games this season, and they’ve had to earn two of their wins on field goals as time expired – including the first one in overtime. That likely won’t fly against the Packers, who have scored 30.7 points per game over their last three outings and are sixth in net defense.

Quarterback Joe Burrow said the Packers are too good of a team to have to try to come back against.

“We’ve just got to execute better,” said Burrow. “Execute better on third down, be more efficient on first and second down. We haven’t scored many points, if any, in the first quarter that I can remember. We’ve got to be better in that area. Once we get that, we’ll be rolling.”

2. Eye on Aaron Rodgers

Veteran Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers was the 2020 league MVP and one of the best quarterbacks in the game over the last decade-plus.

He’ll test the Bengals secondary, especially with wide receiver Davante Adams, but also will force the defense to be extremely disciplined as he has a way of drawing teams into penalties or catching them not ready.

“Just always watch the ball,” nose guard D.J. Reader said. “You don’t want to be late, but you want to be right on the ball. That’s just part of discipline. That’s what we have to be on. Everybody has to be disciplined and know what we got going on. He’s really good at getting people during substitutions and stuff like that. Stuff that you have to be very, very high alert. He’s a smart guy. He plays the game within the game, and he can make all the throws. He’s just a really good quarterback.”

3. Will Joe Mixon play?

The Bengals could be without Joe Mixon after he injured his ankle on the last drive of their win against Jacksonville in Week 4. He didn’t practice all week and is listed as questionable, but coach Zac Taylor said Mixon would be tested Saturday to see if he could play Sunday.

If he’s unable to play, that leaves Samaje Perine and Chris Evans to carry the load. Evans is more of a pass catcher, but the Bengals insist he will also be an option running the ball. He’s had limited snaps so far and no carries.

“Our plays have just been limited,” Taylor said when asked about those two needing more of a work load. “We’ve been pretty balanced running and throwing and Joe is still only getting sometimes 16 to 20 carries and so I’m not concerned about that load right now, but certainly we feel like we’ve got depth in the back field to get those guys opportunities when the opportunity comes up.”

The Packers have been allowing opponents just 102.0 rushing yards per game (ranked 12th).

4. Other injuries of note

The Bengals have some other somewhat alarming injuries that popped up this week. Center Trey Hopkins, who returned from a 2020 season finale ACL tear to open this season healthy, was out Wednesday for what Taylor originally said was going to be a veteran’s day off, but then he also didn’t practice Thursday and was limited Friday. He’s listed as questionable because of his knee.

Cornerback Trae Waynes showed up on the injury report as limited Thursday and Friday because of a hamstring injury, which had sidelined him to start the season, but he is expected to play despite being listed as questionable. Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi was listed as questionable as well because of a knee issue and illness. Rookie backup guard D’Ante Smith (illness) and wide receiver Mike Thomas (ankle) are questionable and doubtful, respectively, and guard Xavier Su’a-Filo is out and going on injured reserve.

For the Packers, three significant starters are out: Cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder), center Josh Myers (finger) and linebacker Chauncey Rivers (injured reserve). Guard/tackle Elgton Jenkins (ankle) and Dennis Kelly (illness) are questionable.

Myers, a Miamisburg native who played at Ohio State and was drafted in the second round this year, has been playing through a finger issue but was told he needed to be shut down for at least this week, according to reports from Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur.

5. Stopping the run

As much as has been said about Rodgers and the Packers’ passing game, they have shown capable at times in the running game with Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, so the Bengals need to keep up their early success stopping the ground attack.

Jones was limited all week by an ankle injury but isn’t listed on the game status report as a question, and Dillon has returned from a back injury and practiced in full all week. Jones has 206 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 56 carries and adds 126 yards receiving.

The Bengals allow just 93.5 rushing yards per game, ranking ninth best in the league against the run.


TODAY’S GAME

Packers at Bengals, 1 p.m., Fox, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7