Chicago Bears: Cincinnati Bengals
Marc Trestman makes his debut as an NFL head coach at Soldier Field on Sunday, leading a Bears team with plenty of roster turnover on offense, including a totally revamped line expected to better protect Cutler as he operates the club’s new scheme. That group will be tested by a Bengals defensive line, led by Geno Atkins, that accounted for 43 of the team’s franchise-record 51 sacks in 2012, and also paved the way for the defense to finish the season ranked No. 6 for fewest yards allowed.
Chicago’s defense in 2012 was even better, finishing fifth in net defense, third in scoring defense (17.3 points per game) and No. 2 in turnover differential while leading the NFL in interceptions (24) and total takeaways (44).
While home-field advantage can be key for teams, it's certainly been a factor in this series. The Bengals hold a 4-1 road record against the Bears and own a 6-3 series lead, which includes victories in their last outings (2005 and 2009).
Chicago hasn’t beaten the Bengals since 2001.
ESPN.com’s Matt Williamson and Bears team reporter Michael C. Wright discuss the matchup.
Wright: The Bears hope they fixed the offensive line with a combination of scheme (shorter drops for Cutler), beefed up protection with Jermon Bushrod at left tackle and a pair of draft picks in Kyle Long (first round) and Jordan Mills (fifth) at right guard and right tackle, and another weapon for Cutler to find down the middle of the field when he’s in trouble. But the inexperience of Long and Mills will be question marks against Cincinnati’s active defensive line.
It seems Cincinnati’s defense is built around Atkins, but how much of a factor are guys like Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson?
Williamson: Atkins is the foundation of the defense for sure and everyone thrives off his presence, but the Bengals have a lot invested in the defensive line now in terms of finances and draft picks. This is an extremely deep and talented group that makes the entire defense go. Dunlap might be a little underrated and Johnson a little overrated, but they form an impressive pair of defensive end. These three players, along with the rest of Cincinnati’s defensive front, will prove a very steep challenge for Chicago’s rebuilt offensive line in Week 1.
What can the Bengals’ defense expect from this new Trestman offense?
Wright: The Bears will utilize zone blocking in the running game, which should allow Matt Forte to pick his own holes. That should open up the passing game, where the Bears will use West Coast philosophies such as shorter routes and drops for Cutler so he can get rid of the ball quickly. Look for the Bears to also try to use Earl Bennett down the seams to exploit potential matchup problems, especially on traditional running downs where the Bengals might be using base personnel.
Speaking of the Bengals, they’ve made the playoffs in three of the last four years, but really haven’t made much noise. What are the expectations for this team now?
Williamson: Expectations must go up. They had yet another high-quality offseason and this team has an exceptional young core of players on both sides of the ball. They clearly play in a tough division, but going one-and-done in the playoffs yet again will not be considered a successful season in Cincinnati. I fear they will only go as far as their quarterback will take them. But Bengals fans have a lot to be excited about.
Do you think this Bears defense can defend A.J. Green?
Wright: They should be able to keep him from dominating the game. It’s likely the Bears match Charles Tillman up against Green, but if the receiver winds up in front of Tim Jennings, the team is confident he can get the job done, too. The Bears typically don’t double or shade coverage against players such as Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, so don’t count on seeing the Bears try that against Green. Cincinnati’s tight ends could be an issue now that they’ve got two good ones in Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert.
With such a talented supporting cast, do you see Dalton as just a guy surrounded by weapons, or a blossoming young quarterback?
Williamson: He shows signs of blossoming into a solid young quarterback, and has been especially adept in the red zone, which is very noteworthy for a young quarterback. But I think he is more of the former. He is a limited passer who lacks great tools, and isn’t as accurate or on time with his throws as you would like for someone with his limitations. The Bengals knew this and landed two very “Dalton-friendly” receivers for him in Eifert and Giovani Bernard. Eifert should develop into an exceptional target in the middle of the field as well as the red zone, while Bernard provides an easy dump-off option for Dalton. With all the Bengals’ resources over the past two offseasons, it really surprises me that Cincinnati didn’t do more to challenge Dalton or greatly improve its backup quarterback spot.
“Well, it didn’t help me much with the Dolphins,” Lewis said, laughing. “So I hope they have better luck than I did. There’s not much that comes out in the show that’s not pretty common [with] all 32 of us [NFL teams].”
