The arrival of the new NFL season brings an opening week road trip to Soldier Field, where the Cincinnati Bengals will take on the Chicago Bears. This matchup has all of the makings to be one of the most exciting—albeit underrated—games of Week 1.
Each of these teams have their own sets of strengths and weaknesses. It is important to know these aspects about both squads entering the game. Fortunately, Bears Featured Columnist Andrew Dannehy was willing to give some great insight regarding Chicago as the impending game approaches.
In addition to his duties as a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, Dannehy is the Associate Editor for the Trempealeau County Times—located in Whitehall, WI. Dannehy writes a weekly sports column titled "The Way It Is," which was named the third-best Weekly Sports Column in the 2009 Wisconsin Newspaper Association Better Newspaper contest. He has also recently started writing for Cover 32, a recently launched website, covering all 32 NFL teams.
Below are three questions answered by Dannehy and a counterpoint.
SO: What is one thing you’re concerned about facing the Bengals?
AD: I think every NFL team and fan is scared of Geno Atkins and that’s especially true for the Bears. Atkins will line up against rookie guard Kyle Long much of the time and—even as good as Long as looked—he figures to get a bit of an education going against Atkins. The concern isn’t just that Atkins will ruin their game plan for this game, but that Jay Cutler only has so many hits left in him. If the Bears can’t protect Cutler and he were to suffer another concussion, their season would be as good as over.
SO: This is a fantastic point. The Bengals had the most deadly defensive line in 2012 with 43 of the team's 51 sacks coming from the guys up front. The Bears have not had a viable offensive line in years past, and although they have improved recently, they are still a less-than-formidable opponent for Cincinnati's front four.
SO: What is an area you think your team can exploit in the match up?
AD: With Andrew Whitworth’s status in doubt, I’m tempted to go with Julius Peppers over Anthony Collins, however they’ll likely give Collins a lot of help. So, instead, I’ll go with running back Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett against the Cincy linebackers. Both are a handful for even the best coverage linebackers, and this is an area the Bengals have struggled with. According to ESPN Fantasy scoring, opposing running backs caught 98 passes against the Bengals last year, the fourth highest rate in the league. If the Bengals use a defensive back on Forte, it’ll leave Bennett covered by a linebacker or Brandon Marshall facing single coverage. They could play more nickel or dime packages, however, that would leave them vulnerable to the Bears’ running game.
SO: Another valid assessment from Dannehy. If Whitworth does miss the game, Collins will be expected to start in his place. He should get some help, but could struggle against the likes of Peppers.
The versatility of Forte could be rather worrisome for the Bengals. After a season-ending injury to their best coverage linebacker in Emmanuel Lamur during the fourth preseason game, Cincinnati remains vulnerable to this kind of attack. Bears head coach Marc Trestman is known for getting his running backs involved in multiple phases of the game, and the Bengals linebackers will certainly have their hands full in coverage.
SO: Who do you think wins and why?
AD: I think the Bears come out hungry, wanting to prove themselves and get a close win. While they’ll struggle offensively, I think Cutler will be efficient and they’ll get a few big plays from Forte. With Whitworth likely out, the Bengals will have to keep extra blockers in, making passing lanes even harder to find than usual against the Bears defense. They’ll force Andy Dalton into third-and-long situations, sit in their Cover 2 shell and make the tackles on the dump offs.
SO: This statement is mostly agreeable. Dalton could certainly struggle against a great Bears secondary, but Cutler will have issues of his own against a Bengals pass rush that can make good offensive lines look like Swiss cheese. This should certainly be a defensively-driven matchup, but the sheer amount of versatile offensive weapons on this Bengals team could be too much for the Bears to deal with for an entire 60 minutes. The Bengals win in a close contest: 20-17.