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NFL Team Report - Green Bay Packers - INSIDE SLANT
Aaron Rodgers has the Packers on a roll offensively.
They lead the league with a blistering clip of 482.5 yards per game, including an opulent 580 yards that featured Rodgers' team-record-tying 480 passing yards in a 38-20 thrashing of the Washington Redskins last Sunday.
So, forgive Rodgers if he doesn't want to stop playing not long after this young season started.
After the Packers (1-1) play Sunday at Cincinnati, they and the Carolina Panthers will be the first two teams in the NFL to take their bye week.
When Rodgers fielded a question after practice Wednesday about the advantage the Packers seemingly have been given by playing the Redskins and now the Bengals right after those teams played a Monday night game, the shrewd quarterback took his reply in a different direction.
"We have an early bye and 13 straight (games to play in the regular season after that). I don't know how many favors we're getting here," Rodgers said.
While Rodgers seems far from enthused about the timing of it, the unusually early week off on the schedule may come at the ideal time. The Packers are hurting with a number of key players popping up early and often on the injury report.
Top safety Morgan Burnett and rookie halfback Eddie Lacy possibly won't be ready to play Sunday, when the Packers go outside the NFC for the first time this season.
Burnett has yet to play since the start of the season because of a nagging hamstring injury.
Given what's around the corner with the bye, Green Bay figures to be inclined to err on the side of caution with not only Burnett but also Lacy, who still was in the recovery process at midweek after suffering a concussion in the first series of Sunday's game.
"Eddie Lacy is making progress," head coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday. "He seems to be doing fine. He's going through the protocol, so we'll take another step tomorrow.
"He's in the meetings, and that's always a positive sign. But, he's got a couple more tests in front of him that he has to pass before he'll be able to practice."
Unsure if Lacy will be cleared medically by Friday to return to the field, McCarthy didn't leave anyone hanging about what the Packers will do to potentially carry on without Lacy in the backfield.
McCarthy named James Starks the starting back for Sunday, a week after the previously maligned fourth-year player had an eye-popping performance in Lacy's stead. Starks became the first Packer in more than two seasons to rush for 100 yards with 20 carries for a career-high 132 yards and a touchdown at the expense of the Redskins.
"We know what he's capable of," Rodgers said of Starks. "He's been injured off and on during his time here with us. I think we've seen when he's been 100 percent healthy the kind of back he can be.
"Like most players, I'm sure he's a confidence player. The more opportunities he gets when he knows he's the guy and he's going to get a lot of reps, that can only give you more confidence. As a quarterback, I feel that. When I know it's my show, I'm going to play a lot more confidently. When he knew he was going to get the bulk of the carries after Eddie went down, he knew that he just had to relax and play because it wasn't going to be his last carry in the game."
Sunday indeed could be another heavy-duty gig for Starks with the Packers possibly down to two running backs. Along with Lacy, there's uncertainty with lone fullback John Kuhn, who suffered a hamstring injury in the last game and didn't practice Wednesday.
McCarthy said rookie Johnathan Franklin, who has played sparingly the first two weeks, "probably will get some opportunities this week."
SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Bengals lead series, 6-5. Green Bay is seeking its first win over the Bengals since scoring a 13-6 decision at Cincinnati in 1998. The Bengals have won the last two meetings, 21-14 at home in 2005 and 31-24 at Green Bay in 2009. The interconference opponents are meeting for only the fifth time in Cincinnati, with the Bengals' holding a 3-1 lead.
NFL Team Report - Green Bay Packers - NOTES, QUOTES
--Forget the casual observer, even the most ardent football fan wouldn't have known it when watching Jermichael Finley escape three would-be Washington Redskins tacklers to turn a short pass play into an impressive 27-yard gain last time out.
But, the Packers' big-play tight end has been playing - and delivering sizable contributions - in a state of discomfort.
"It's just really painful right now; it's hurting," Finley said after his six-catch, 65-yard, one-touchdown performance in Green Bay's 38-20 win over the Redskins last Sunday.
An injury to Finley's right big toe, which he sustained in the Sept. 8 loss at San Francisco to start the season, is lingering. Finley remains on the injury report this week and didn't practice Wednesday, when the Packers returned to the field to prepare for a matchup on the road with the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
"It's crazy, you never think about a toe injury, but when you get it, you know about it, I promise you that," said Finley, who also didn't practice last Wednesday before being cleared to play against the Redskins.
Finley, however, has paid little attention in the heat of play to what has been aching him of late.
