Packers @ Bengals: Keys to the Game

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Photo by Cory Dellenbach

With Eddie Lacy recovering from a concussion, James Starks (44) will start at running back for the Packers on Sunday in Cincinnati.

Green Bay Packers

Sustain drives

The Packers have shown their ability to be a quick-strike offense so far this season. The offense has put together several drives of over 60 yards in under two minutes. The no-huddle and big plays work for the Packers. But the Packers’ offense has also shown it can misfire with three-and-outs disrupting the otherwise high-flying show. The Packers need to sustain more drives and put together some 80-yard drives that eat the clock as well as the defense’s confidence.

Fix secondary

The Packers’ one weakness so far this season is in the defensive backfield. With Morgan Burnett and Casey Hayward missing, the Packers gave up a ton of yards to the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins the last two weeks. Regardless of the status of Burnett and Hayward, the Packers secondary has to do a better job. Last week defensive coordinator Dom Capers began moving guys in the secondary around, moving Tramon Williams to the slot corner and bringing in Devon House to play on the perimeter opposite Sam Shields. It’s a good bet the Packers will try that again this week, facing the tall and dangerous A.J. Green.

Cincinnati Bengals

Get after Rodgers

The Bengals have a tough front seven, led by defensive tackle Geno Atkins. The Bengals’ pass rush has to be active and disruptive to stop the Packers offense, which is No. 1 in the league after two games. A comfortable Aaron Rodgers is going to carve up most defenses, including the Bengals. Rodgers was sacked four times last week, but three came early and the offensive line had a much better effort the rest of the way. It’ll be up to the Bengals to get the Packers’ offensive line off balance again.

Feed the rookies

Andy Dalton will try to get the ball to star receiver A.J. Green. That’s obvious. But Dalton has two rookie targets this year that he should try to get the ball to as much as possible against a banged up Packers secondary. Running back Giovani Bernard and tight end Tyler Eifert give the Bengals more options and make it harder for defenses to key on one player. Bernard had two touchdowns last week, one running and another receiving. Eifert had a 61-yard catch-and-run. The Bengals should continue to expand the rookies’ roles in the offense.

OTHER KEYS

Must-see Matchup

Jermichael Finley vs. Bengals’ linebackers

The Bengals’ linebackers, a group that includes 35-year-olds James Harrison and Terence Newman, are not the fastest group in the NFL. This should provide Finley — and Randall Cobb — with plenty of opportunities for quick catches over the middle. How the Bengals respond to the Packers’ short-yardage passing may determine the game. Early success there for the Packers should lead to things opening up for running backs and receivers deep, and creating the type of high-scoring game the Bengals will be hard-pressed to keep pace with.

Hot Seat

James Starks

The fourth-year running back will start Sunday with Eddie Lacy sidelined with a concussion. While he rushed for 123 yards a week ago, Starks still has a lot to do to prove that he can be depended on week-in and week-out. His running hard last week, after almost not making the roster with the addition of Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, has given him an opportunity that he has to make something of.

About Due

Clay Matthews

Matthews was held without a sack against Washington last week. It’s rare for the Pro Bowl linebacker to go multiple weeks without a sack. It should help that Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is less of a moving target than the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick and Redskins’ Robert Griffin III.