GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers beat the Cincinnati Bengals 25-22 on Sunday despite key injuries, bad red-zone play and four missed kicks by the normally reliable Mason Crosby. Here is our Week 5 report card.
Aaron Rodgers was 3-of-8 passing for 37 yards with one interception in the first quarter but 24-of-31 for 297 yards and two touchdowns thereafter. Yes, Davante Adams carried the load with 11 receptions for a career-high and NFL season-high 206 yards, but there were just enough other contributions. While running back Aaron Jones caught four passes for a pitiful 6 yards, AJ Dillon caught four for 49. While Robert Tonyan had another uneventful day with one catch for 8 yards, Marcedes Lewis had two for 34, including a big 20-yard gain on a screen on the second play of the winning drive. Randall Cobb made a huge catch in traffic on the winning drive to set up the winning field goal. The quick game was a complete dud because the Bengals’ defenders routinely beat the blocking.
Adams was nothing short of remarkable again. First down or third down, long or short, first quarter or fourth quarter, it makes no difference. He's just so talented and competitive. And with Rodgers slinging the ball and coach Matt LaFleur designing the offense, it's almost not fair.
The pass protection was fine; it was excellent if you’re grading on a curve. Fill-in left tackle Yosh Nijman was torched by Trey Hendrickson on both sacks but his performance from the first two games gave the coaches more confidence to let him go one-on-one. Other than the sacks, it was a strong performance by Nijman. Rookie right guard Royce Newman settled in after a poor start. And veteran Lucas Patrick, getting the call at center for Josh Myers, showed his value to the team.
Aaron Jones (14 carries for 103 yards) and AJ Dillon (eight carries for 30 yards) combined for 133 yards on 22 carries, a glitzy 6.0-yard average. In reality, the running game wasn’t anywhere close to that good. Jones had a 57-yarder and Dillon rumbled for 17. Take those two out of the equation, and Green Bay’s running game managed only 59 yards on their other 20 tries. But, hey, they all count.
Jones’ long run was remarkable. He broke a tackle in the backfield, dodged another defender about 10 yards downfield and then took an escort for Randall Cobb up the left sideline. Jones’ stiff-arm at the end of the run, while it didn’t contribute much to the final result, was vicious. Dillon’s long run was mostly done on his own, as well. By the final tally, 117 of the 133 yards came after contact, by our unofficial count. Royce Newman might have had his best game.
The Bengals’ young guns delivered. Joe Burrow threw for 281 yards and Ja’Marr Chase had six catches for 159 yards and a touchdown. Still, with two interceptions (Adrian Amos and De’Vondre Campbell), three sacks (solo sacks by Preston Smith and Krys Barnes and a shared sack for Dean Lowry and T.J. Slaton) and mostly consistent pressure, this would have to be classified as a victory.
With Jaire Alexander out with his injured shoulder, Eric Stokes spent much of the day against Chase in a rookie showdown. They probably battled to a draw. Stokes is fast and, like Davante Adams, competitive – two traits that should deliver long-term success. Burrow and Chase got the best of him late on a third-and-6 completion in which Chase came back to catch Burrow’s intentionally underthrown ball for a key gain of 19. Chase’s long catch against Stokes was a gain of 28 in which he slipped Stokes’ tackle and picked up 23 yards after the catch. Chase added a 14-yard catch when he caught Stokes’ deflection. Later on the next drive, Stokes almost came up with an end-zone interception.
Fans love to complain about cornerback Kevin King and slot Chandon Sullivan. Sometimes, those gripes are correct. But they were almost invisible on Sunday – always a good sign for a defensive back. Darnell Savage got beat on Chase’s 70-yard touchdown but, as coach Matt LaFleur said, it seemed like Burrow had 10 seconds to throw.
While Chase had a big day, none of the 20 completions to the other players went for more than 10 yards.
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Lowry had an excellent day; according to Pro Football Focus, he had a team-high four pressures. Backup outside linebackers Jonathan Garvin and La’Darius Hamilton really gave the pass rush a lift. They’ll need more of that so Smith and Rashan Gary can stay somewhat fresh.
The Bengals finished with 103 rushing yards with a 4.3-yard average and a long run of only 11. As has been a common theme for most of the season, defensive tackle Kenny Clark, starting outside linebackers Rashan Gary and Preston Smith, and inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell were excellent. Seven of the Bengals’ runs were held to 1 yard or less.
Their only sustained success came on the drive punctuated by Joe Mixon’s 8-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. On the play, Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster jammed up the middle, so Mixon bounced to the outside around La’Darius Hamilton and juked rookie cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles to the turf. It was Jean-Charles’ one and only snap of the day after playing six snaps in the first four games. This was Hamilton’s debut.
Hard-charging Samaje Parine accounted for four of Green Bay’s five missed tackles (Lowry, Clark, Barnes and Stokes). By our count, 50 of his 59 rushing yards after contact.
The season-long strengths of the unit were Mason Crosby’s kicking and Corey Bojorquez’s punting. Well, Crosby missed four kicks and Bojorquez had a 31-yard shank. At least Crosby (eventually) made the game-winning field goal.
With Bojorquez, that’s the give and take of trying to punt the ball to the sideline. Sometimes, you get too much sideline. Still, the net-punt battle was almost a draw, with Cincinnati’s Kevin Huber winning by 0.5 yards per punt.
Green Bay gave up a 40-yard kickoff return to Brandon Wilson but the final results weren’t bad. On Cincinnati’s four kickoffs, Green Bay’s average field position was the 25. On Green Bay’s seven kickoffs, Cincinnati’s average field position was the 26.9.
The only bright spot was Bojorquez’s 36-yard punt and Isaac Yiadom’s tackle that pinned the Bengals at the 8. Amari Rodgers had an 8-yard punt return.
Let’s just disregard scheme and play-calling and chronic red-zone troubles for a moment. The Packers played without four Pro Bowlers (David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Jaire Alexander and Za’Darius Smith). Also out was their rookie center (Josh Myers) and big-play receiver (Marquez Valdes-Scantling). During the game, their reliable kicker missed three field goals and an extra point. And they were on the road against a 3-1 team with a top young quarterback, a top young receiver and the eighth-ranked defense in the NFL. The Packers won because their great players played great, their young players keep improving and their backups were ready and competed.