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Cincinnati Bengals Week 1 Preview: Bengals Face Stiff Test Against Chicago Bears
Are you ready for some football? The Bengals sure are, as they travel to Soldier Field in Chicago where they will square off against the Chicago Bears in their opening 2013 NFL season game on Sunday. Chicago, who missed the playoffs despite posting a 10-6 record, will look to start their season strong. They will be doing that under the guidance of new head coach Marc Trestman, who replaced long-time coach Lovie Smith who was let go. Cincinnati is likewise coming off a 10-6 record, losing in the wildcard to the Houston Texans.
Marvin Lewis enters his 11th season as the Bengals head coach. The Bengals offense will surely be tested against a stout Chicago defense who posted 44 takeaways, most in the NFL a season ago. Here is a look at the positional breakdown, and which team has the advantage going into the game.
Both Jay Cutler and Andy Dalton had less than memorable 2012 campaigns, as neither put up numbers worthy of elite quarterbacks. Dalton flashed signs of brilliance in the first six weeks of the season, only to have polar opposite performances later in the season. He finished with 3,669 yards, 27 TDs and 16 INTs. Cutler, who has always had the “gun-slinger” nickname attached, played exactly like one, throwing for only 3,033 yards with 19 TDs and 14 INTs. Had Dalton played more consistent last year, the Bengals would have a slight advantage in this battle.
Chicago gets the advantage here due to the fact that Matt Forte is a dual-threat running back. While he posted identical rushing yards as Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis did last year (1,094), he nearly quadrupled Green-Ellis in receiving yards. The knock on Forte has always been at the goal line, but the Bears have Michael Bush for just that. The Bengals drafted dynamic rookie Giovani Bernard to compliment Green-Ellis, and I have wrote before that I think he takes over by the end of the year.
A.J. Green and Brandon Marshall are two of the best receivers in the game. Green, who is entering his third year, runs his routes to precision and has freakish athletic ability routinely displayed. Marshall was a one-man wrecking crew for the Bears last year, as he really got no support across the field. If you look past each team’s top wide-out, the Bengals narrowly edge out the Bears. While the Bears’ Alshon Jeffery looks to make strides after an injury-plagued 2012, the Bengals will have Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones opposite of Green. The Bengals also have a clear advantage at TE, with Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert looking to see the field regularly. Martellus Bennett comes over from the Giants, after having a respectable season with the G-men.
Chicago’s offensive line gave up 44 sacks last year, 38 of them with Cutler behind center. They drafted rookie Kyle Long to play RG, as Long will work to try and keep Cutler on his feet this year. The Bengals offensive line gave up 46 sacks last year, and both tackles Andre Smith and Andrew Whitworth are concerns entering Sunday. This could be a long day for both offensive lines.
The Bengals big men up front are one of the best in the NFL as a group. Headed by all pro Geno Atkins and veteran Domata Peko, the starting defensive line accounted for 32 sacks last season. Michael Johnson is absolutely a nightmare for any offensive lineman at 6’7’’ and 270 pounds. This team is easily six deep, and will be chomping at the bit to get to a weak Chicago OL. The Bears defensive line is led by Julius Peppers, but simply is not as deep as the Bengals are.
Once again the Bengals get the advantage over the aging Bear’s linebackers. The Bears lost franchise man Bryan Urlacher to retirement, and it’s up to Lance Briggs to carry the load. D.J. Williams is oft-injured, and is currently dealing with a knee injury. The Bengals gamble on Vontaze Burfict paid off in a big way last year, as he led the team with 127 tackles. Rey Maualuga and free agent mammoth James Harrison anchor a steady corps of linebackers.
You may be thinking, how can you call this a push? The Bears looked like they were playing video games at times, intercepting passes at an incredible rate. However, interceptions can rarely be a reliable, repeatable stat. The Bears had an incredible 24 INTs last year, with the Bengals coming in at 14. Both teams have experienced DBs, and neither team really stands out above another.
Special Teams- Chicago
Until Devin Hester retires or leaves the Bears, there is a good chance they will hold an advantage on special teams. Not that Adam Jones and Brandon Tate aren’t good return men; it’s just they are not named Devin Hester. The Bengals would be well advised to kick away from Hester, who is a master return man. Both Robbie Gould for the Bears and Mike Nugent are accurate kickers, although Gould has a stronger leg.
Prediction- Cincinnati 27, Chicago 17
Playing this game late season would offer potential weather issues, but playing the first weekend in September there are no worries. Ultimately the Bengals front seven gets to a weak offensive line, and pressure Cutler into bad decisions. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden will look to get the ball to his playmakers, and Dalton needs to start off strong. However, if the Bengals fail to get pressure, watch out for the Marshall show. The Bengals need to keep the ball away from Hester for game-changing plays.
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