Bengals at early crossroads with visit to banged-up Packers
By GENARO C. ARMAS
Sep. 21, 2017
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Just three weeks into the season and the Cincinnati Bengals are already at a crossroads.
About the last thing that the struggling team needed was a trip to Lambeau Field on Sunday to face the Green Bay Packers.
Injuries that could leave the Packers without several key players may help Cincinnati's chances of digging out from a 0-2 start.
But Green Bay (1-1) is still smarting from a loss at Atlanta , eager to get back on track as an NFC contender.
"Our focus is on the uncommon opponent in the Bengals, but we have a lot of work to do ourselves," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
Two-time NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers represents the great equalizer, capable of winning any game regardless of the circumstances.
Still, the Packers' injury report this week resembled an All-Pro roster. Defensive lineman Mike Daniels, receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, along with offensive tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga are all nicked. Edge rusher Nick Perry has a hand injury.
At least Green Bay hasn't shaken up its coaching staff, though.
Bill Lazor will make his debut as the Bengals' offensive coordinator after being promoted from quarterbacks coach to replace the fired Ken Zampese. He was let go after a 13-9 loss to Texans on Thursday night in Week 2, capping a historically bad stretch of offense for the franchise.
The Bengals became the first team since the 1939 Eagles to open the season with two home games and fail to score a touchdown. They haven't reached the end zone in 25 possessions, settling for three field goals for the season.
Receiver A.J. Green, who has only 10 catches, said after the loss to Houston that the Bengals need to get their playmakers involved more.
"You've got to rely on those guys that can make big plays for you to turn this thing around," quarterback Andy Dalton said.
Other notes and things to watch for in the first meeting between the teams since 2013:
MEDICAL REPORT: Nelson (quad) and Bulaga (ankle) were among the few of the 13 Green Bay players listed on the injury report who were full participants in practice at midweek, seemingly giving them the best chances to play on Sunday.
The Packers could be able to withstand being without Nelson and Cobb for a short period because of depth at receiver.
But getting Bulaga back is important for a line that is thin in experience behind the starting five.
"Well, I mean you've got to play around that type of stuff because that's what comes with the game," Packers receiver Davante Adams said. "Football is 100 percent chance that you're going to get hurt at some point, whether or not it's season-ending, but you've got to adapt and you've got to fill in.:
D TESTED: The Packers represent the first real test for a Bengals defense that has played well against two limited offenses. Dalton had five turnovers against the Ravens, including one on the 2-yard line, but the defense gave up only 20 points.
Joe Flacco didn't complete a pass in the second half of the game, his first since missing all of training camp and the preseason with a bad back. Houston rookie Deshaun Watson threw for only 125 yards and was sacked three times in his first NFL start.
IRON MIKE: Daniels' hip injury could be a problem for the Packers. He has turned into a disruptive force up front in his sixth year, helping outside linebackers Perry and Clay Matthews get off to a good start off the edge. Powered by a nonstop motor, Daniels also helps clog the middle against the run.
DALTON'S COMFORT ZONE: Dalton has been under heavy pressure in the first two games, sacked eight times and hit often. His passer rating of 47.2 is last in the NFL.
Coach Marvin Lewis has steadfastly supported Dalton, resisting calls to use backup AJ McCarron. One of Lazor's priorities on Sunday is to get Dalton into a comfort zone early by completing some short passes on the opening drive.
"Anytime you get into a rhythm, you feel you can play better and you see things easier. So if that's his goal, that's my goal, too. I love to be in a rhythm," Dalton said.
CLAY-MAKER: Matthews is on the verge of setting a milestone, a half-sack behind Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (74½) for most in franchise history since 1982. After an injury-filled 2016 season, the nine-year veteran is off to a good start this season with 1½ sacks.
"Clay has been a class act his whole career," McCarthy said. "I hate talking like this because he's got a lot left and this is just a milestone that he's getting ready to jump over."
AP Sports Writer Joe Kay in Cincinnati contributed to this story.