The Cincinnati Bengals head to Soldier Field in Chicago to take on the Bears for a chance to start the season 2-0. Last week saw many ups and downs throughout the game as was expected and many players had a breakout game.
Ja’Marr Chase put the media’s doubts to rest and he reeled in five catches for 101 yards and a touchdown. Joe Burrow showed that he is just fine as he completed 20 of his 27 attempts for 261 yards and two touchdowns. The defense also shined as they took down Kirk Cousins three times and had him running for his life.
Who must step up this week if the Cincinnati Bengals want to end up on top?
Trey Hopkins – Center
Trey Hopkins tore his ACL during Week 17 last season but was out there to snap the first ball of 2021. Unfortunately, his game did not go as planned. He was beaten many times and was credited with two sacks on Joe Burrow. PFF graded Hopkins as the lowest of the Bengals offensive lineman at 36.3. It was clear that the communication and technique were lacking as Hopkins returned from injury.
Hopkins better shake off the rust soon as his next battle involves Akiem Hicks, a powerhouse defensive tackle for the Bears. Hicks was credited with four pressures, one sack, and had a pass-rushing grade of 76.4 from PFF.
The interior offensive line has had many questions, but many expected Hopkins to be at least average. Odds are, he will dust off the rust and return to form in a couple of weeks. If he fails to do so, Burrow could be in for a long game against the Bears’ stout defensive line.
Eli Apple – Cornerback
Trae Waynes was set to be a cornerstone of the Bengals’ secondary when he signed a three-year $42 million deal in 2020. Unfortunately, Waynes has yet to play in stripes as he will miss this week’s game against the Bears. Stepping into his place will be former first-round pick Eli Apple.
Apple signed a one-year prove-it deal in 2021 and was immediately thrust into a starting role opposite Chidobe Awuzie. Apple had one rough drive in particular. He was targeted on a 3rd and 24 in the second quarter and failed to make the tackle on the sideline as the Vikings converted for a first down. He then was called for defensive holding and ended the drive by giving up a touchdown to Adam Thielen.
The Bears have a solid receiving corp of Allen Robinson II, Darnell Mooney, Marquise Goodwin, and Damiere Byrd. Andy Dalton is an average quarterback, as many Bengals fans know, but he can get the ball out quickly and make smart reads. Apple will have his hands full no matter who he lines up against.
If the Bengals are going to lean on their defense as they did against the Vikings, Apple will have to play better than he did in Week 1. Fail to do so, and the Bengals could have yet another road loss.
Sam Hubbard – Defensive End
Last week against Minnesota, the Bengals defensive line wreaked havoc. Unfortunately, all three quarterback sacks came from the interior pass rushers B.J. Hill and Larry Ogunjobi. Trey Hendrickson was noticeably a powerhouse on the right side of the defense, but Sam Hubbard failed to show any flare as a pass rusher.
Hubbard signed a four-year, $40 million deal in the offseason, and the Bengals are going to be leaning on him more as the season progresses. With Joseph Ossai placed on injured reserve, Hubbard will be on the field more often in passing situations.
The Bears’ offensive line is already featuring a heavy rotation following injuries to Jason Peters and Larry Borom, and Hubbard will have a favorable matchup against Germaine Ifedi. The Cincinnati Bengals will be hoping that Hubbard will progress as a pass-rusher and make life difficult for Andy Dalton and company.
These three Bengals must have a good game in order for the team to move to 2-0 on the year.