Two things to note before proceeding here.
(1) This analysis is based on film from one game – the Bengals opener with the Vikings. There is no way to know if the approach and tendencies displayed in that game are prescriptive for the entire season or matchup-specific. It is probably best to assume a bit of both.
(2) This column is not a fantasia. This is not “How the Bears Beat the Bengals if the Bears Had a Different Roster”. The Bears can’t cover the Bengals outside. Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd are – with Tampa, Dallas and Pittsburgh – among the best wide receiver groups in the sport and the Bears have one corner.
VDM. (Victory Difficulty Meter)
This game is a relative toss-up, but the Bengals have a slight advantage.
What Must the Bears Do on Offense:
- Involve David Montgomery in the passing game. The Bengals play an aggressive style of defense, often sending more at the quarterback than a standard front four. (And after studying Bears/Rams, they’ll certainly be doing so on early downs to keep Montgomery and the rush attack in check.) If the Bears want to soften that attack, they’ll need to get Montgomery out in space and get the football in his hands, well-beyond his one-catch, ten-yard effort Sunday night.
- Play action and boots created a TON of space outside the pocket for Kirk Cousins. (If Justin Fields were the starting quarterback, he’d be looking at 75-100 yards on the ground.) The Bears have to move the pocket for Andy Dalton if they want to stretch the field with the passing game. If they keep Dalton in the pocket, this passing attack will be as dinky and dunky as the opener.
- It should be noted that this space was reduced greatly once the Vikings fell down 24-14. When you’re down double digits in the fourth quarter, defenses attack the quarterback, not the running back.
- What does Bears/Rams look like if Dalton doesn’t throw the pick in the end zone? It might not have a dramatically impacted the outcome but it certainly would have given the offense a different confidence on subsequent drives. The Vikings lost to the Bengals in overtime for one reason: Dalvin Cook fumbled the football in Cincy territory. When teams are evenly matched – and these teams are – one crucial turnover can be, and usually is, the difference. The Bears can’t commit that turnover.
What Must the Bears Do on Defense:
- Manufacture pressure. Bring linebackers. Bring corners. Bring safeties. The front four is not good enough to wreck the game on their own and without significant pressure on Joe Burrow, the Bears secondary will be watching footballs get spiked in the end zone. (The argument against this approach is usually that it leaves corners vulnerable but Chicago’s corners are naturally vulnerable due to their lack of ability.) The Bears don’t have the horses on defense to line up and beat their opponent. They need a schematic advantage. Sean Desai has to bring that advantage Sunday.
- Limit Joe Mixon’s impact. Joe Mixon is a rarity in this NFL – a true workhorse, three-down back. Yes, the Bengals will spell him with Samaje Perine on occasion but Mixon is this offense’s engine.
- Good example. Coming out of the half against Minnesota, up 14-7, how did the Bengals handle their opening drive? Handoff to Mixon. Handoff to Mixon. Toss to Mixon in the flat. First down. Even with all these weapons on the outside, Zac Taylor wants to feed his back. If Mixon has a big Sunday, the Bears are chasing a score in the 30s.
- Slide safety help to Chase. It is very clear, even from one game, that when Ja’Marr Chase is lined up wide right, Burrow is looking to hit him over the top. (The Bengals attempted it three times against Minnesota, including a successful attempt for a 50-yard touchdown.) And after watching receivers run easily by the Bears secondary Sunday night, it would be surprising if Taylor didn’t dial up this connection a half dozen times.
- This point is based on the assumption that Eddie Jackson can still cover space. Last week, the third bullet point for Bears/Rams was “tackle at the backend”. That won’t be a bullet point again because it doesn’t seem like that’s a possibility for this group. But if Jackson can’t protect against the deep ball on a basic go route, one has to ask what purpose he serves for this defense.