In the final year of his contract, Finley is off to the best start in his six pro seasons with 11 catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns. The receptions total ties him with James Jones for No. 2 on the team, behind Randall Cobb's 16.
--Rookie halfback Eddie Lacy is a big question mark to be activated for Sunday's game because of a concussion.
He suffered the head injury just five plays into the win over the Redskins.
Washington safety Brandon Meriweather, who delivered the helmet-to-helmet blow that knocked Lacy out of the game, received his punishment Wednesday. The NFL fined Meriweather $42,000 for that hit.
The league, however, didn't mete out another fine to the notoriously hard-hitting Meriweather for a helmet-to-helmet shot on Lacy's replacement, James Starks, in the second quarter of the game. That hit incidentally resulted in a game-ending concussion for Meriweather.
--Reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week Aaron Rodgers leads the league with 813 passing yards and ranks second with seven touchdown passes and a 127.2 passer rating.
On Sunday, he figures to jump ahead of Hall of Famer Bart Starr in short order on the Packers' all-time completions list.
Rodgers needs only two completions to surpass Starr's total of 1,808, which rates second in team annals behind Brett Favre's 5,377.
"I hadn't thought about that or heard about that until (it was mentioned in his meeting with reporters Wednesday)," Rodgers said. "Bart has been a great friend and somebody who's meant a lot to me during my short time here. He set the bar so high with the success he had here as a player winning all those championships.
"I've said it before he's a better person than he was a football player. I didn't get to watch him play, but that's what everybody tells me about him. He's been a great supporter of mine - him and his wife - and I'm just blessed to know a guy like that. That's one of my role models."
--The Packers will go from the game Sunday right into their bye week, the earliest they have had a break on the schedule since they also had a Week 4 bye in 1999.
Under head coach Mike McCarthy since 2006, the Packers are 5-2 in games played before the bye week, including victories in those instances each of the last three seasons.
"There's nothing I can do about it," McCarthy said when asked whether the bye is falling too early this season. "It's the earliest I've been a part of, so I'll let you know how it goes."
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 - Consecutive games at the start of the season in which the Packers have had two players with at least 100 receiving yards in each game. It's the first time in team history Green Bay has achieved the feat in back-to-back games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If we all have more opportunities like we're getting this year, I think it's possible. It's two games, but you can see how quick it can happen. James (Jones) went from no yards in Week 1 to 179 in Week 2. That's how quick it can change week to week. It'll be interesting how the year plays out." -- Jordy Nelson, on the prospects for him and fellow receivers Jones and Randall Cobb to each reach 1,000 receiving yards this season.
NFL Team Report - Green Bay Packers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--QB Aaron Rodgers was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday. Rodgers tied former backup Matt Flynn's single-game team record with 480 passing yards and also threw for four touchdowns as he completed 34 of 42 passes in the Packers' 38-20 win over the Washington Redskins on Sunday. Rodgers became only the second quarterback in NFL history - joining Hall of Famer Y.A. Tittle (with the New York Giants in 1962) - to throw for at least 480 yards and four touchdowns without an interception in a game.
--RB James Starks was named by head coach Mike McCarthy on Wednesday as the starter for the game at the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. Starks will make his first start since Nov. 25, 2012, when the Packers lost at the New York Giants. He replaced injured rookie Eddie Lacy early in last Sunday's game against Washington and responded with a career-high 132 yards and a touchdown in 20 carries, along with four catches for 36 yards.
--RB Johnathan Franklin is expected to have a role on offense for the first time this season with fellow rookie Eddie Lacy (concussion) possibly unable to play Sunday at Cincinnati. Replacement starter James Starks and Franklin are the only healthy backs on the roster with lone fullback John Kuhn (hamstring) also hurting.
--WR Jeremy Ross continues to have the coaches on his side to be back on kick returns. Ross is averaging a paltry 13.5 yards in four kickoff returns through two games, leaving him near the bottom of the league rankings. Ross has returned two punts for an average of 10 yards, working in a time share with Randall Cobb, the team's top pass catcher.
--RB Eddie Lacy (concussion) still hasn't practiced this week in his recovery from the head injury he sustained early in last Sunday's win over Washington. However, head coach Mike McCarthy said after practice Thursday the rookie starter took another step with completing the league-mandated protocol in his recovery and that he has been given "a good opportunity" by the team's medical staff to be cleared by the weekend. McCarthy stressed that Lacy would have to practice Friday in order to have a shot to play Sunday at Cincinnati. Even if Lacy is activated for the game, James Starks already has been named the starter at halfback.
