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Matchup Problems For The Packers Vs. The Bengals Defense

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Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy may have their hands full with the Bengals defense this week. Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images.
Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy may have their hands full with the Bengals defense this week. Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images.

The Green Bay Packers offense is riding high coming off its thrashing of the Washington Redskins defense last Sunday. Expect a significant drop-off this week when the Packers travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals.

If I’m head coach Mike McCarthy or Aaron Rodgers, I’d be terrified of the Bengals defense. It’s got matchup problems written all over it.

We’ve learned over the past few years the best defenses suited to slow down Rodgers and company have strong defensive lines, ones that can cause disruption and wreak havoc in the backfield all by itself. This allows the two safeties to sit back deep, while the other five defenders flood the rest of the secondary, virtually sealing off all passing lanes. That’s exactly the kind of defensive line the Bengals own. Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson combined for 30 sacks last year, and all are excellent run defenders. Domata Peko is a solid fourth starter, and Devon Still, Wallace Gilberry and Robert Geathers all would start on a decent amount of NFL teams.

The biggest problem will be containing the interior pass-rush. Young tackles David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay have held up well against the likes of Aldon Smith, Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan so far, so they’ll be well-equipped to take on Dunlap and Johnson. But slowing down Atkins will be key for the Green Bay interior linemen. Atkins broke out last year, establishing himself as the league’s best and most versatile defensive tackle in the NFL. The only strong interior presence the Packers have faced this year was Justin Smith, and Josh Sitton, Green Bay’s best offensive lineman, had an awful day. Atkins moves around, so Sitton, Evan Dietrich-Smith and T.J. Lang will have their turns trying to slow him down. Atkins is better than Smith, so expect a long day for the trio.

As if the Bengals needed any more pass-rushing options, they signed veteran outside linebacker James Harrison this past offseason. While he’s not the threat he once was, Harrison can help terrorize opposing quarterbacks when called upon. He’s also still very good against the run and in pass coverage.

Speaking of pass coverage, the Bengals have plenty of defensive backs who excel in slowing down wide receivers. Their corps reminds me a lot of the Packers wide receivers – there’s no one guy who’s revered around the league as one of the best at his position, but they have definite talent and seemingly unlimited depth. Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones and Terrence Newman have both turned their careers around in Cincinnati to become quality top-end cornerbacks, while Leon Hall is the star of the position.  Add in Reggie Nelson, George Iloka and Taylor Mays at safety, and you’ve got yourself top-to-bottom maybe the deepest secondary in the league. They’re so deep, in fact, 2012 first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick has only played 45 defensive snaps in his career. Think about that. They can’t afford to give a first-round talent a chance to prove himself on the field because they’re too stacked at the top.

And I can’t forget outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Pass-rushing is his one weak spot, but that’s something the Bengals don’t even need him to do. He’s really good in pass coverage for a linebacker, and he’ll make sure James Starks doesn’t have another performance like he did against Washington.

The final starting defender for Cincinnati is middle linebacker Ray Maualuga. To be blunt, he’s actually not very good at all. So the Packers have one guy they don’t have to worry too much about.

To recap, here’s what the Packers are facing: maybe the league’s best defensive line, which is equally capable of shutting down a running back or destroying an offensive line en route to the quarterback, a very good and deep secondary to throw at all of the Packers’ receiving options and two linebackers that can strongly help in both run defense and pass coverage. Of all the defenses out there, I’d say Seattle is the only one more suited to shut down Green Bay.

This will be a great test for the Packers. Don’t expect 400 passing yards from Rodgers. Don’t expect a 100-yard rushing performance by Starks. But if they can put up, say, 27 points or 400 total yards against the Bengals, I’d easily put the offense back in the ‘unstoppable’ category it occupied in 2011.