The Packers have looked completely out of sync and not like themselves in their first two games, but the good news is there are still two games left to get the team back on track. Cincinnati will be a tough opponent, which is good because it will test all facets of the team. This is an important game for many players as cuts will be coming soon after so expect to see players who are on the bubble play their hearts out in order to show why they deserve a roster spot.
The following are five things to watch for when the Packers take on the Bengals:
Cedric Benson’s debut for the Packers will come against his former team. Expect Benson to come out blazing and run with authority as he not only wants to make an impression on the Packers fans, but also wants to show his former team why it was a mistake in not re-signing him. It is critical Green Bay establishes some sort of running game so Benson, as well as the offense, can find a rhythm. Watch for attributes that make Benson different from the other running backs on the team that will give the Packers an edge when he is on the field. Also, watch how he picks up rushers when Aaron Rodgers drops back to pass as this could potentially be his Achilles heel.
First Team Offense
The first team offense has not seen much playing time this preseason for good reason. However, the third preseason game is typically where head coach Mike McCarthy likes to get his starters some extra field time. It will be important for the offense to score more than one touchdown and have multiple successful drives in order to better prepare for the regular season. Rodgers has yet to find a rhythm with his wide receivers with the exception of the 20-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson last week. Look for him to be more accurate with his passes and hopefully make more connections with his playmakers.
Green Bay’s pass rush still needs more work as the defensive playmakers are still failing to get to the quarterback on a consistent basis. In two games, the Packers only have two sacks and that is with Clay Matthews constantly being disruptive in the backfield. The same problem the defense had last year still exists which is the interior lineman getting zero pressure up the middle. Even with Matthews and Nick Perry getting a push around the outside, most quarterbacks in the NFL will just step up in the pocket and deliver a strike to one of their wide outs. It will be important to see if the Packers can improve on applying pressure against the Bengals.
D.J. Smith is certainly the first inside linebacker to watch to see how he progresses from week to week as there will be plenty of pressure on him this season to perform at a high level. He has answered the call so far as he had a great performance against the Cleveland Browns last week in which he recorded six tackles and one quarterback hit. A.J. Hawk needs to step his game up and be more aggressive in the middle. Otherwise, he could potentially lose his job to Rob Francois who is making a legitimate case to see more playing time.
These guys have to step up in the running game and make sure the opposing team does not rush for any significant amount of yards. Also, watch to see how all three players handle dropping back into coverage as opposing teams have consistently been able to drop the ball off in the middle and make plays because an interior linebacker was not covering his man.
Graham Harrell was one of the most talked about players this past week in the NFL. Fans and sports writers alike have questioned whether he is the right man for the job to backup Rodgers. If anything were to happen to the league’s reining MVP the Packers season could be in serious jeopardy, as Harrell does not seem to have what it takes to make plays in an NFL game. It will be interesting to see how Harrell handles the pressure from outside the organization and how he responds to the criticism. The good news for Harrell is he has the entire Packers team behind him. It is now up to him to show everyone else why there is so much confidence in his ability.