The Bengals faced last year’s subject of “Hard Knocks,” the Miami Dolphins, during Week 5 of 2012 and lost 17-13 with Reshad Jones intercepting an overthrown pass near the 50 with 1:22 remaining to preserve the victory.
Briggs said he “watched a couple of episodes” of “Hard Knocks” recently, and called the show “a good scouting report.”
“They do a nice little in-depth view on each individual, of the guys we’re gonna be facing,” Briggs said.
Coming off three playoff appearances in the past four years, the Bengals face high expectations entering the season and face a revamped Bears team with a new head coach in Marc Trestman, a new tight end (Martellus Bennett) and two rookies (Kyle Long and Jordan Mills) starting on the right side of the offensive line.
Lewis seemed somewhat dismissive of the “Hard Knocks” experience, but also cited some of the positives.
“It’s great to work with the crew from NFL Films,” Lewis said. “If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have done it. They’re great people. They work hard. It’s great for my players to see how hard somebody else works at their craft, and their profession, and that’s a good thing. I think it’s great for the NFL fans to see the insides of an NFL club as well as fans of the Bengals around the country. Those are the positives of it.”
The schedule includes four primetime games, including two on ESPN's Monday Night Football.
After hosting the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 15, the Bears hit the road on Sept. 22 and Sept. 29 for matchups against the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints, before hosting the New York Giants on Oct. 10. The clash with the Steelers marks the club's second primetime game in the first six weeks, and will be broadcast on NBC.
Following the game against the Giants, the Bears face the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field on Oct. 20 before receiving a bye in Week 8.
The Bears return from the bye to face the Green Bay Packers on the road for a 7:40 kickoff on ESPN's Monday Night Football.
The Bears play back-to-back NFC North games at Green Bay on Nov. 4 and against the Detroit Lions on Nov. 10 before hosting the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 17. The club follows that up with consecutive road trips at St. Louis and Minnesota on Nov. 24 and Dec. 1, before another primetime outing on Monday Night Football; this time against the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 9.
The Bears close out the regular season with road trips on Dec. 15 and Dec. 22 at Cleveland and Philadelphia, before hosting the Green Bay Packers on Dec. 29 for the season finale.
All kickoffs are at noon CT other than the four primetime games.
Adam Caplan of thesidelineview.com first reported the visit.
Okoye has garnered interest from several teams around the league, but has not ruled out re-signing with the Chicago Bears, per the source.
In his first year with the Bears, Okoye recorded four sacks and 27 quarterback pressures from his three-technique defensive tackle spot. Okoye and starter Henry Melton provided the Bears an inside pass-rushing presence that had been missing in the years since Tommie Harris stopped playing at a Pro Bowl level.
Okoye is still a very young 24 years old after being selected 10th overall by the Houston Texans in the 2007 NFL Draft. After four seasons with the Texans, Okoye got released last summer but was promptly picked up by the Bears on a one-year deal.
The manner in which Bears head coach Lovie Smith heaped praise on Kellen Davis this offseason made it sound as if the club would aggressively try to re-sign the free agent tight end.
"I think if you want to feature Kellen Davis you can do that," Smith said last month at the NFL Combine. "Great size, great in-line blocker, skilled enough of an athlete to be able to move outside and do some things. I really like him."
The Bears could still bring back the 2008 fifth-round draft choice, but they will have competition.
After the Bears traded away Greg Olsen last summer at the start of training camp, Davis started a career-high 15 games in 2011. An above-average run blocker, Davis caught just 18 passes for 206 yards and five touchdowns. However, those numbers did come under former Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who has always failed to truly utilize the tight end position in the passing game.
If Davis decides to not re-sign with the Bears, the club did express interest in tight end John Carlson on Tuesday, per a league source, but the former Notre Dame standout is currently scheduled to first visit the Kansas City Chiefs.
CHICAGO -- It doesn't take long for Craig Krenzel to return a phone call when somebody wants to discuss his former Cincinnati Bengals quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese.
Krenzel, a former Bears' fifth-round choice out of Ohio State in 2004, spent just one season (2005) with Zampese in Cincinnati, but says he came away with an inordinate amount of football knowledge. That, in itself, counts for something, because as most of us know, Krenzel graduated from Ohio State with a degree in molecular genetics.
Say what you want about Krenzel's professional football career (cut short by a 2006 elbow injury), his intelligence on or off-the-field should not be questioned.
