Bengals have many young rising stars
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider senior editor
~The Packers don’t often get to see teams from the AFC North, but by Sunday afternoon, Packer players and fans may have seen more than they want to of some of them. This is a good, young team who probably will unseat the defending champion Ravens and Steelers this season.
Young stars like A.J. Green, Gio Bernard, Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, and tight end duo Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham are all capable of doing enough damage that the Packers could leave the Jungle and head into their bye week at 1-2.
On offense, the brightest star is unquestionably wide receiver A.J. Green. Talent and ability alone, he’s as good as anyone in the NFL not named Megatron.
He possesses great everything, from speed to hands to size, and jumping ability. He can go past the safety, or he can just out-jump the defensive backs even when perfectly covered.
The other wide receivers are Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. They’re decent. Sanu had five catches Monday against the Steelers, while Jones had three catches, two being for first downs.
The Bengal tight ends are (since New England’s two are either out injured or in prison) the best duo in the NFL today. Both top draft choices, Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert combined for nine receptions for 132 yards receiving against the Steelers in Monday night’s win.
Eifert is the rookie many mocksters predicted would be the Packers first round pick this April. We’ll never know because the Bengals took him way earlier than that. He’s a monster at 6-6, 250 lbs. with good speed and great athletic ability.
The other guy is Gresham, at 6-5, 260. He’s already a two-time Pro-Bowler, and is the first Bengal TE in team history to log three consecutive seasons of 50 or more catches. Drafted in the first round in 2010, his receptions, yards, and average per catch have all gone up each season.
Both of these guys were 21st overall draft picks for a reason. Each guy will present serious matchup problems for the Packers defense.
ILB Brad Jones is a fine cover guy, but he can be beaten by either of these hybrids. It’s the second one that will be the bigger problem as A.J. Hawk is smaller and less agile to cover either Gresham or Eifert. This is an area that concerns Dom Capers, with good reason.
The Bengals made him the first running back taken in this year’s draft, ahead of the Packers Eddie Lacy and the Broncos Montee Ball and the Steelers Le’Veon Bell.
So far, it’s looked correct as Bernard has done the best among all of them. Yes it’s very early and yes Lacy looks like he could become a stud. But Bernard looks like an amped-up version of the Packers injured DuJuan Harris. Harris was surprisingly very good late last year and had McCarthy excited about pairing him with Lacy (or Starks).
Veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis (not the name of any law firm we’re aware of), is still solid between the tackles, and he led the team with 75 yards rushing Monday against Pittsburgh. Still healthy, that’s a very solid 1-2 punch at RB, behind a solid offensive line. They paved the way for both of those Bengals running backs, and they didn’t allow a single sack Monday night against the Steelers.
The QB they are protecting is 25-year old Andy Dalton, a 2011 rookie Pro-Bowl participant from TCU.
He’s not great by any means, but he’s adequate.
Entering this season, Dalton had thrown 47 TD passes in 32 career games, 20 as a rookie and 27 in 2012. The only QB’s who passed for more TD’s in their first two seasons are Hall of Famer Dan Marino (68) and future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning (52).
Dalton also joined Marino and Manning as the only players to hit 20 or higher in TD passes in each of their first two seasons.
He has a 20-14 career record as the starting QB, and hasn’t missed a game yet.
On defense, the Bengals have another Pro Bowl superstar in DT Geno Atkins. He’s not known by many casual Packer fans, yet.
But Aaron Rodgers and his offensive linemen know him.
Next to him are some more good guys, including DE Michael Johnson, who’s a Julius Peppers clone (not at that elite level, but very athletic and tall).
Carlos Dunlap is another one who can cause some problems in the Packers backfield.
At linebacker, they are led by inside linebacker Vontaze Burfict. He was a guy who was originally penciled in as a first round pick, but because of off-field issues, he amazingly fell completely out of the 2012 draft. Of course, Marvin Lewis has never let off-field issues sway him, and he signed him right away.
It was a great move as ‘Taze led the team in tackles last year with 174, including an astounding 23 in the final game versus Ray Lewis and the Ravens last season.
He was one of the most highly-coveted prospects in the country in high school, and chose Arizona State as his team. By Sunday afternoon, I have a feeling many Packer fans are going to hate this guy.
The Bengals secondary has a bunch of familiar names.
At cornerback, there’s former Michigan Wolverine Leon Hall, along with veteran former studs Terrence Newman and Adam Pac-Man Jones.
Safety Reggie Nelson is a guy who will gamble and make big plays, but he’s also capable of getting torched for some long gains. He’s been known to be a helmet-banger like last week’s villain Brandon Meriweather of the Redskins. Watch out for Nelson’s head flying into piles late. Hopefully he doesn’t injure anyone, but if he does, it’s his own self.