Bengals ‘excited’ to test themselves against one of NFL’s elite teams

Packers, who visit Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday, have been to back-to-back NFC Championship games

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals are going into a game against the two-time defending NFC North champion Green Bay Packers with a surprising tone of optimism surrounding them.

Cincinnati, coming off five straight losing seasons, remains the underdog in the Week 5 matchup between one-loss teams Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, but the Bengals surprised with wins at Pittsburgh and in primetime against Jacksonville to improve to 3-1 and now look forward to the next challenge.

“That’s the fun part of it is our guys are really excited for this challenge,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said on Wednesday. “This is a team that went to back-to-back NFC Championship games, and for us that’s awesome. We want to go play against a great opponent and prove ourselves. We love having Aaron Rodgers over there. He’s tremendous. He’s scored a lot of points, he’s won a lot of awards, he’s won championships, put his team in contention. We just get a chance to go out there and take our shot and we’re excited about it.”

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Green Bay, which lost in the NFC Championship the past two years, opened with a lopsided loss on the road against New Orleans and bounced back with three straight wins while putting up 30.7 points and allowing opponents 20.7 points per game that stretch.

Much has been said and known about the Packers’ offensive capabilities with Rodgers, the 2020 league MVP, quarterbacking a unit that also features Pro Bowl wide receiver Davante Adams and running backs Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. But the Packers’ defense ranks sixth in the league while allowing just 311.5 yards per game, and the Bengals consider this their biggest test to date.

“We can’t start slow the way we did last week,” Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said on Wednesday. “If we start slow like that, we’ll be down 21-0 before we can blink. So, we’re gonna have to come out fast.”

The Bengals have struggled early in games to get the offense going, but with Green Bay’s offense capable of putting up big points, they know they have to be on top of their game. And they know that won’t be easy with the Packers’ defense playing so well.

Green Bay at least will be without cornerback Jaire Alexander and outside linebacker Chauncey Rivers, who tore his ACL on the second-to-last play of practice Wednesday. But, the Bengals could be missing running back Joe Mixon (ankle) and are only just now getting wide receiver Tee Higgins (shoulder) back.

“They really limit explosive plays,” Burrow said. “They keep the ball in front of them. You can tell that’s their philosophy. When you have that other guy on the other side of the ball, it’s probably pretty smart to do that. So we’re gonna have to find ways to give what the defense gives us and hit our opportunities when we get them.”

Cincinnati has been hitting the deep ball this year after Burrow faced some skepticism over his arm strength coming out of his rookie season, and the offensive line has shown tremendous improvement the past two games, especially in pass protection.

After allowing nine sacks over the first two games, the Bengals have surrendered just one sack on Burrow the last two games. Rookie Jackson Carman has been playing right guard the past two games with Xavier Su’a-Filo out because of a knee injury.

Left tackle Jonah Williams said he’s been impressed with Carman’s progress, as he’s starting to show more what the team expected of him when drafting him in the second round, but the biggest difference in the offensive line has been better communication. Carman fits into that.

“The whole O-line has been working together well in terms of knowing who we’re responsible for and working together with each other,” Williams said. “No one leaves the other guy on an island (or) leaves someone out to dry. We take our sets knowing that we have to protect our teammates in case (the defense) is running any games or blitzes or anything like that. So, I think we’ve been doing a good job with that and have to just keep getting better because it’s going to be a big part of our game moving forward.”

Green Bay’s defense has just seven sacks through four games (only three teams have fewer), but Williams said the Packers still apply good pressure. The focus remains on keeping Burrow upright.

“They’re a good defense,” Williams said. “I think that they play hard and have got a lot of talent. Up front, they’re physical, big guys, they like to push the pocket. It’ll be a good challenge for us. I think if we can match their physicality and surpass it, we’ll have a good shot to win the game.”


Packers at Bengals, 1 p.m., Fox, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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