Alex: I agree with Forte’s tremendous ability to run up the gut through defensive lines. Even with the Bengals starters in games during the preseason, we saw the opposing running game racking up numbers on the ground. For example, look at the first half of the Titans game. Johnson set up our defense with effective running, and that opened things up for Locker to pass over the middle. That’s going to be what the Bengals have to prevent here. I don’t think it starts with Cutler to open things up for the running game. Rather, I think the Bengals need to focus on stopping the Bears running game, and make Cutler be the one that has to beat them. If Cincinnati takes the balance away from Chicago’s offense in that way, I don’t think Cutler can win the game through the air.
Although I agree with you when you say that Giovani Bernard won’t be ready to shoulder the offense, I disagree when you say that he is the key for balance on the Bengals offense. I think that Andy Dalton has to set the tone here. Like Cutler, I think Dalton is most comfortable when he’s put in game-manager mode. However, with Whitworth missing on the line, I’m wary of what type of ground game we’ll be able to generate against a fresh defensive line for Chicago. I expect Gruden to put the ball in Dalton’s hands. The game will ultimately fall on whether or not the third year quarterback can carry the offense on some solid drives to open the game. If he can do that in the first quarter, I think it opens up the running game for the Bengals for the rest of the way.
Jason: I fully agree that the game will be fall on Dalton’s shoulders. I just think those shoulders are going to be driven into the ground too often by Peppers and Melton for him to keep the offense rolling.
The game may very well come down to how well the Bengals offense can execute the short-passing game, but against a pair of corners like Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman, whom many regard as one of the three or four best CB tandems in the NFL, even that will prove to be a tough task.
I just feel like the Bears defense has an answer for anything the Bengals can throw at them.
Alex: You’re absolutely right. The short passing game is from Dalton is what will decide the game. I would also count myself among those who regard Jennings and Tillman as one of the best tandems at the cornerback position. Which in fact, is why we avoid the sidelines. After Chicago lost Brian Urlacher at linebacker, and Cincinnati gained Tyler Eifert as another tight-end, I’m seeing mismatches over the middle throughout the game. We don’t need anything fancy.
Green will be covered by Tillman, and whoever we have opposite of him, (Sanu, Jones, etc) will likely be covered by Jennings. Eifert can catch in traffic better than any other young tight-end in the league, and Gresham has something to prove on the other side. I imagine the Bengals will use a lot of two tight-end sets, and both will look to create mismatches.
The Bears have two options at linebacker to replace the heart of their defense. Veteran D. J. Williams and Jonathan Bostic. The former’s endurance will be questioned, and although the latter has proven his talent during the preseason, he’s still a rookie. Against a Bears Cover 2 pass defense that requires the middle linebacker to play against the pass at times, I’d much rather face either of them than Urlacher. I think Dalton can be successful over the middle.