Kevin Goheen: This is as good of a Bengals team as the franchise has put together since the Super Bowl team of 1988. The 2005 team was better offensively, definitely more proven, but nowhere near as good on defense. Talent-wise, they can compete with any team in the NFL. There have been very few Bengals teams that could walk into the majority of games and be considered definite favorites but this is such a team.
The Bengals had no one to blame for the loss at Chicago but themselves. Three turnovers, too many penalties and the inability to get off the field defensively in the second half cost them against the Bears. Against Pittsburgh, a division rival that has bullied them in the past, they were the bullies in the second half. They might have been favorites going into the game but there are plenty of ghosts when it comes to the Steelers, who had won four straight in Cincinnati and lost just twice Paul Brown Stadium since the stadium opened in 2000. The Bengals handled those ghosts pretty well.
Q: Everything starts with the quarterback, so that seems like a good place to start on offense. My outside view is that Andy Dalton is probably underrated. It's not like they have a big-time running game and the receiver corps has a star but not an overwhelming amount of depth but he's won a bunch of games. Can you give us some insight on a quarterback who will attack a Packers pass defense that has allowed 732 yards through the air in two games?
Kevin: The easiest comparison to another quarterback like Dalton is Baltimore's Joe Flacco. Neither is flashy but both have steadily gotten better each year of their career, with Flacco leading the Ravens to their second Super Bowl championship last year in his fifth season. Dalton is in Year 3. I don't know if I would consider him underrated so much as he is still unproven.
> Raji chases Dalton in last year's preseason game. Frank Victores/USA Today Sports
He's shown he can lead the Bengals to wins over the bottom half of the NFL but he's had his troubles in the past against top defenses like Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Houston. He may have thrown the ball as accurately and sharply as he ever has in Week 1 against Chicago. Peanut Tillman picked him off twice – once by reading the play and Dalton from the snap, the other on a deflected pass that should have been a completion – but Dalton missed on just seven of his 33 pass attempts in Soldier Field. He wasn't as accurate against Pittsburgh, completing just 16 of 32 throws, but he didn't turn the ball over.
Q: The Packers allowed 13 catches for 208 yards and one touchdown to Anquan Boldin in Week 1 and eight catches for 143 yards and a touchdown to Washington's Pierre Garcon last week. A.J. Green is probably better than either of those guys. What makes him such a special talent, and is he maybe too big of a focal point for Dalton?
Kevin: Green's combination of speed, height and athleticism make him a special talent. Dalton has targeted him 27 times in the first two weeks, connecting 15 times for 203 yards and two touchdowns, but I wouldn't say he is too big of a focal point. Chicago and Pittsburgh have put cornerbacks Tillman and Ike Taylor in a lot of man situations against Green, which is an almost automatic green light for Dalton. Pittsburgh was able to pressure Dalton more, forcing quicker throws and some miscommunication between quarterback/receiver.
The Bengals spent last year looking for another reliable option after Green. Tight end Jermaine Gresham offered it at times but this year Dalton can also look at wide receivers Mohammed Sanu and Marvin Jones, plus rookie tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard. Bernard became the first Bengals rookie running back since 1989 to score rushing and receiving touchdowns when he did that Monday night against Pittsburgh. He brings the change of pace back to complement BenJarvus Green-Ellis that the Bengals have been looking for throughout Marvin Lewis' 11 seasons as head coach.
Q: Green Bay is coming off a monster game, both passing and rushing, against Washington. Guessing it won't be so easy this week. Just how good is that defensive front seven?
Kevin: The defensive line starts everything for the Cincinnati defense. They will run an eight-man rotation but the starting four set the tone for the entire group. Geno Atkins has gone from fourth-round pick to an All-Pro. He's every bit as disruptive as Ndamukong Suh without the repetitive personal fouls and fines from the NFL office. Domata Peko is underrated as the nose tackle. The Bengals signed Michael Johnson as their franchise player (a one-year, $11.2 million investment) and gave Carlos Dunlap a six-year extension worth $40 million. They're playing like it through the first two games.
The linebackers are more susceptible, especially in the nickel packages. James Harrison has garnered most of the attention for the group but is playing mostly in base packages or as an extra pass rusher. Vontaze Burfict plays with the edge of Harrison. The thing about Cincinnati's defense is that it doesn't have to blitz to get pressure on quarterbacks.
Q: Do the Bengals have the talent in the secondary to hold up against Aaron Rodgers and his playmakers, or do they need their front four to have a big game rushing the passer?
Kevin: Along the lines of the last answer, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer requires his corners be able to play man. Leon Hall, Terence Newman and Adam "Pacman" Jones aren't elite but they are as good of a collective trio as any in the league. Safety Reggie Nelson is versatile enough to play in coverage and in the run game. All of these pieces – pressure without blitzing, playing bump coverage – give Zimmer the ability to mix up coverages.
All of that said, slowing down a quarterback the caliber of Rodgers is much easier planned for than accomplished. This won't be done simply by rushing the passer or covering like a blanket. It will take a combination. While the Packers are certainly a run-first, ask-questions-later offense, they have been effective running the ball. The Bengals will have to be disciplined in their assignments to slow down Rodgers and the Packers. A couple of turnovers wouldn't hurt their cause, either. This should be an excellent matchup between one of the NFL's premier offenses and a defense that is trying to solidify its growing reputation as a top-10 unit.