There’s nothing more the Cincinnati Bengals would like to do than hit a reset button after starting 0-2 and begin the 2017 season anew, but they will have to settle for the next best thing Sunday at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers.
Firing offensive coordinator Ken Zampese on Sept. 15 and replacing him with quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor gives the Bengals the semblance of a fresh start as they look for their first win — and first touchdown — of the season.
On the other side of the ball, the Bengals No. 1-ranked pass defense will try to slow Aaron Rodgers and the potent Packers offense.
Here are six things to watch in Sunday’s game at historic Lambeau Field.
Don’t expect the offense to look drastically different with Lazor having just 10 nine days to put his stamp on it. But there should be some changes.
The most interesting thing to watch will be the running back rotation. Former offensive coordinator Ken Zampese tended to employ Jeremy Hill, Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard on a series by series basis, but it’s doubtful that will be the case under Lazor.
“We just have to find a rotation, as bad as it sounds, that works and one that we can get some guys going,” running backs coach Kyle Caskey said. “The way we’ve done it, not a whole lot of flow gets going with any of the guys so we’re working through that. We don’t feel that it’s been great the way that it’s been going.”
Through the first two games, Mixon has 17 carries (45 yards), Hill 12 (50 yards) and Bernard 12 (43 yards).
It will be interesting to see if each back is given a more defined role, such as making Mixon the starter, Bernard the third-down back and Hill the short-yardage and red-zone option.
The forgotten back on the roster has been H-back Ryan Hewitt. In Hue Jackson’s offense, Hewitt played 43.8 percent of the snaps in 2014, and was a big reason why Hill ran for 1,124 yards.
Hewitt played 35.6 percent of the snaps in 2015, but he usage plummeted when Jackson left for Cleveland and Zampese took over. Hewitt played just 20.2 percent of the snaps in 2016, and he’s been on the field for just 12.8 percent through the first two games in 2017.
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The Bengals haven’t scored a touchdown in 120 minutes and counting, making them the first team since the 1939 Philadelphia Eagles to fail to score a touchdown at home in the first two games of a season.
Only once in franchise history have the Bengals have failed to score a touchdown in three consecutive games. That was in 1978 when they lost 21-0 at Miami, 10-3 against New England at home and 5-0 at Buffalo in Weeks 6-8.
Despite not yet reaching the end zone in 2017, the Bengals have already assured themselves of not setting a team record for fewest points in the first three games of a season. The 2000 team scored seven in the opener before getting blanked in back-to-back games.
And the 2017 Bengals are still well short of the NFL record of longest drought without a touchdown to start a season. That dubious mark is owned by the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who didn’t reach the end zone 238 minutes and 11 seconds, finally reaching the end zone on a 44-yard fumble return with 1:49 left in their fourth game.
Defensive tackle Geno Atkins has at least half a sack in six consecutive games, which is not only tied with Reggie Williams, Eddie Edwards and Carlos Dunlap for the team record, but the longest active streak in the league.
“He’s been unbelievable,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said of Atkins. “It’s hard to believe he could get any better, but he has.”
Atkins has three sacks through the first two games, which is tied for third in the league. And he’s done it for a team that has yet to hold a lead through the first 120 minutes of the season while defending a league-high 77 rush attempts.
Imagine the production if the Bengals ever get a lead.
“I know,” Guenther said. “That’ll be scary.”
As impressive as Atkins’ streak has been, with 7.5 sacks in the six games, he’s only halfway to the NFL record of 12 consecutive games with at least half a sack, set by Tennessee’s Jevon Kearse from Oct. 31, 1999, to Sept. 10, 2000.
The Bengals also own the longest active team mark for most consecutive games with a sack with 31. Washington is the next closest with 26. The team record is 50, set from Nov. 8, 1981, to Sept. 15, 1985).
The NFL record is 69, set by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from Oct. 10, 1999, to Nov. 9, 2003.
While the Bengals will be without a couple of offensive weapons in tight end Tyler Eifert (back) and wide receiver John Ross (knee), the Packers have an even larger injury report.
The team has nine players that will be game-time decisions, eight of which are starters. Left tackle David Bakhtiari (hamstring), wide receiver Randall Cobb (chest), linebackers Jake Ryan (hamstring/concussion) and Nick Perry (hand) and defensive tackle Mike Daniels (hip) are all listed as doubtful, which means they have a 25 percent chance of playing.
Bakhtiari and right tackle Bryan Bulaga (ankle), who is questionable, missed the Atlanta game, and the Falcons defensive line took advantage with three sacks and seven quarterback hits. If both tackles are out again, the Packers will be extremely thin on the offensive line, which could create an opportunity for Hamilton High School graduate Adam Pankey to make his NFL debut.
Packers leading receiver Jordy Nelson (quad) also is questionable.
The inactive lists for both teams will be announced at 2:55.
Green Bay’s 218 victories at Lambeau Field are the most by any NFL team at one stadium, but the success the Packers have had at the 60-year-old venue goes well beyond its longevity.
The Packers have been dominant at Lambeau of late. Since 2014, they are 20-5 at home, and that .800 winning percentage is second in the league to Denver (21-5, .808).
Since 2009 when the Bengals scored a 31-24 victory at Lambeau, the Packers are 12-3 at home against AFC opponents, with the dozen victories coming by an average of 17.3 points.
And since 2006, the Packers have outscored AFC opponents by 178 points at Lambeau, ranking first among NFC teams.
Cincinnati Bengals (0-2) vs. Green Bay Packers (1-1)
When: 4:25 p.m. Sunday
Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisc.
TV: Ch. 7, 12
Radio: 1530-AM, 102.7-FM, 104.7-FM