--TE Jermichael Finley (toe) practiced in limited fashion Thursday after being held out the previous day. Finley was on a similar schedule last week before being able to play and have a big role in the victory over Washington on Sunday. Provided he doesn't have a setback with the injury to his right big toe, Finley should play Sunday at Cincinnati.
--RG T.J. Lang (back) was added to the injury report Thursday. Head coach Mike McCarthy said Lang's back tightened, resulting in him practicing on a limited basis Thursday. The status of the starter for Sunday's game at Cincinnati won't be known until Friday, but McCarthy said the injury wasn't considered to be serious.
--FS Morgan Burnett (hamstring) didn't practice Thursday after having limited work the previous day and, according to head coach Mike McCarthy, is "a long shot" to play in Sunday's game at Cincinnati. Burnett has yet to play this season, leaving a big void in the starting lineup. The Packers have resorted to a combination of M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian and undrafted rookie Chris Banjo at the two safety spots.
--FB John Kuhn (hamstring) still hasn't practiced this week, raising doubt about his availability for the game at Cincinnati on Sunday. Kuhn is the only fullback on the roster, but the Packers like to line up tight ends in the backfield for blocking purposes and would be able to get by without their versatile veteran.
--DL Johnny Jolly (neck) went from full-time work in practice Wednesday to limited status Thursday. The availability of the veteran for Sunday's game at Cincinnati doesn't appear to be in jeopardy. Jolly returned to the win over Washington last Sunday after leaving with the injury in the third quarter.
--CB Casey Hayward (hamstring) has been ruled out for Sunday's game at Cincinnati. Hayward has yet to play this season because of the leg injury he aggravated in late August.
--CB Jarrett Bush (hamstring) hasn't been cleared to return to the field, putting the veteran backup's status in doubt for the game at Cincinnati on Sunday. Bush had the hamstring injury flare up in practice last week, and he was deactivated for the win over Washington last Sunday.
GAME PLAN: The Bengals' big 2011 draft duo of receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton will make their first official appearance against the Packers, who last played Cincinnati in interdivisional play in 2009. Yet, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers may have been on to something even with a vanilla game plan when Green Bay visited Paul Brown Stadium for a preseason game against the Bengals in August 2012. Cincinnati played Dalton into the third quarter, and the results weren't encouraging from a Bengals perspective. Since the Bengals weren't on the regular-season schedule last year, Capers didn't hold back and had his charges blitz liberally. Dalton probably exited the game for the rest of the night happily after he completed only five of 17 passes for 40 yards and just two scoring drives (both field goals). Dalton's passer rating was a dreadful 39.6. What's more, despite being targeted a game-high six times, Green had only one catch, picking up all of three yards. Look for Capers to fall back on that effective game plan Sunday and try to force Dalton's hand without giving him the time to hook up with Green. Just as Cincinnati is partial to the pass, the Packers are predictably going to keep airing it out until a defense shows any ability to thwart them. Aaron Rodgers is coming off a career-high and team-record-tying 480-yard performance. Still, Mike McCarthy will look to keep James Starks, who is taking over for injured rookie Eddie Lacy as the starting halfback, riding high after his unexpected performance of a personal-best 132 rushing yards in Sunday's rout of the Washington Redskins.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Packers LG Josh Sitton, C Evan Dietrich-Smith and RG T.J. Lang vs. Bengals DTs Geno Atkins and Domata Peko - Green Bay's young tackles tandem of David Bakhtiari on the left side and Don Barclay on the right side have been under great scrutiny at the outset of the season as the new protectors for Aaron Rodgers. They have performed as well as can be expected. The focus shifts to the interior for this game. The extra attention drawn by Cincinnati's talented tackles frees up pass rushers Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson on the outside. Green Bay has been susceptible to pocket pressure on Rodgers funneled through the middle, especially with standout Sitton bothered by back trouble and Dietrich-Smith playing up and down in the early going.
--Packers linebackers and safeties vs. Bengals TEs Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert - Green Bay's short-handed defense, as any other opponent for Cincinnati, has to make game-breaking receiver A.J. Green the No. 1 priority. The Packers, however, can't lose sight - and track - of Andy Dalton's big targets down the middle of the field. Gresham has been active two weeks in for the Bengals with 11 receptions, and high-profile rookie Eifert already has been stretching defenses with an average of 14.1 yards per catch. Green Bay inside linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones have been struggling in coverage, and the Packers still may not have top safety Morgan Burnett (hamstring) ready to make his belated season debut.