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Packers vs. Bengals: 5 Things You Could Watch But Certainly Don't Have To

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Packers vs. Bengals: 5 Things You Could Watch But Certainly Don't Have To

The Green Bay Packers (0-2) will look to erase eight mostly forgettable quarters of preseason action Thursday in Cincinnati, as the Bengals (2-0) and Packers matchup in the third and most important preseason game on the exhibition schedule.

The third preseason game is widely viewed around the NFL as a dress rehearsal for the regular season, with expanded game plans and starters on both sides of the ball playing into the second half. If there's any kind of regular-season crystal ball available in the preseason, it's likely each team's third contest.

A season ago, the Packers beat the Indianapolis Colts in the third week, 24-21.

Aaron Rodgers threw for 204 yards and a score on 19-of-23 passing, while Curtis Painter went 11-of-21 for 171 yards and two scores as the Colts led the Packers at the half, 14-10. It seemingly meant little at the time, but it did successfully foreshadow Rodgers' passing dominance and the Packers' inability to play pass defense—both of which showed up in droves during the regular season.

Here are five things you could watch in the Packers' 2012 dress rehearsal:

1. Struggles "passing" by or here to stay?

Pass defense is certainly a broad term to watch for, but it applies in this context. As has been repeated over and over, the Packers gave up more passing yards than any team in NFL history last season. Breakdowns in rushing the passer, coverage in the secondary and tackling receivers resulted in combination of factors that simply overwhelmed Dom Capers' unit.

Thursday's in Cincinnati, the Packers get their first extended chance at showing off the improvements they've made this offseason.

Nick Perry will be joined by the first-team defense for the entire first half and possibly more. He's impressed early in preseason games when working with Clay Matthews on the opposite side. Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels should get ample opportunities to pressure the quarterback in the nickel package. Casey Hayward will likely see a number of snaps opposite Tramon Williams at right cornerback. And Jerron McMillian figures to enter the game early after opening eyes with physical play against the Browns a week ago.

Improvements must go beyond the rookies, too.

How will Tramon Williams fare when lining up against Bengals' emerging receiver A.J. Green? His shoulder is still on the mend, and jamming Green is one of the few ways to keep him contained. Can Williams accomplish that task without hesitation? This defense will continue to struggle if Williams is more 2011 than 2010.

Breakdowns for the first-team defense have continued in two preseason games, so Thursday night will be an important look at how this unit has grown. There needs to be improvement, starting now. Getting run over by Andy Dalton and the Bengals passing offense would be a worrying sign.

2. Harrell's last chance?

I touched on Harrell's situation in-depth earlier Wednesday, so I won't spend a bunch of time on it here.

The confidence the Packers staff has in Harrell is crystal clear, but it's time for Harrell to start rewarding that continued confidence with improved play between the white lines. The 27-year-old simply hasn't been good enough through two preseason games, completing just 52.9 percent of his passes and leading the Packers to 10 points on 17 possessions.  Harrell's job likely isn't on the line, and he won't get a ton of reps with Aaron Rodgers playing into the second half, but another shaky performance will keep the criticism coming his way. He needs to show signs during game reps that he's capable of handling the backup duties.

3. Benson's debut

It's almost hard to believe that an August free agent who signed a veteran's minimum deal less than two weeks ago has a legitimate chance to win the starting running back job, but that's where Cedric Benson currently stands.

He's spent the last week or so cramming for this moment—even spending time in the quarterback meetings—and you know he'll have some extra motivation with his old employers on the other sidelines. A good performance running the football between the tackles and protecting on passing downs could cement Benson as the Packers' starting back for Week 1.

While all eyes will be on Benson, don't fall sleep on Alex Green's snaps. Against the Browns, Green looked like an explosive back getting to the edge and a smart, willing pass blocker. His technique needs work, but the tools are all there. If Benson falls on his face, Green could (and should) make a push to start.

4. Starting offensive line

The Packers five starters along the offensive line—Marshall Newhouse, T.J. Lang, Jeff Saturday, Josh Sitton and Bryan Bulaga, from left to right—have just 20 or so plays working together this preseason. Early results were positive against Cleveland, especially with Newhouse's return on the blind side. Thursday night, we should get a long look at the starting five together. This is a group that could be very good in 2012.

