The Cincinnati Bengals dropped their Week 1 contest to the Chicago Bears, losing 24-21. However, in that loss there were many bright spots for both the offense and defense—however, those were also augmented by ugly moments that led to a loss.
Here, we look at what worked and what didn't for the Bengals against the Bears and what the Bengals can do to minimize the mistakes in the future while highlighting their strengths.
What Worked: The Passing Game
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton completed 78.8 percent of his passes against the Bears for 282 yards, two scores—and two interceptions. Those turnovers aside, this was one of Dalton's best performances of his three-year NFL career.
Unsurprisingly, his biggest and most productive target was receiver A.J. Green, who had nine catches for 162 yards and both of Dalton's touchdowns. However, Dalton was good at spreading the ball around, throwing passes to six other players, all of whom had at least one catch.
The tight ends, Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert, also were standouts. Each was targeted five times and each caught all five of them, with Eifert putting up 47 yards and Gresham, 35. The Bengals' offseason plan to bring on more receiving weapons in order to increase Dalton's success rate and to take pressure off of Green appeared to work.
Also of note in the passing game is that Dalton averaged 8.5 yards per attempt. He completed nearly 80 percent of his passes, and many were not of the high-percentage variety that often pads good statistical days. Dalton threw deep with accuracy and confidence, a sign that his development is continuing positively.
What Didn't Work: Clock Management and Timeouts
Issues with clock management at the end of the first half and problems with timeouts at the end of the game both cost the Bengals dearly in their loss to Chicago.
In the first half, with about one minute remaining, the Bengals chose to pass—a deep incompletion from Dalton to Green—instead of running the ball, therefore giving the ball back to the Bears with enough time for them to put together a quick, four-play drive that resulted in a Chicago field goal. Those three points would come in handy for the Bears later on—that's the margin of victory, after all.
In the second half, the Bengals burned through their timeouts, all when on defense. All three were gone with over eight minutes left to play, with the Bears driving down the field to score the eventual touchdown that would lead to their win.
Two of the timeouts were called on back-to-back plays. One was a timeout burned on an injury to linebacker Vontaze Burfict. The next was called by Burfict himself, who upon returning to the field, noticed that there were 12 men on the field on defense and wanted to avoid the penalty call.
These basic errors were examples of a lack of discipline and polish on display at times by the Bengals. There are more examples of this coming below.
What Did Work: The Run Game
The Bengals' offensive identity isn't in the way they run the ball—it's about Dalton and Green and the passing game. Therefore, the run game was used properly against Chicago, aside from the unwillingness to use it right before halftime to control the clock.
Cincinnati passed the ball 33 times and rushed 21—not a perfectly-balanced performance but also not too incredibly pass-heavy, either. Those 21 rushes produced 63 yards, for an acceptable three yards-per-carry average, considering the Bears had a top-10 run defense in 2012.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis had the most carries on the day, with 14 for 25 yards and a score. His 1.8 yards per carry were far lower than the ideal, but the run game as a whole was assisted by Giovani Bernard's four carries that netted 22 yards.
It wasn't a great day on the ground for the Bengals, but it was good enough. They ran the ball the proper amount for an offense such as theirs and were able to at least get a few meaningful yards—and a touchdown—from it against one of the more formidable run defenses in the league. There is room for improvement, but it wasn't a liability on Sunday.
What Didn't Work: Too Many Penalties
The Bengals were their own undoing against the Bears in many ways on Sunday, but no issue directly led to the game's outcome more than the penalties the Bengals amassed—eight of them, for 84 yards. And when you hand over 84 yards to a team that features Brandon Marshall at wide receiver and Matt Forte at running back, there's going to be trouble.
The field goal the Bears managed to score prior to halftime was the result of a penalty—that's how they could go just four yards in those four plays and net three points. Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick earned a personal foul penalty on the punt return prior to the drive, moving the ball from the Bears' 41-yard line to Cincinnati's 44.
Another special teams 15-yard penalty—a face-mask on rookie safety Shawn Williams on another punt return—put the Bears at their own 40 rather than their 25.
And the game ended for the Bengals on a penalty, too. With just over a minute remaining and the Bears up by three, Chicago running back Michael Bush gained one yard on a 3rd-and-6. The Bengals were seemingly about to get the ball back with a chance to tie or win the game.
But no, it was not to be. During the play—and away from it, it's useful to note—Bengals middle linebacker Rey Maualuga was taking on Bears offensive tackle Jordan Mills. Maualuga was overly aggressive, however, taking Mills down with a facemask, drawing a 15-yard penalty that gave the Bears a new set of downs and the opportunity to take a knee and win the game.
Little mistakes served to undo the work the Bengals' big successes produced against Chicago.
What Did Work: The Offensive Line
The worry heading into this game was that fill-in left tackle Anthony Collins would be no match for starting Bears right defensive end Julius Peppers. However, the worry was unfounded, with Collins allowing no sacks and very little pressure to reach Dalton.
Dalton was sacked once—by left defensive end Shea McClellin, who made it past right tackle Andre Smith. Other than that, it was a comfortable outing for the Cincinnati quarterback, who has been historically shaky when facing aggressive pass-rushers.
The Bears had 41 sacks last year and Dalton was being protected by a backup left tackle, but yet he kept his uniform clean and managed one of the best passing performances of his career. The offensive line was a definite bright spot despite the loss.
What Didn't Work: The Pass Rush
With 51 sacks in 2012 and the Bears having an offensive line that required much improvement over the past few months, this game seemed like a perfect opportunity for the Bengals to show off their impressive pass rush.
Instead, the Cincinnati defense had no sacks on Jay Cutler.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), they did manage to bring pressure—defensive end Carlos Dunlap had two quarterback hits and two hurries, defensive tackle Geno Atkins had one hit and three hurries, defensive end Michael Johnson had two hurries and linebacker Vontaze Burfict had a hit and a hurry.
This wasn't all that bad, but considering they were up against a Bears line featuring two rookies (right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills), they should have had a better day. Rookie offensive linemen are the meal the top veteran pass-rushers feast upon any time they are given the chance. Leaving town with no sacks was therefore a disappointing showing for the Bengals front seven.