Packers, Bengals meet in battle of Super Bowl contenders
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY—The Green Bay Packers and Cincinnati Bengals meet Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium in what might be a preview of the 48th Super Bowl matchup in New York.
“Both teams are capable,” a veteran NFL assistant coach said Tuesday. “I just don't know if the Bengals have got a quarterback that can do that.”
With Aaron Rodgers and nine other starters in tow from a championship team three years ago, there are no such reservations about Green Bay.
Not so with Andy Dalton, a third-year player trying to lead Cincinnati to its first Super Bowl in 25 years.
“Is he a special quarterback?” an executive in personnel for an AFC team said. “I don't think he is. He's coming along, but he's not totally consistent.”
Dalton's only appearance against Green Bay came in the third exhibition game last summer in Cincinnati. Under heavy blitz pressure from Dom Capers, Dalton completed just five of 17 passes for 40 yards.
The Packers are favored by two points, but the coach picked Cincinnati to win, 24-21, as did the scout, 21-17.
A personnel man from another AFC club tabbed it 28-17, Green Bay. He thinks the Bengals could be in for a letdown after playing Monday night and beating depleted Pittsburgh, 20-10, for just the second time in their last 13 meetings in Cincinnati.
“The Bengals are coming off a big game,” the scout said. “But their inside pass rush is really good.”
Defensive tackle Geno Atkins ($19 million), nose tackle Domata Peko ($4.1M) and defensive ends Carlos Dunlap ($13M) and Michael Johnson ($11.2M) are costing the Bengals $47.3M this year alone.
“Defensively, they got a lot of studs,” the coach said. “They're strong in both the offensive and defensive lines. They're just a solid football team.
“If Green Bay can get their receivers going, Aaron will have a lot of completions. But is he going to have enough time to get that done?
“Are they as good as San Francisco? No, I don't think so. But this will be a test for Green Bay.”
This will be the first of four games for the Packers against teams from the AFC North, which hasn't been won by the Bengals since 2009.
“In the AFC North, I don't know which team is good,” one scout said. “Cleveland? No. And Baltimore barely got by Cleveland. Baltimore is like Pittsburgh. They lost a lot of people.
“Can Cincinnati win the division? Absolutely. I just don't know if they're all-around good enough.”
In 2011, WR A.J. Green became the first Bengals rookie voted to the Pro Bowl since WR Cris Collinsworth in 1981. The fourth overall selection in the '11 draft, Green has 177 receptions for 2,610 yards (14.8) and 20 touchdowns in 33 regular-season games. He has been targeted 27 times already by Andy Dalton, compared to 14 for TE Jermaine Gresham, 13 for WR Mohamed Sanu and 10 for TE Tyler Eifert. He is routinely compared to Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Julio Jones.
The Bengals might be as slow-footed at linebacker as any NFL team with starters Vontaze Burfict, Rey Maualuga and James Harrison. Second-year man Emmanuel Lamur, who was expected to be their dime linebacker, and rookie Sean Porter, a fourth-round draft choice, suffered season-ending shoulder injuries in August. Both can run. Thus, the Bengals have had to play Burfict on every down. In nickel, they have been using Taylor Mays, a converted safety, alongside Burfict.
Three year ago, Cincinnati and Minnesota were among many teams desperate for a quarterback.
The Bengals concluded the 2010 season with Carson Palmer, Jordan Palmer and Dan LeFevour on the depth chart. With Carson Palmer demanding a trade, owner Mike Brown had to have a starter.
In Minnesota, the retirement of Brett Favre left Joe Webb, Patrick Ramsey and Rhett Bomar on the season-ending depth chart.
On draft day, Cam Newton went first to Carolina, Jake Locker went eighth to Tennessee and Blaine Gabbert went ninth to Jacksonville. In a Journal Sentinel pre-draft poll of 24 scouts, the order of those remaining was Ryan Mallett, Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick and Ricky Stanzi.
Picking 12th, the Vikings chose Ponder over a slew of position players that have become excellent pros. The next five selections were DT Nick Fairley, DE Robert Quinn, C Mike Pouncey, LB Ryan Kerrigan and T Nate Solder.
No other quarterback was taken until the Bengals grabbed Dalton at No. 35. Kaepernick went No. 36 to San Francisco, and then Mallett was taken in the third round and Stanzi in the fifth.
Ponder and Dalton measured the same height (6-2), and both posted high scores on the Wonderlic intelligence test.
After getting the nod over Donovan McNabb seven games into his first year, Ponder has posted a 12-17 record and a passer rating of 76.4. An immediate starter, Dalton is 20-16 with an 84.3 rating.
Each has taken his team to the playoffs, but neither has won a playoff game.
Clearly, Dalton has been the better player so far, and the Bengals got him without having to spend a first-round draft choice.