Please let it be better than 2005. For the love of God, let it be better than 2005.
As you may or may not remember, the Chicago Bears have played their season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals before. It would behoove you not to remember, seeing as how Kyle Orton threw five interceptions and embodied what Chicago Bear quarterbacks have done since the history of time, really.
Fast forward eight years.
The Bears and Bengals are one of the most intriguing matchups on the Week 1 NFL docket, really serving as a toss-up for most football analysts. There many interesting storylines to keep an eye on, as well. Will Marc Trestman be overwhelmed in his first game as an NFL head coach? Will the Bears continue their past success on opening day (two thrashings of solid Indianapolis Colts teams in recent years come to mind)? Will A.J. Green continue to make Andy Dalton look like a legitimate NFL starting quarterback?
Will Rex Grossman miraculously relieve Jay Cutler after halftime and spearhead the Bears to victory?
I have my doubts about the last ones, though stranger things have happened. Regardless, here are five key things to watch from a Bears perspective in their season opener.
No. 1: Geno Atkins vs. Bears’ interior line matchup.
Atkins may be the most disruptive force in the game at this point, and we all know how the Bears have handled disruptive interior forces in the past. Just ask Jay Cutler’s head doctor.
However, the Bears look as though they have upgraded their interior offensive line play from a season ago. While obviously raw, Kyle Long has impressed in the preseason and training camp and at the very least, appears to have twice the ability Chris Williams and Gabe Carimi ever had combined. The guy is a physical specimen, but even for as much as he played in the preseason (he would often play entire halves instead of the first quarter), he has never seen the magnitude of stunts and other defensive tricks the Bengals are likely to throw at him Sunday.
Center Roberto Garza is solid, but who knows for how much longer? The same can be said about left guard Matt Slauson, who is also no spring chicken. It is important that the interior line tames Atkins to some extent in game one, if not merely for Jay Cutler’s psyche.
A confident Cutler means a successful Bears offense. A timid Cutler waiting around for the next big hit will mean the Bears are in trouble in 2013, and the interior line’s play against arguably the game’s best will serve as a great measuring stick for the Bears going forward.
No. 2: Charles Tillman Vs. A.J. Green
Two of the best squaring off here, as one of the most sure-handed receivers in the league battles the guy who might as well get into boxing once his NFL career concludes. But seriously, Peanut Tillman forced nine fumbles last year, which at the very least has to make Bengals skill players be cautioned once they have the ball in the open field.
Tillman has had relative success limiting Calvin Johnson in the past. But as great as Johnson is, Peanut has the luxury of facing him twice a year (not the finest luxury, I’m aware) but it does give him added game tape and experience in regards of how to play Johnson.
The slate is clear with Green. The two have never faced before, so while all other potential predictions may be erroneous: expect a ball punch or two.
No. 3: Jay Cutler vs. Bengals secondary
Safety Reggie Nelson and cornerback Leon Hall are two of the renegades in the secondary that could potentially confuse Jay Cutler, which we’ve all seen before. Actually, I take that back in some regard. Bears receivers have been easily confused, historically. Sure, it’s in bad taste to kick Johnny Knox while he’s down. But the truth is the truth, and many times in the past underdeveloped receivers that didn’t understand route running concepts forced unnecessary interceptions for Cutler.
It’s on Jay now. Brandon Marshall is one of the most cerebral receivers in the game, Alshon Jeffrey seems like a new guy by all accounts and if Martellus Bennett could succeed under Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin in New York, he should be able to at least be competent in the Bears’ new scheme.
Still, the Bengals secondary is one of the league’s best. And it’s deep.
Expect to see heavy doses of Matt Forte in the passing game to give Cutler confidence early, and then hopefully the vaunted Cats’ secondary will loosen up. If the Bears get into Favre/Cutler/Grossman..? gun slinger mode early, it could spell trouble for the Beloved.
Bengals 20, Bears 17
See Brett Witterstaetter’s preview from the Bengals’ perspective here