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Key Matchups: Breaking Down Cincinnati Bengals vs Green Bay Packers

Will Cincinnati improve to 4-1 for the first time since 2018?

The Bengals get their first true test of the season this week as the Packers visit the Queen City.

Green Bay is a three-point favorite. Cincinnati is 7-6 all-time in the series and they've won three of the last four meetings.

After a rough opening week against New Orleans, Aaron Rodgers has led the Cheeseheads to three-straight wins.

Cincinnati is looking to win three consecutive games for the first time since 2015.

Both teams have key players dealing with injuries that could affect the outcome of Sunday's game.

Let's take a look at the most important matchups in a battle between two 3-1 teams. 

Joe Burrow vs. Packers Defense

Burrow continues to trend in the right direction after a slow start to the season.

The 24-year old has completed 78% of his passes for 520 yards, five touchdowns, and one interception in his last two games.

Burrow earned a 91.9 overall grade from Pro Football Focus in Weeks 3 and 4 combined.

One of Burrow’s greatest improvements this season is his ability to throw the deep ball. Burrow's completed air yards per pass attempt went up from 3.8 yards to 4.9 yards. His pass yards after catch is much higher this season (5.9 compared to 4.3 in 2020). 

Green Bay is top-10 in pass defense. The Packers have allowed just eight plays of 20 or more yards

Safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage are an underrated duo. The two have helped contain the big yardage plays by keeping the ball in front of them.

Jaire Alexander is not expected to play Sunday. The team’s best defensive back suffered a should injury late in the third quarter last week against Pittsburgh.

Alexander’s absence is a significant loss to the Green Bay defense. He gave up a 45-yard touchdown to Dionte Johnson on Pittsburgh’s opening drive in Week 3. Following the touchdown, Ben Roethlisberger threw in Alexander’s direction four other times gaining one yard. 

Advantage: Bengals

Bengals Offensive Line vs. Packers Defense

Cincinnati’s offensive line has only allowed one sack in their last eight quarters of football.

Jonah Williams and Riley Reiff have anchored their sides of the line. Williams has allowed the fewest pressures of any tackle that has played over 200 snaps this season. 

Trey Hopkins hasn't practiced this week. Rookie Trey Hill will be forced to start if Hopkins can't play.

Green Bay is the fourth-consecutive 3-4 defense the Bengals will face.

Za'Darius Smith has been missed up front. The team’s top pass rusher is on IR with a back injury.

The Packers defense needed a spark in Smith’s absence. They signed former Pro Bowler Jaylon Smith to a one-year deal on Thursday. 

The linebacker has 18 tackles (five for loss) in four games. Smith is 11th among all linebackers who have played a minimum of 100 snaps with a PFF grade of 69.5.

Kenny Clark is the lone interior defensive lineman in the league with at least 15 pressures and at least 10 stops according to PFF.

Advantage: Packers

Bengals Offensive Skill Players vs. Packers Defense

Good news for the Bengals: Tee Higgins is expected to return this week after practicing on Wednesday and Thursday.

Bad news for the Bengals: Joe Mixon has not practiced due to an ankle injury he suffered against the Jaguars.

Mixon’s availability greatly alters Cincinnati’s gameplan. The running back has helped the Bengals deploy a balanced attack. He has 353 rushing yards, which is third in the NFL behind Nick Chubb (362) and Derrick Henry (510).

Through the first four games, Burrow has thrown 107 passes. He dropped back 177 times during the first four games last season.

Samaje Perine will start if Mixon can't play. Expect Perine to be in on early-downs and pass protection with Chris Evans seeing an increase in snaps as well.

With a one-dimensional offense, Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tyler Boyd will see plenty of targets. C.J. Uzomah could stay hot following his breakout performance on Thursday Night Football.

The Packers will rely on Amos and Savage to keep the Cincinnati weapons in check. Kevin King returned to practice in a limited role. The defensive back is expected to play this week after missing time with a concussion.

De’Vondre Campbell is an all-around linebacker that can cover sideline to sideline. Campbell is second among linebackers with 100 snaps with 5.1 yards allowed per catch according to PFF.

