The teams: The Green Bay Packers (1-1) vs. the Cincinnati Bengals (1-1).
The time: Noon CDT Sunday.
The place: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati.
The TV coverage: FOX – WITI (Ch. 6 in Milwaukee), WMSN (Ch. 47 in Madison) and WLUK (Ch. 11 in Green Bay).
The announcers: Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in booth and Pam Oliver on the sideline.
The coaches: Green Bay's Mike McCarthy is 81-43 (including 6-4 in the postseason) in his eighth season as the Packers' coach and as an NFL head coach. The Bengals’ Marvin Lewis is 80-85=1 (including 0-4 in the postseason) as coach of the Bengals and as an NFL head coach.
The series: The Bengals lead the all-time regular-season series, 6-5, including 3-1 in Cincinnati. The Bengals won the last meeting, on Sept. 20, 2009 in Green Bay, and the last game in Cincinnati, a 21-14 victory on Oct. 30, 2005.
The rankings: The Packers’ top-ranked offense is No. 16 in rushing and No. 2 in passing. Their 29th-ranked defense is No. 17 against the run and No. 30 against the pass. The Bengals’ 12th-ranked offense is tied for No. 17 in rushing and is No. 13 in passing. Their seventh-ranked defense is No. 7 against the run and No. 14 against the pass.
The line: The Packers are favored by 3 points.
The injury report:
Packers – Out: S Morgan Burnett (hamstring), CB Jarrett Bush (hamstring), CB Casey Hayward (hamstring). Doubtful: FB John Kuhn (hamstring). Questionable: RB Eddie Lacy (concussion). Probable: TE Jermichael Finley (toe), DT Johnny Jolly (neck), G T.J. Lang (back), CB Tramon Williams (groin)
Bengals – Out: CB Brandon Ghee (concussion), DE Robert Geathers (elbow; on injured reserve). Doubtful: CB Dre Kirkpatrick (hamstring), G Mike Pollak (knee). Questionable: OT Anthony Collins (knee), S Jeromy Miles (hamstring), CB Adam Jones (abdomen). Probable: RB Giovani Bernard (hamstring); DE Carlos Dunlap (thigh), DE Wallave Gilberry (knee), WR Marvin Jones (foot), TE Alex Smith (illness).
THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
Thinning the herd: The Packers decided not to promote practice-squad running back Michael Hill to the 53-man roster Saturday, which meant one of two things: Either Lacy, who did not practice all week, will be active and ready to play, or they simply decided to take their chances with only two healthy running backs – would-be starter James Starks, who is coming off a 132-yard rushing performance last week against Washington, and rookie Johnathan Franklin, who struggled in training camp and has yet to play a snap from scrimmage.
McCarthy, though, seemed more concerned with the prospect of having just two running backs active than with the idea of playing Lacy without practicing him all week, saying “it’s not ideal for a rookie to go through the week without any preparation and then play in the game,” but after playing with just two running backs in a 2011 loss at Kansas City, McCarthy doesn’t want to go down that road again. His ideal scenario, one would think, would have Starks and Franklin handling the work and staying healthy, leaving Lacy in uniform but on the sideline.
The greater issue, though, could be the loss of Kuhn. Not only is Kuhn the Packers’ best blocker when it comes to picking up blitzes on third down, but he’s also the only fullback on the roster.
In pass protection, McCarthy said Starks was awarded a game ball for more than just his rushing effort, but also for his pass protection work. Nevertheless, he has had his troubles in recognition in the past, and Franklin was awful in the preseason finale at Kansas City in that role, whiffing twice on blitzers.
Meanwhile, McCarthy said during the week that he views the tight end and fullback positions as interchangeable, and they’ll have to be with Kuhn unlikely to play. While Andrew Quarless has motioned into the backfield and lined up there before – including on Starks’ 32-yard touchdown run last week against the Redskins – there’s still an adjustment to be made.
“It’s different. It’s different for him blocking in-line as opposed to in the backfield,” running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said. “There’s more space. There’s a little more to negotiate through the offensive line to get on the right guy. But it’s something we’ve practiced and always have here. Tight ends and fullbacks can do the same types of jobs and this is a group of guys that can do it. You try to cover your butt a little bit and make sure everybody can do a little bit of everything.”
Asked if having Quarless in the backfield will alter what the Packers do, Kuhn replied, “We don’t really have to change much in the game plan this week. Drew has been mainly the guy who – when I’m out of the game or we’re in a sub situation or we’re in two-tight end situations he’s more or less the lead blocker and he does a good job with that. So I think the game plan this week isn’t going to really get too creative. It’s going to be much of the same things we’ve run before.”
Quarless, meanwhile, is happy for the opportunity after missing all of last season following his 2011 knee injury.
“It’s something I’ve done and I’ve been doing,” Quarless said. “(On Starks’ TD), it’s funny because I didn’t feel too good about the block. It was a good block, but I really pride myself on being dominant. I want to put people on their butt every play if I’m blocking. I’m not satisfied unless he’s on the ground and he’s on his back.”
Double trouble : The Bengals certainly aren’t the first team to see potential in having two talented tight ends. The Packers did it during their 1996 Super Bowl run with Mark Chmura and Keith Jackson, and the New England Patriots seemingly had a revolutionary offense before Rob Gronkowski’s injury problems and Aaron Hernandez’s, um, legal troubles. Nevertheless, the Bengals’ tandem of Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert – whom the Bengals drafted in the first round of the 2010 and 2013 NFL drafts, respectively – will pose a huge challenge to the Packers, who’ve had their problems defending the tight end during Dom Capers’ tenure as defensive coordinator.
While wide receiver A.J. Green leads the team with 15 receptions for 203 yards and two touchdowns, Gresham is second with 11 receptions for 101 yards and Eifert has eight catches for 113 yards, including a 61-yarder against Pittsburgh on Monday night.