Packers vs. Bengals: Three things to watch
The Green Bay Packers will take on the Cincinnati Bengals in pre-season game number three Thursday night. Starters are expected to play the first half. After that, reserves will have perhaps their final shot to earn a roster spot. The team must cut from 90 to 75 men on August 27th.
Below are the three main things I'll be watching for Thursday night...
Benson's first opportunity in the pre-season will come against his former team. I know he is a durable and effective inside runner - so do the Packers quite frankly. What I'll be watching is for how well he picks up the blitz and catches the ball out of the backfield. If you're a running back who wants to see the field in Mike McCarthy's offense, you had better be assignment-sure and know how to block against the blitz.
The other thing I'll be watching for is how effective Benson is with limited carries. Benson is a volume back. He's averaged 298 carries per season since 2009, and about 4.0 yards per carry. He won't get even close to that many carries in the Packers offense, but can he be as effective with 10-15 carries per game? We may not know the answer to that question after one game, but it's something to be mindful of as the season progresses.
At this point in the pre-season, there is little to indicate the Packers defensive line will be better than last season. Their best new player, Anthony Hargrove, will miss the first half of the season due to his role in the Saints bounty program. In addition, third-year player Mike Neal will miss the first 4 games due to testing positive for a banned substance. That leaves CJ Wilson, Jarius Wynn, Phillip Merling, Daniel Muir and rookie Jerel Worthy as the pieces to work with going into week one. Worthy has shown flashes of being a slippery and disruptive play maker - but how much can the team rely on a rookie to be the player who takes a unit to the next level?
What I'll be watching for against the Bengals is who can win the most one-on-one matchups, who can generate a push and compromise the timing of the offense, and who has the makeup to be anything more than just "a guy".
This has been perhaps the most interesting position battle to watch this pre-season. Second-year player Davon House had taken control of the position until a shoulder injury took him out of the mix for the time being. It's possible House will return in week 1 or 2 of the regular season, but may not be ready to start right away.
That leaves veteran Jarrett Bush, rookie Casey Hayward, and third-year player Sam Shields. Bush was back working with the number one unit in practice this week, and is listed as number one on the depth chart. I like Bush, but in my opinion, he is best served as a nickel guy versus starting cornerback.
Hayward is a physical rookie who throws his body all over the place. He's touted as a play maker. That's a good thing, but can he be a consistent corner as a rookie? I think that's a lot to ask, but he is the most skilled of the healthy corners in the hunt to start.
Shields returned to the practice field this week and is playing catch-up. Perhaps his flaws were masked by an effective pass rush and safety Nick Collins in 2010. Shields looked like a raw, inexperienced corner with blazing speed last season. Quite frankly, that's exactly what he still is.
What I'll be watching for is who displays the best set of overall skills: as a cover corner on deep and intermediate routes, as a tackler, in run support, and as a blitzer. As of today, I believe that guy is Hayward, but he's also the least experienced.
Whoever fills the starting role opposite Tramon Williams in week one is likely filling the gap until House is healthy.