3TFO: Packers @ Bengals, Week 3
The Green Bay Packers last played the Cincinnati Bengals in 2009. Aaron Rodgers was in his second year as Green Bay’s starting quarterback, and Antwan Odom sacked him five times for the Bengals. Despite the sacks, the Bengals barely clung to a 31-24 victory as the Packers ran out of time at the 10-yard line. The Packers and Bengals both lost their wildcard playoff games in 2009, and while both teams have deep playoff aspirations in 2013, this year’s matchup will feature very different teams on both sides of the ball.
Rodgers will again face off against a productive Bengals’ pass rush, while the Bengals will hope the defense can slow down the Packers and prevent an absolute shootout. They’ll aim to prevent another blistering start for the Packers offense, who sprinted to 31-0 lead before the Redskins first scored in garbage time. They’ll face a stiffer defense from the Bengals – especially in run defense – but the offensive weapons in this game ultimately suggest a high-scoring affair.
Randall Cobb vs. Leon Hall
This game brings together two of the NFL’s premier slot talents in Randall Cobb and Leon Hall. Cobb plays almost exclusively (95% of the time) from the slot, and has only built on last year’s success, when he posted a league-leading 2.35 Yards Per Route Run (YPRR). Through two weeks this year he’s posted a league-best (min. 32 slot routes) 3.06 YPPR. Cobb has been simply dominant in the slot this year, catching 94% of the 17 passes thrown to him in the slot for all of his 236 yards. Part of his success comes from matchup nightmares.
Cobb drew linebackers in coverage three times last week and beat them for three catches, 65 yards, and a TD. He also beat slot corner Josh Wilson for catches on four of five targets. Against the Bengals, Cobb should face Hall in coverage a vast majority of the time. Cobb has been used in three-receiver sets, which will push the Bengals into nickel personnel. When the Bengals are in nickel, Hall covers the slot, where he’s taken 47 coverage snaps this year. Hall has been targeted once every 3.9 snaps in slot coverage, but his 9.4 coverage snaps per reception and 1.06 yards allowed per coverage snap are also near the top of the leaderboard. That works out to Hall allowing just 42% passes into his slot coverage to be completed for a 54.2 QB Rating.
Something will have to give on Sunday when Hall and Cobb go to battle.
David Bakhtiari vs. Michael Johnson
Rodgers has faced his share of pressure this year, but the Packers’ offensive line has slightly improved on its overall Pass Blocking Efficiency from last year’s 80.6 mark to 82.0. Rookie David Bakhtiari has been solid, posting a 95.9 PBE this season after a perfect zero-pressure game against Washington last week. He hasn’t faced a 4-3 NFL defense in the regular season, but has been tested against Aldon Smith and Brian Orakpo through two games. He got the best of Orakpo, but Smith had some success against the Packers with two sacks and three more hurries from the right side. This week, Bakhtiari won’t have it much easier against Michael Johnson, who is fresh off of a PFF Team of the Week appearance. Johnson’s 15.3 Pass Rush Productivity from the right side is third-best among primarily right-sided edge rushers in the league as he’s tallied three hits and eight hurries so far this year.
Last week, he beat up on Mike Adams and will look to do the same against Bakhtiari to help disrupt Rodgers and the passing game. Of course, it might not matter much. Rodgers is the sixth-fastest QB to get rid of the ball so far this year, averaging just 2.33 seconds to throw. Against Washington last week, the Packers resorted to a quick passing attack that saw Rodgers averaging a blistering 1.95 seconds to throw. As a result of quick throws and some good pass blocking, Rodgers has seen pressure on just 26.4% of his dropbacks this year. Johnson and the Bengals will aim to do better than that mark, as Rodgers’ accuracy under pressure has suffered this year. He’s accurate on just 58.3% of his under-pressure throws, which is a huge drop-off from his overall 79.2% mark.
Regardless of whether Hall can quiet Cobb, or if Bakhtiari can wall off Johnson, this game could come down to whether Andy Dalton and the Bengals’ offense can keep up with Rodgers in what could easily become an offensive shootout. The Packers averaged 27 points last season and the offense is off to another hot start this year, mostly on the strength of the passing offense. Meanwhile, the Packers’ D has struggled. Last week’s gameplan against Pittsburgh showed that the Bengals are willing to let Dalton throw the ball as they ran 49 pass plays and only ended up with 35 rushes because they were running out the clock in the 4th quarter.
Based on their performances so far this year, the Packers’ pass rush won’t have an easy time improving this week as they face the second-best pass blocking line in the Bengals. The Packers will instead look to the coverage unit, which has an opportunity to shine against the up-and-down Dalton. He had a great start to the year against Chicago, posting a league-best 87.9% Accuracy Percentage, but crashed down to earth and was a bit erratic early against Pittsburgh in Week 2 on his way to a 65.9% Accuracy Percentage. When he’s pressured, Dalton’s Accuracy Percentage falls further to a paltry 43.8%. Luckily for Bengals fans, he’s only seen pressure on 25.6% of his drop-backs, third-fewest in the league.
The Bengals have surrounded Dalton with weapons in the passing game. Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert are in the Top 10 for tight end receiving grades. Giovani Bernard showcased his yards after catch ability against the Steelers. And you can’t go a 3TFO without mentioning A.J. Green, always ripe for a big play, even if he’s had some issues with dropped passes early this year. For the Bengals to be successful in a shootout against Rodgers, two things need to happen. Dalton will need to be sharp in the first place and eliminate the overthrows that plagued him early against Pittsburgh and the offensive line will need to continue providing Dalton space to accurately deliver the ball to his receivers.
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