Advantage: Bengals

Aaron Rodgers vs. Bengals Defense

Rodgers and the Green Bay offense have been rolling since their Week 1 loss. The team has scored 35, 30, and 27 points. Rodgers accounts for nine of those scores; eight passing and one rushing.

The future Hall of Famer hasn’t put up huge numbers. He's thrown for 897 yards, but has a 100.8 passer rating per Next Gen Stats. Rodgers has thrown just two interceptions, both in the first game against the Saints.

Rodgers has the ability to take control of a game. The quarterback can put the Packers up by multiple scores or make clutch throws when his team is down. He has 18 fourth quarter comebacks and 26 game winning drives in his career.

Cincinnati is 7th in defensive points per drive and 5th in yards allowed per play

The mini bye was helpful for the Bengals secondary. After missing Week 4, Jessie Bates (neck) and Chidobe Awuzie (groin) returned to practice. Bates has been a full participant. Awuzie has been limited.

Trae Waynes landed on Thursday’s injury report with a hamstring injury.

The Bengals defense has allowed a league best 8.6 yards per completion. A healthy secondary could do more damage.

Advantage: Packers

Packers Offensive Line vs. Bengals Defense

The Packers have been without two of their best offensive linemen. David Bakhtiari started the season on IR as the tackle is still recovering from an ACL injury. Elgton Jenkins is nursing an ankle injury that has kept him out the past two weeks. Jenkins was limited in practice Thursday.

Against the forceful defensive lines of San Francisco and Pittsburgh, Rodgers was only sacked four times. He was pressured on just 15 of the 77 times he dropped back in those two games.

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The inexperienced Green Bay line also opened lanes for the run game. They have rushed for 231 yards in their past two contests.

Trey Hendrickson leads the Bengals with 13 hurries and four quarterback hits. He is second in sacks with 2.5 behind B.J. Hill (3).

Hill has been a solid addition to the defensive line to compliment D.J. Reader and Larry Ogunjobi. The trio continue to push opposing offensive lines backwards to allow Hendrickson and Hubbard to pressure from the outside.

Advantage: Bengals

Packers Offensive Skill Players vs. Bengals Defense

Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon lead a 1-2 punch out of the backfield.

Jones is a dual threat. The running back has rushed for 206 yards and two touchdowns. He has caught 126 yards and three touchdowns.

Jones and DaVante Adams are the only players that have 10 or more receptions for the Green Bay offense.

Adams is one of the best route runners in the league. The receiver’s release from the line of scrimmage is lethal. With his ability to get off the line and create separation, Rodgers has targeted Adams 34.5% of his throws

Randall Cobb’s Green Bay reunion has created another reliable option for Rodgers in the passing game. Cobb has 9 receptions with an average of 14.1 yards per catch. Five of those catches came in Week 4 including two touchdowns.

Cincinnati’s defense is a top-ten rush defense. They will need a bounce back performance after giving up 139 yards and three touchdowns on the ground against the Jaguars.

Sam Hubbard continues to be dominant in stopping the run. The Cincinnati native holds the best EDGE run stop rate at 39%.

The Bengals secondary gave up their longest pass play of 52 yards last week. The longest pass allowed prior to that was Kirk Cousins to Justin Jefferson for 34 yards in Week 1.

Bates’ return will help eliminate the big plays with his ability to play centerfield and track the ball.

Advantage: Packers

Evan McPherson vs. Mason Crosby

McPherson was bound to miss at some point, but it was how McPherson rebounded from the opening drive 43-yard field goal miss is what makes him special.

Calm, cool, collected, McPherson went on to hit three point after attempts and called game by making a 35-yard field goal as time expired.

Mason Crosby is building his Hall of Fame resume. Crosby is in his 15th season (all with Green Bay). He is the team’s all-time leading scorer with 1,711 points and counting.

The kicker has made a field goal in 24 consecutive games. He hasn’t missed since Week 17 of the 2019 season.

Advantage: Packers

Sunday’s contest is bound to be a high-scoring affair. Cincinnati owns a 52-5-2 record when scoring 25 or more points in a game since 2011. Under Zac Taylor, the team is 6-4 when they score 25+ points. 

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