The Cincinnati Bengals head to Chicago for their first game of the 2013 season, looking to improve on a 2012 season where they lost in the AFC Wild Card to the Houston Texans.
After missing the playoffs last season, the Bears are a team that has undergone some major changes. Former coach Lovie Smith was fired despite leading his team to a 10-6 record last year and establishing one of the best defensive units in football over the course of his nine-year tenure. Also gone is linebacker Brian Urlacher, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and the player most associated with Chicago’s defensive style of play.
While the Bears may take a step back defensively, their offense has some room for improvement after finishing 28th overall last season. New coach Mark Trestman, known as a quarterback guru, is expected to help quarterback Jay Cutler reach his potential.
Meanwhile, the Bears have strived to improve their offensive line, giving a unit that surrendered 44 sacks a much-needed facelift. Left tackle J’Marcus Webb has moved on to play for the Minnesota Vikings, and Jermon Bushrod was signed to take his place. Also, Matt Slauson was brought over from the New York Jets to help at left guard while Chicago used its first-round pick on guard Kyle Long. The Bears can only hope that these moves will make an immediate impact with the Bengals coming to town. Cincinnati features a fearsome defensive line that accounted for a franchise-record 51 sacks last season and could very well improve on that total this season.
Against the Bengals, Trestman may implement a game plan designed to put less pressure on his quarterback, as the offensive line, despite offseason moves, most likely still needs time to jell. By establishing running back Matt Forte and getting the ball out of Cutler’s hands as quickly as possible on passing downs, Chicago should be able to avoid costly turnovers or an injury to their quarterback. While the Bengals may have the advantage up front, Cincinnati’s secondary may have its hands full with Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Last year, Marshall was reunited with Cutler, his former teammate on the Denver Broncos, by means of a trade that turned out to be a smashing success as Marshall had a career year (118 catches, 1,508 yards, 11 touchdowns). The two have unrivaled chemistry, both having had their best seasons playing together.
On the other side of the ball, the Bengals’ offense will feature some new faces. Cincinnati fans are eager to see what rookie running back Giovani Bernard can contribute. His explosive style of running should be able to help quarterback Andy Dalton on third downs in a road game that is bound to be physical. Perhaps rookie tight end Tyler Eifert will also get significant playing time, allowing the Bengals to attack the middle of the field with two tight end formations in an effort to minimize mistakes and provide added protection in the passing game. While ideally Dalton prefers to look to superstar wide receiver A.J. Green as his first option, he may not have the opportunity as often as he would like on Sunday. For the first time in his career, Green will be lined up against All-Pro cornerback Charles Tillman, who has had great success against elite receivers such as Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions. Green was also only recently allowed to return to practice after having suffered a bruised knee in practice, though that does not seem to be much of a concern anymore.
On paper, Cincinnati is the more talented team. It is their youth and disappointing showings in big games that are the primary concerns. In last year’s opener, the Bengals lost big in Baltimore, 44-13. But they are more than capable of starting 2013 in a much more positive fashion. If the Bengals can create turnovers and contain Forte and Marshall, Cincinnati’s offense, stacked with a plethora of weapons, should eventually overwhelm a Bears team that has seen much upheaval since the end of last season.