Packers' struggling defense meets Bengals' struggling offense
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The Green Bay Packers gave up 34 points in Sunday night's loss at Atlanta.
The Cincinnati Bengals have scored nine points while starting the season 0-2.
One of these struggling units should be feeling better about things after Sunday's game at Lambeau Field.
The Bengals haven't scored a touchdown in losses to Baltimore and Houston at home. A day after the 13-9 loss to the Texans, longtime coach Marvin Lewis fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese and replaced him with quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor.
"We have to have a direction of execution and things have to fit together and we've got to provide opportunity to attack the defense," Lewis said. "We've got to do a great job attacking what is our perceived weakness of the defense and get the ball to our guys who can make plays."
That starts with getting quarterback Andy Dalton back on track. Dalton, who is coming off his two best seasons, with a career-high passer rating of 106.2 in 2015 and a career-high completion rate of 64.7 percent in 2016, owns the worst passer rating in the league at 47.2 and the next-to-worst completion rate at 54.5 percent.
Dalton has thrown four interceptions and been sacked eight times behind a shaky offensive line that has struggled to replace left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Kevin Zeitler, who left in free agency.
Green Bay's defense got off to an impressive start vs. Seattle in a 17-9 win to open the season but got exposed, again, in a 34-23 loss at Atlanta. The Packers couldn't stop Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (252 passing yards, 108.0 rating), receiver Julio Jones (five catches, 108 yards) or the running game (5.2-yard average).
Early in that game, Green Bay inserted cornerback Kevin King, a first-round draft pick, into the lineup and he gave up only one catch.
With Lewis looking to get the ball more to his playmakers, King and fellow cornerback Davon House will be tested by star Bengals receiver A.J. Green. Green had 1,000-yard receiving years in each of his first five seasons and would have done it again last year if not for missing six games because of injury. He has caught 10 passes for 141 yards to start this year.
While Cincinnati's offense has been horrible, the defense has played well enough to win both games. The Bengals have given up 20 points or fewer in eight of their last nine, including both games this season.
In the opener against Baltimore, Cincinnati lost 20-0 due, in large part, to five giveaways. Last week against Houston, the Bengals gave up only 266 yards, including 98 net passing yards, but lost 13-9.
Lewis knows his defense will face a much bigger challenge against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers than it did last week against rookie Deshaun Watson. Lewis has had some success vs. Rodgers, though. In matchups in 2009 and 2013, Cincinnati won both games and held Rodgers to a passer rating of 73.5.
"He's an outstanding player," Lewis said of Rodgers. "He has a great command of their offense and what Mike wants done. He knows the system inside and out, knows where everybody belongs (and gets) everybody to the right spots. And then he's able to just do a great job of delivering the football. And then he extends them with his arms, his legs.
"I think the thing we just impress upon our players is this is an all-day sucker, man. We've got to play the run, we've got to tackle and then, when we get in coverage and rush, we've got to be consistent and we've got to play tenacious and stay after it."
Injuries again will be a factor for the Packers. Seven starters were out by the end of the Atlanta game. Offensive tackles David Bakhtiari (hamstring) and Bryan Bulaga (ankle) were inactive, and receivers Jordy Nelson (quad) and Randall Cobb (chest), House (quad), safety Kentrell Brice (groin) and defensive tackle Mike Daniels (hip) dropped out during the game. Nelson and Bulaga were full participants on Wednesday, but Bakhtiari, Brice, Cobb, Daniels, House and outside linebacker Nick Perry (hand) were among eight players who did not practice.
"We expect to play well every time we're out there," Rodgers said. "No matter who's out there, they're all professionals. There's an expectation of a style of play and a performance that we all have for ourselves and for each other. So whoever's out there lining up is going to be expected to play well."
Cincinnati, tight end Tyler Eifert (back) was ruled out Friday and right guard Trey Hopkins (knee) will miss his second straight game.
Updated September 22, 2017