Somewhere in the cosmos, football demigods, Paul Brown and George Halas, spent the last few days arm-wrestling and taking cheap digs at one another in preparation for this week’s game. They’re still at it; purple-faced and winded, but unrelenting in spirit. Late Sunday night, they will go back to sit in their armchairs, share a bottle of something bubbly, and laugh at how little football matters, but for now, it’s war.
The first issue with the Bears that simply cannot be ignored is their blatant thievery of the exact design of the letter “C” that the Cincinnati Reds donned long before the Chicago Bears ever existed.
“Get your own logo, you thieving miser!” Brown shouts across the arm-wrestling table to Halas.
“You’re one to talk. Weren’t those Cleveland helmets with the word “Bengals” stenciled on the sides? Real original, PB. Besides, look at your kid; the cheapest man in the galaxy.”
“You keep him outta this!” Brown yells and punches Halas in the nose with his free hand.
Back on Earth, Marvin Lewis said this week that Chicago is a lot like an AFC North team, and to some degree that’s true. Aside from their base defensive sets, I see a lot of the same brutish characteristics in the Bears as I do in Baltimore; both have a a rugged defensive front seven, a play-making and burly-armed quarterback, and a half-back and tight-end with speed and good hands. However, Chicago runs a 4-3 set, and the Bengals may not have the same outcome as they enjoyed against the Ravens.
Last week, Cincinnati faced a 4-3 defense for the first time and struggled in their run-blocking zones. The hope was that center Kyle Cook would be able to move out into the second-tier of the defense and block linebackers, allowing Benson to have space past the line of scrimmage. Houston negated that by going with a smallish, quicker d-line that zoomed around the blockers before the plays could develop.
Chicago’s line is better than Houston’s’, but defensive tackle Tommie Harris is injured and didn’t practice yesterday. Also out are linebackers Pisa Tinoisamoa, and of course, their warrior-chief, Brian Urlacher, who was injured Week 1 and will miss the entire season.
Harris isn’t like the behemoth nose-tackles of the AFC North; he’s strong but lighter on his feet. Defensive ends Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown, mixed in with another quality pass-rusher in Mark Anderson, can do plenty of damage on their own terms, but if Harris is unable to suit up, it can only help make Cedric Benson’s day easier. The Bears are eighth in the league against the run and if the Bengals offensive line doesn’t adjust better to the 4-3, it might not matter if Harris plays or not.
The good news is that, also like Baltimore, teams can throw against Chicago’s secondary. In that case, the game-plan should sound the same as it did in Week 4, and that is to use spread formations that stretch out the defensive front-seven, look for one-on-one match-ups with receivers (or, God forbid, the tight ends), and when they go to the zone to cover three or more receivers at a time, Bob Bratkowski should hit them with runs up the middle on draws and delays. Pretty straight forward.
Instead, what I expect to see are stretch hand-offs on first down in tight formations that feature a fullback and two tight ends, for a first-half rushing average of 3.3 yards-per-carry, in order to “establish the run”. It’s likely to see screens on second-and-long or deep in Bengal territory or any other time you’d most likely expect one.
Don’t be surprised to see more designed passes underneath to those who cannot catch—you know the ones—in order to regain their confidence and to get them involved early.
If the score is close after halftime, the Bears will wear down from the established run, resulting in missed tackles and easy yards after the catch and the Bengals will be pleased to settle for field goals and win the game.
This is the new offensive philosophy of the Cincinnati Bengals; it’s methodical, it’s boring, it’s irritating , but it’s not changing. Those in charge believe that it works, and if a team’s record is the best barometer of success, then I suppose in some weird macro kind of way, it does work.
On defense, the Bengals are faced with yet another running back who can hurt them more in the passing game than on the ground. Matt Forte, hasn’t been consistent this season—the bulk of his stats came from one successful game against the Lions this year. In the others, he’s been a dismal non-factor, and Jay Cutler has had to throw the ball more as a result. Still, Forte can catch, and both Ray Rice and Steve Slaton demonstrated in consecutive weeks what that can mean to an offense. The Bengals linebackers must show more competence against the pass, or else teams will continue to attack them in coverage.
The other major threat the linebackers need to prioritize is the speedy and dynamic tight end, Greg Olson. Marvin Lewis’ teams have historically struggled limiting tight ends, and Olson poses the toughest challenge of the year so far in that regard. I expect safeties to assist in coverage wherever Olson roams or else he could have a huge day on third-down.
Fortunately for the safeties, Chicago has no Andre Johnson-type of receivers to worry about. The group of Devin Hester, Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett are fast but inexperienced. The veteran secondary of the Bengals only need to worry about the long ball and tackling Hester in the open field. Allowing short passes that may be dropped or fumbled by young receivers makes sense against an offense like the Bears.
Their shaggy quarterback, Jay Cutler, throws rocket passes but is reckless. From what I’ve seen, he seems so unwilling to give up on plays that he gambles on wild attempts to get yards instead of chalking up a sack or an incompletion. Perhaps Mike Zimmer may want to tell his guys to react to Cutler’s eyes and gamble along with him, especially if the Bengals find themselves with the lead. For as much praise as the defense has earned this year, they’re low on turnovers and a seed of doubt has been planted in the minds of many onlookers after last week. Taking a risk on an interception could juice this defense’s battery back to maximum voltage and regain that proverbial “swagger”—a word that seems to have become in vogue when referring to defenses in the NFL.
The last major concern against Chicago is their squadron of supersonic return-men on kick-offs and punts. Everyone knows of the lethal venom Hester stores in his jaws and unleashes in the open field, but new kick-off guy, Johnny Knox, is a Patriot Missile himself and can match touchdowns in about eight seconds if a team isn’t careful. The Bengals have allowed some big returns already this year, and Darren Simmons has dealt with a whole season’s-worth of issues in the course of only six weeks. New long-snapper Clarke Harris, already exceeded the play of Brad St. Louis after one snap, but anymore setbacks on special-teams, and Simmons’ value to the team will be openly questioned.
So, if you sense a tinge of the supernatural at work on Sunday, perhaps it’s the teams’ founding fathers struggling for the upper-hand upstairs. Each dedicated their life to get their teams to where they are today and just because they’re dead doesn’t mean they don’t care.
Bengals 16, Bears 11