CINCINNATI -- Mike Zimmer has made it a habit in recent years to hand out to his defenders a pair of orange shorts that feature a common logo. The gesture is a subtle attempt by the Cincinnati Bengals' defensive coordinator to bring his unit closer together and remind players of their top mission.
This year, the "brotherhood" shorts, as they are nicknamed, feature the phrase "HEET Swarm." According to defensive tackle Geno Atkins, the phrase stands for "Heart, Effort, Execution, Technique and swarm to the ball."
When the Bengals face the Green Bay Packers at home Sunday afternoon, they will certainly want to heed the latter portion of that motto.
Sure, they want to swarm to the ball every week, but this week the practice takes on added significance because Cincinnati is facing the NFL's top receiving corps at picking up yards after the catch.
"No defense wants to give up big plays, so our goal is to give up no explosive plays over 15 yards," Bengals safety George Iloka said. "We definitely want to limit those and try to stop those."
The first two teams the Packers faced this season had trouble doing that.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, of the 965 yards of offense Green Bay amassed against San Francisco and Washington in the first two games of the season, 610 were the product of passes caught by Packers wide receivers. That's the most production of any group of receivers in the NFL. And of those 610 yards, 234 came after contact. That's the second-most of any group of receivers in the entire league.
And if you throw in tight ends and running backs, Green Bay's 439 yards after the catch also leads the NFL.
"In both games, they made the first guy miss and got 20, 30 yards afterwards," Bengals cornerback Leon Hall said. "They're dangerous from that aspect."
What else makes the Packers' receivers dangerous?
"[Aaron] Rodgers is pretty mobile and his receivers adjust well," Hall added.
One of the league's dominant passers since he took over as the Packers' starter in 2008, Rodgers has put on his share of passing clinics inside Lambeau Field. He's had the type of big-bodied, rangy and athletic receivers to do it, too. This season, in particular, he has enjoyed having the likes of Jordy Nelson, James Jones and the speedy Randall Cobb, not to mention tight end Jermichael Finley, on the other end of his throws. Each member of the quartet has already caught 10 or more passes, and all at an average of at least 11 yards per reception.
"The biggest thing when you have a perimeter player come into your program, you want him to be able to play all four positions," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Our tight ends can play on the line, in the backfield or displaced. Our receivers can play all four wide-receiver positions. It definitely does help you when you're game-planning. The biggest challenge is to get the reps with the quarterback to get the timing and the rhythm down with moving those guys around."
Even still, Rodgers has shown that no matter where his pass-catchers line up and no matter the difficulties of mixing up repetitions, he's able to get into a rhythm with them, and he's quite capable of getting the ball in their hands.
Last week against Washington, Rodgers tied a team record when he passed for 480 yards. More than 280 of those came after the catch.
"As a defense, you have to tackle," Iloka said. "Teams are going to catch balls, but you have to tackle and bring them down right there. This week, we have been focusing on open-field tackling. As a secondary, that comes down on us. You can't stop a team from getting zero receptions in a game, but when they catch it, you want to minimize the damage by tackling them right there on the spot."
One reason the Packers are able to spread opposing defenses to the point that safeties, corners and linebackers can't get good angles on their receivers has to do with Rodgers' release time. According to Pro Football Focus, against a strong rush versus Washington, Rodgers got rid of the ball, on average, within 1.95 seconds. If a defender isn't on tight man coverage on his receiver within two seconds of the ball being snapped, he likely won't be getting immediate help bringing that player down once he catches the ball. Chances are, his help wouldn't be in the best position to swarm and make a play.
Still, regardless of how good Rodgers is and regardless of what he may do against the Bengals on Sunday, Cincinnati's defenders have to take the swarm mentality seriously.
"The main thing is they've done a good job so far in yards after catch," Iloka said. "That's going to be our job to neutralize that."
The Bengals do have one statistic in their favor. They currently have the NFL's longest streak of holding quarterbacks below 300 passing yards -- a run of 16 games. That streak will definitely be put to the test this weekend. If they can extend it, 2-1 may well be on the Bengals' horizon.