Though both the Green Bay Packers and Cincinnati Bengals discovered a running game last week, this matchup could easily turn into an aerial shootout.
A.J. Green, Andy Dalton and the Bengals try to keep up with Aaron Rodgers and maybe the league's best receiving corps as Green Bay's top-ranked offense heads to Cincinnati on Sunday.
Whereas it appears the Bengals offense is improving, the defense is expected to be among the league's best and could challenge a Packers team averaging a league-high 482.5 yards. None of the last five teams to visit Cincinnati have scored more than 20 points while averaging 290.8 yards.
The Bengals (1-1) are giving up 300.5 per game to rank seventh in the NFL after finishing sixth last year and compiling 51 sacks. They have only two this season - both in Monday's 20-10 win over Pittsburgh - but now face a Packers offensive line which has allowed 57 since the start of 2012 after giving up four in last Sunday's 38-20 win over Washington.
Rodgers still threw for a career-high 480 yards and four touchdowns, and the line created enough holes to help James Starks rush for a career-best 132 yards and a score. As Starks became the first Green Bay running back to crack the century mark since Brandon Jackson in October 2010, the Packers said they became the first team in NFL history to have a 450-yard passer and a 125-yard rusher in the same game.
"We have the opportunity, with the guys that we have in this locker room, to do that week in and week out," said wideout Randall Cobb, who scored and surpassed 100 yards for the second straight game.
"As long as we continue to prepare ourselves right and communicate throughout the week and be prepared and execute the plays, I think the stats should continue to look the way they do."
Starks continuing to put up big numbers would give defenses an even bigger headache when facing Green Bay (1-1), long considered one-dimensional offensively despite its success. A fourth-year back who had a team-high 578 yards rushing in 2011 but saw limited action last season, Starks will start again with rookie Eddie Lacy likely out due to a concussion.
"I'm very happy for James as he was able to maximize his opportunity," coach Mike McCarthy said. "We had a good plan and it was well-executed up front. ... James, for the most part, had clean reads, made good decisions and didn't waste any steps at the hole. When James gets that big stride going and gets leaning forward, he's a tough guy to handle."
The entire receiving corps for the Packers has been hard to handle. Besides Cobb's hot start, Jordy Nelson has 196 yards with three touchdowns, James Jones had career highs of 11 catches and 178 yards last week, and tight end Jermichael Finley has scored in both games while totaling 121 yards.
"They're an offense that can score a lot and can score really quick," Dalton said. "(Our) offense has to come to play this week. We've gotta do whatever we can to keep scoring, keep drives going."
Dalton has reached 280 yards passing in each of the first two games despite not having the wide array of talented targets Rogers does, though Green feels the Bengals are getting closer.
"A lot of weapons, man," said the All-Pro receiver, who has 15 catches for 203 yards. "That's the biggest thing."
Besides Green developing into one of the game's most unstoppable receivers, tight end Tyler Eifert and fellow rookie Giovanni Bernard could be fixtures for years to come. Eifert has eight receptions, including a 61-yarder against the Steelers while Bernard scored one touchdown rushing and another receiving.
"It's definitely exciting," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "We have a young nucleus that's back and has a (promising) figure ahead of it.
"... We've got a good group, and if we can continue to do things right, we can be really good."
Bernard had 38 yards on eight carries and may end up taking even more from veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who ran for 75 yards last week but is averaging 2.8 per carry. Cincinnati had 127 yards rushing after averaging 51.0 in its previous four games, including a playoff loss at Houston.
Green Bay has dropped the last two meetings, most recently falling 31-24 at home in 2009. Rodgers threw for 261 yards but had only one TD and was sacked six times.
The Associated Press News Service
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