"Even though Ken never played quarterback, from a preparation standpoint, you would have thought he played the position," Krenzel told ESPNChicago.com Wednesday. "His knowledge of the game, the way he prepared us allowed me to learn a ton from him, even though I was only there for a short period of time. And I don't limit that to just his understanding of the quarterback position. He understood the entire offense.
"We would talk all the time in film study about X's and O's, who needs to be blocked, what route was run, etc. He was highly involved with [Bengals offensive coordinator] Bob Bratkowski in the passing game. I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable guy, but I learned a ton being around Ken."
Krenzel considers himself lucky to have worked with two outstanding professional quarterbacks coaches: Zampese in Cincinnati and Wade Wilson in Chicago. Wilson was part of Lovie Smith's original staff in 2004, and somebody Krenzel respects to this day, although it's funny to hear how Wilson's coaching style differs from Zampese's.
"I loved Wade, loved the guy," Krenzel said. "Wade had that cool, laid-back Texas style of discussing things, but in the end, you always knew he came to the correct conclusion. He took a little bit of time to get there, but he knew exactly what he was talking about.
"Same thing with Ken, although personality-wise he's a lot different than Wade. Zampese is like the micro-machine guy. He moves a million miles a minute, constantly harping on details, the little things, he gets straight to the point. The guy is football 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. I always thought he'd be a good coordinator."
But Zampese has never risen above the rank of quarterbacks coach, even though he has interviewed for several coordinator positions in the past. Even a staunch Zampese supporter like Krenzel admits it's always a gamble hiring somebody with no prior play-calling experience.
"Of course, the one unknown is game-day play-calling, because that is truly an art form at the NFL level," Krenzel said. "People just don't understand everything that goes into calling plays during an NFL game. Still, even though I was only with him for a short period of time, I think he's a great coach, and certainly qualified to run an offense."
"I'm very surprised it's taken him this long to get a coordinator job."
CINCINNATI -- Leading up to the Bengals game, Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner stressed the importance of cleaning up all the mental miscues.
His pleas fell on deaf ears.
"We started the game with a false start [on Chris Williams]," Turner lamented. "We talked about that all week, and really worked hard on that all week, saying we can't hurt ourselves. [We want to] give ourselves a chance on every play, and we start the first play of the game with a false start. It didn't get a whole lot better from there."
No, it did not. Jay Cutler tossed three interceptions and Devin Hester lost a fumble early in the second quarter. Things got so out of hand, the Bears completely abandoned the run game -- Matt Forte and Garrett Wolfe combined for just nine carries.
We should point out the Bears had the football for just 23:38, but even when they had the ball, they didn't muster much of an effort.
CINCINNATI -- Was Cedric Benson that good while rushing for a career-high 189 yards and a touchdown? Or was the Bears defense that bad?
Maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle, or at least that was the impression given off by a few veteran defenders in the postgame locker room.
"My hat's off to Cedric. I'm sure he's feeling great right now to have a game like that against guys who supposedly discarded you," Hunter Hillenmeyer said. "But that's life in the NFL. I don't think anybody on our side has any bitterness about the situation. I wish him the best and hope he has a good, healthy year. But we didn't play well, we didn't make tackles, we didn't line up right. If he's not getting hit until he's ten yards down the field, that's bad defense, not great offense."
"Ced played well, we probably missed some tackles after watching the film, and we didn't make any plays" Adewale Ogunleye said. "Not watching the film [yet], I can probably tell you that's what happened."
Benson routinely went untouched before reaching the second or third level of the Bears defense. Give Benson his due, but the Bears missed an astounding amount of tackles. It should be a rough film session back at Halas Hall on Monday.
CHICAGO -- "Rod Marinelli is teaching me how to play miserable," Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris said after the Bears dispatched Detroit on Oct. 4.
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Being declared inactive on Sunday must be considered a major setback for Tommie Harris.
Please resist the urge to joke that Harris' play has been borderline miserable since inking a 4-year, $40 million extension before the 2008 season.
"Playing miserable" meant learning how to play though pain, a phenomenon Harris knows all too well. Everybody from general manager Jerry Angelo on down has conceded publicly that the former Pro Bowl defensive tackle's knees will never be 100 percent, but Harris at 85 percent could still be a dominating force.
Now it seems Harris is nowhere close to 85 percent, given that he'll be inactive Sunday in Cincinnati. This has to be considered a major setback for a player who denied lacking faith in his knee back in training camp.
