“Are we?” Rodgers said with a laugh. “Yeah, it’s pretty good then.”
Indeed it is. Entering this week, the Packers were the best in the league on first down, averaging 8.05 yards per first-down play. More importantly, the Packers view a 4-yard gain as “winning the down,” and of their 64 first-down plays this season, 34 have resulted in gains of 4 yards or more.
Over the past three seasons, the Packers have finished ninth in the NFL in first-down gains in 2010 (5.75-yard average), sixth in 2011 (6.29-yard average) and, troublingly, 30th last year (4.79-yard average).
McCarthy was dismissive of the statistical improvement – “Statistics, at this point, I don’t think illustrate the characteristics or identity of your football team,” he said – it was significant that the Packers had such success on first down last week. Rodgers completed 13 of 16 passes for 193 yards on first down, although there was also a 12-yard sack and a holding penalty. Running the ball, the Packers gained 45 yards on 10 attempts but also had a holding penalty.
”The key for us is getting us in third-and-manageable (situations),” Rodgers said when asked about the significance of first-down success. “I think we’re 4 of 10 both games on third down, which is not as good as we want to be obviously but we’ve obviously done a good job on first and second down because to only have 10 third downs each game is good for us. Obviously you’d like to convert a few more of those, but first-down and second-down production are very important to this offense.”
This is a tough call. As productive as the Packers offense has been in the season’s first two weeks – including last week’s 580-yard explosion, which ranks second in franchise history – this is their third straight game against a 2012 playoff team so it’s no easy task. The Packers have been good at entering bye weeks on a high under McCarthy – they’re 5-2 in pre-bye games under him and an impressive 14-5, tied for best in the NFL, in pre-bye games dating back to 1994 – but the Bengals’ varied offense and impressive front four will challenge them. While there’s no doubt they’ll be a better team late in the year as their young guys improve, the guess here is that this is another growing pain experience. Bengals 27, Packers 21. (Season record: 2-0)
– Jason Wilde