Newhouse, the potential wart of the group, looked quicker and stronger in the hands in limited action against the Browns' second-team defensive end last Thursday. The Bengals will likely throw Michael Johnson (6.0 sacks in 2011) and Jamaal Anderson at Newhouse this week, but this is a very talented and deep defensive line overall. It should be a good test across the line for the Packers' starting unit.

5. Jobs on the line 

Starting jobs are available at both right corner and safety, so Thursday marks a tremendous opportunity for players at both positions to finally take hold of the openings.

At right corner opposite Williams, Hayward, Jarrett Bush and Sam Shields should all see significant snaps into the second half. The staff has been rotating players there in an effort to find an answer, but no one has truly established himself as the clear leader. Davon House's injured shoulder has made this competition anyone's guess.

Safety is just as wide open, with M.D. Jennings failing to grab the starting job throughout camp and the preseason. Now, Jennings, McMillian and Anthony Levine have even cracks at being the Week 1 starter. Levine is the darkhorse here, and he's begun playing first-team snaps after stacking nice performances together in preseason games.

Thursday night would be an opportune time for one or more players at each position to start separating themselves from the pack. Having a number of "potential" answers doesn't add up to finding that one true starter.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (18) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Mojo's picture

The sixth thing I'll be watching for is injuries. If there aren't any I would consider the game a success.

FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

That's the first thing on my list.

PackersRS's picture

The only thing on mine.

markinmadison's picture

The only thing I would add is that ball security has been unusually poor this pre season. And ball security problems for Cobb are starting to become a theme for his career. Apologies to all who view him as the next Percy Harvin, but we all know turnovers lose games.

BubbaOne's picture

He's the opposite of Percy...he's starting to give fans a migraine instead of incurring them.

Jamie's picture

Reminds me of the folks calling Jennings the next Robert Ferguson, because he missed a few games over his first two seasons.

Evan's picture

He's just entering his 2nd season. I don't think any kind of "theme for his career" has remotely been established.

Idiot Fan's picture

I genuinely can't recall other turnovers by Cobb, help me out here...

Jamie's picture

He's had one, maybe two actual fumbles on a kickoff and/or punt, and then I think he muffed one punt last year.

No official fumbles on his touches from scrimmage.

I think Aaron Nagler started the 'official ball security issues' drum back up after Cobb fumbled last week. Just your typical overreactionary - WE MUST LABEL EVERYTHING - generalization.

MarkinMadison's picture

I used the word "starting," not "establihed." And two while acting as the return man is a lot. Fumbles on kickoffs and punts are especially demoralizing. With a kickoff the other team has probably just scored, and you are handing them the ball right back, and often in or near the red zone. With a punt, your defense has just worked ther aZZ off to get you the ball, and now they have to go do it again. That's why return specialists who fumble usually get benched, and fast. Two in a year is too many. You will notice that Cobb started to pay more attention to ball security as the year went on last year - he got the message, and both the fumbles and the explosive returns disappeared (or at least dropped off a lot). So yeah, I got no problem standing by what I said.

Jenn's picture

The Bengals are 2-0 not 1-1.

some guy's picture

Why is Ryan Pickett a lock to be on the team let alone be a starter? the guy constantly has his back to the runner and gives 0 pass rush. he is old and sloooooowwwww

I don't get it

PackersRS's picture

Because he's the only player on the roster that can play the run effectively.

Running the ball might not be important, but stopping the run is. We all remember 2008.

some guy's picture

i don't agree with that. the guy just backs into the offensive lineman. that isn't playing the run effectively

Khawaja's picture

Pickett was a huge part of that SB turnover when Matthews screamed Spill it Pickett and forced a fumble. He's consistent and stuffs the run. Under appreciated like Bishop was until just recently. U won't notice it until he sits out games or leaves then u will appreciate him.

Bohj's picture

Also need to add:
In a 3-4 defense, the front 3 are there to eat up the blockers so the linebackers can come up and stuff the lanes (A gaps and B gaps). Look at the tackling stats. Linebackers are the ones who get those tackles (hopefully for a loss). They also get all of the cred. 3-4 DEs don't get the respect they deserve. Pickett has the perfect size to play his position. Don't diss just because he doesn't destroy tackles like Cullen did.

MarkinMadison's picture

Two smart guys over here.

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