The kickoff of the Bill Lazor era is at hand in Titletown.
After heading into a the season with their head coach in a contract year, then firing their offensive coordinator after a pitiful 0-2 start, seats are unusually hot across the entire Bengals’ organization. Marvin Lewis told the players last Monday that jobs would be lost if the offensive production didn’t improve; it’s not a stretch to say that’ll include his own if they end the year like they started it.
In the equation that resulted in the Bengals scoring zero touchdowns through two home games, Lazor at offensive coordinator is the first variable to change. Any visible improvement when the unit takes the field in Green Bay will be attributed to him.
For better or for worse, those hot-seat jobs in Cincinnati effectively lie in Lazor’s hands.
Should the Pats/Raiders game in Mexico be moved?
Even with change possibly on the horizon for the Bengals, fans can rest easy knowing that some things never change. Seemingly among them: Tyler Eifert has been ruled out for Sunday’s game. Also ruled out: John Ross and Trey Hopkins. The other two offensive players listed (Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher) were full participants in practice Thursday and Friday.
While no players have been ruled out yet for Green Bay, seven have been listed as doubtful (OT David Bakhtiari, S Kentrell Brice, WR Randall Cobb, DT Mike Daniels, CB Davon House, OLB Nick Perry, ILB Jake Ryan). Two others (WR Jordy Nelson, OT Bryan Bulaga) are listed as questionable, although Nelson has been a full participant in practice since Wednesday. Three others (G Jahri Evans, DT Montravius Adams, OLB Ahmad Brooks) were listed on the report – all three were full participants since Wednesday and none have designations.
It’s anyone’s guess who among that group is available to play for Green Bay, especially considering reports from Friday were merely projections (the Packers didn’t practice that day). Regardless, it’s fair to assume that a number of Packers will be relegated to the bench by these injuries.
This game is all about the Bengals’ offense – after they singlehandedly held the team back from winning in the past two weeks, Lazor has ample room to improve the unit. A Chip Kelly disciple before he was a Bengals employee, Lazor brought a book full of quick-timing, simple spread concepts to his first offensive coordinator gig in Miami.
He won’t overhaul the scheme two weeks into the season, but he can bring two things that Dalton needs for this offense to work: speed, and simplicity. Dalton, an originally spread quarterback without elite physical traits, is at his best when depended on as a distributor rather than a playmaker. He has speed already in his (thus far unused) skill position players, and he has to distribute the ball quickly regardless due to his porous offensive line. He’ll bounce back quickly if Lazor can help him think faster and think less during the play.
Given, that would be an easier task with Tyler Eifert and John Ross available to him, but Lazor is hardly working with a bare cupboard. At the very least he could take Joe Mixon fully out of the wrapping paper and give him 25-30 touches, especially lined up against the Packers’ mediocre inside linebackers in the passing game. That’s to say nothing of A.J. Green and the receiving corps, who match up very well against a Green Bay secondary loaded with questions at corner.
While it’s hard to predict a dominant showing against a unit led by Aaron Rodgers, the Bengals’ defense has earned their stripes this season. Geno Atkins has quietly been dominant on the inside. The young edge rushers have been productive, and have a chance to break out against Green Bay if their starting tackles are out again. The Falcons tore into Rodgers repeatedly late in their game last Sunday night, but that style of play would require Cincinnati establishing a lead.
Of the five defensive players listed on Cincinnati’s injury report, one (Geno Atkins) was a full participant on Friday. Michael Johnson, listed as questionable, was a full participant on Friday but was adequately replaced against the Texans regardless. The other three – KeiVarae Russell, Pat Sims, Derron Smith – are reserve or rotational players at this point, with only Smith having an official designation as questionable.
Barring a surprising miss from Atkins, this isn’t a unit that should feel any pain from injuries on the field against the Packers.
Packers 23, Bengals 27
It’s a hot take to project the Bengals to win this game, but it’s within the realm of possibility and a pick that hasn’t been taken up nearly enough times so far.
It would be accurate to say that the Bengals defense has outperformed the Packers offense this season. Green Bay is so far eighth in total offense (fifth in passing) while Cincinnati is fifth in total defense (first in passing). While opponents matter in a two-game sample size, Green Bay has had consistent results against two different-looking teams. Aaron Rodgers is likely to provide 300+ passing yards, despite inconsistent-at-best protection and a hit-or-miss running game. The result of the game depends on the opposing offense.
Again, this game comes back to Lazor. The Seahawks lost to the Packers with 9 points, as most teams would with that few. The Falcons beat the Packers with 34 points, as most teams would with that many. If he can lead the offense to a benchmark of 27 points, that should be enough of a contribution. The Bengals can bounce back to 1-2, the Packers can fall to 1-2 (cueing the chorus of What’s wrong with the Packers? pieces), and Aaron Rodgers will remain without a win against Cincinnati. Why not?
– Andrew Hammel is the managing editor for cover32/Bengals and covers the Cincinnati Bengals for cover32