They're angry and they're hungry. The multi-talented Cincinnati Bengals are not in a very good mood this week despite their 5-2 record which leads the NFL's AFC North division. Last Sunday the tough Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Bengals. Pittsburgh put a hurting on them, shutting down Carson Palmer by holding him to 227 passing yards and forcing him into a pair of picks. Pittsburgh also limited running back Rudi Johnson to 65 yards. So the Bengals see their matchup with the Green Bay Packers as an opportunity to get back on track. That's the unenviable assignment facing the Pack when they head into Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon.
Since Marvin Lewis came over from the Ravens as the Bengals' head coach, you can just tell that this Cincinnati team bought into his philosophies and game strategies. Without question, he's a players' coach, and the players respect him a great deal as a leader and as a disciplinarian. He and his staff have done a great job in turning this team around.
The Bengals are probably one of the most balanced teams in the NFL, especially on the offensive side of the ball with a strong passing game to complement their bruising rushing attack. Palmer has a quarterback's dream -- a bevy of weapons, starting with wide receiver Chad Johnson who has emerged as probably one of the top three wide receivers in the league. I would have to rank him right up there with Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. He is that explosive and has really developed into an elite receiver. He has great size (6-1, 192) and he's developed a great knowledge of the game. He's a hard worker off the field in film studies, and it shows. Johnson has 43 receptions for 655 yards and five touchdowns. He's just a game breaker. The Bengals are loaded at receiver with T. J. Houshmandzadeh, Chris Henry, and Kelley Washington. They've also got solid tight end in Matt Schobel and Reggie Kelly. Cincinnati can also kill you on the ground with Rudi Johnson and Chris Perry. Perry's one of their third down receivers who comes out of the backfield as a receiving running back.
I've been very impressed with Palmer's development as an NFL quarterback. In my opinion, at 6-4 and 230 pounds, he looks and plays a lot like Troy Aikman. In his mannerisms, body size and the way he throws the ball, Palmer is probably the top young quarterback in the NFL. He's playing extremely well, is very smart and is second only to Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers with a 104.4 QB rating. Palmer's thrown 13 touchdowns with only 4 interceptions and with all of his offensive weapons, his job has been made a lot easier.
No doubt, the Packers will have their hands full in this game. It was good to see Green Bay find some players like Andre Thurman, Walt Williams and Taco Wallace on the free agent market to come in and give the team a little bit of depth. But right now, the Packers are so decimated with injuries that they are facing a major uphill battle. Even before they lost guys like Najeh Davenport and Ahman Green, the running game wasn't hitting on all cylinders. Tony Fisher and Williams are going to have to make solid contributions to revive the rushing attack. It won't be easy, even with the projected return of Mike Flanagan at center. The Bengals have a very opportunistic defense and lead the league in turnover ratio with 23 takeaways (15 interceptions and 8 fumbles).
One note of interest in this game, the Packers will be facing a few familiar faces. Fullback Nick Luchey rejoined his former teammates in Cincinnati while linebacker Hannibal Navies is also on the Bengals' roster. In addition, the Packers will face a longtime opponent from his days with the Chicago Bears, defensive end Bryan Robinson.
Brett Favre is doing everything he can to carry this team on his shoulders, but I see a very difficult task against Cincinnati on Sunday. Unless the running game emerges, Green Bay will be pretty one-dimensional, having to throw the ball way too often. I'm sure the Bengals have been watching film of how the Minnesota Vikings played in the second half last week, and they will rotate their coverage to try to take away Donald Driver and make Favre beat their defense with the tight ends and the other young receivers.
When you have this many injuries, there is only so much you can do. The Packers are facing a huge uphill climb. Then again, this is a team that has certainly been no stranger to adversity under Mike Sherman. Sherman and offensive coordinator Tom Rossley are going to have to find new ways to get the offense going. Meanwhile, Jim Bates needs to figure out how to put the heat on Palmer just as the Packers did in the first half last week against Daunte Culpepper and the Vikings. Hopefully, the Packers will find a way to prevail and notch one in the win column.
Don "Majik" Majkowski was inducted into the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame earlier this year. His career for the Packers spanned six seasons (1987-92), including being named to the Pro Bowl in 1989 when he led the NFL in passing yards. In addition to his duties with Packers.com, Majik provides football analysis for WSSP-AM, SportsRadio 1250 in Milwaukee, WDUZ SportsRadio 107.5 & 1400 The Fan in Green Bay, WTSO - ESPN 1070 in Madison, WDEZ in Wausau, and WIZD in Stevens Point. Visit Majik's Web site, www.majiknetwork.net, for more information.