"Do I have confidence? Yes, definitely," Harris said. "I have confidence in myself, in my knee. I've been playing on one leg and everything. I can play this game. It's a mentality. I'm just hanging in there, man."
A few months later, Harris looks to be back in the same old rut -- not trusting his surgically repaired left knee.
Through five games, Harris has only nine tackles and zero sacks. Despite those paltry numbers, the Chicago defense ranks sixth versus the run and 13th overall. Many of us thought the defense would never climb back to respectability without a large contribution from Harris -- who used to be the best three-technique defensive tackle in the NFL. Turns out we were wrong, which raises an interesting question.
Will we even notice Harris' absence Sunday?
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- It was not a good week to be in a meeting room with Chicago Bears special teams coach Dave Toub.
For most of the Atlanta game, special teams performed admirably. Notice I said, "for most of the Atlanta game."
"We didn't finish the way we like," Toub said. "That late 62-yard return by Eric Weems crushed us. We just can't have those breakdowns in critical times of the game. The players clearly understand that."
Up next for the Bears: a decent duo of Cincinnati return men in Andre Caldwell and Quan Cosby. Caldwell, the Bengals' second-leading receiver, averages only 19.6 yards per return, but Toub says those numbers can be deceiving.
"He's a lot like Weems," Toub said. "He's a north and south guy who likes to get up the field fast. We have to get in front of him and do a good job."
Cosby, a rookie out of Texas, is the burner of the group. He's averaging 13.1 yards per punt return, with a long of 60 yards.
"Very dangerous," Toub said. "He's been close like every week it seems like to breaking one. We have our hands full this week."
Bears fans don't need need reminding that one isolated special teams breakdown can change the course of a game.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- All week the Chicago Bears have been harping on missed defensive opportunities and third-down conversions. Here are two more glaring stats from the loss to the Falcons:
Frank Victores/US Presswire
After not sacking or hitting Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, the Bears know they have to get to Cincinnati's Carson Palmer.
Sacks -- 0
QB Hits -- 0
That's not going to cut it, especially when facing a veteran quarterback like Cincinnati's Carson Palmer.
"With Carson Palmer, because he's a veteran, he's better than Matt Ryan," defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. "He the kind of guy, if we don't get to him, he will burn us."
"We need to get to the quarterback more to help out the back end," defensive tackle Anthony Adams said. "The back end, they played their butts off, and it's up to us to not allow the quarterback to have a great window to throw through. We just have to do a better job at that."
Adams did not hide the fact he was slowed last week by a toe injury, which led to Marcus Harrison starting at nose tackle.
"Last week I could barely walk. I'm good now," Adams said.
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI
Jay Cutler's contract extension will keep him in Chicago through the 2013 season.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Jay Cutler's desire to remain in Chicago long-term proved to be a major reason the quarterback agreed to a two-year extension that keeps him under contract with the Bears through the 2013 season.
"I think it was mutual," Cutler said. "I wanted to be here for a while. I think the Bears wanted me to be here awhile, so it worked out for both of us. Both sides knew it was going to happen at some point. We just didn't know when the best timing was, but it happened pretty quick."
Cutler also acknowledged that the looming labor uncertainty in 2011 persuaded him to expedite the process of accepting a deal.
"Absolutely, I think every player in the league is concerned with that because we don't know what's going to happen, whether there is going to be a lockout or not," Cutler said. "The NFLPA is advising everyone to save money, so any money you can get before that point is going to be good for any player.
"I think it was fair for me, fair for the Bears. I'm happy with it."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Many NFL observers felt Tank Johnson simply didn't fit into the Dallas Cowboys' 3-4 defense, and a change of scenery to Cincinnati's more conventional 4-3 scheme would lead to a higher level of play from the former Bears defensive tackle.
Johnson has yet to make an impact in Cincinnati (12 tackles, no sacks), partly because he has missed two of the past three games thanks to injury.
"I think he's going to be a good player for us," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said Wednesday. "He was slowed a little bit the last few weeks by this foot injury, but he's getting better and better each day with time. I'm anxious for him to get 100 percent and going again.
"He's a very tough man, a strong man, explosive. He's smart and understands how to play. He's been well-coached throughout his career, both in college and during his time in Chicago. He has a great fundamental understanding of how to play defensive line."