It’s been talked about since “the trade” went down and the schedule was released in April. It’s been hyped since training camp opened and has been built up over the past week. And now, the most anticipated Bears preseason game in years has arrived.
What can we expect? Well, it’s still just a practice game no matter how many story lines you attach to it. It may be televised on national TV and many casual football fans who have no interest in either team may tune in simply to watch the Jay Cutler-Kyle Orton duel unfold. The third preseason game also serves as the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season with starters playing into the third quarter. But, ultimately, the goal for tonight’s Bears-Broncos game is to just stay healthy and evaluate where your veterans and starters stand in terms of development and preparedness for the regular season.
Here are five things for fans to watch in the Bears-Broncos preseason game:
1. Jay Cutler vs. Kyle Orton
The funny thing about building up the anticipation of a particular event is that there then becomes a greater chance that the encounter is a big flop. It’s possible that both Cutler and Orton have mild outings and neither one wows the television audience. But until that happens, seeing these two quarterbacks in opposite uniforms and watching their former defensive teammates try to plant them into the ground will be fun to watch. I’ve got my money on the following things happening: Cutler getting booed vociferously from the Denver faithful, Cutler outplaying Orton and leading the Bears down the field with more success, and then Orton getting booed vociferously by the Denver faithful.
2. Offensive success
Last week against the Giants, the Bears’ first three drives — all led by Cutler and the first string offense — resulted in points. Not only were they successful drives, but they were long, too, going for 50, 80, and 92 yards, respectively. That kind of success rate will be impossible to keep up, but it’s an encouraging sign for the regular season. I’m sure it’ll discourage some Bears fans when — and it’s bound to happen — the offense struggles a little tonight and has to punt, something that the first string offense did not have to do last week. But what I’m looking for is the offense to move the chains a little bit, and at worst, give the defense good field position with which to work. At best, of course, would be drives that end in points, but we can’t always expect that.
3. Receiver competition
If it were up to me, I’d cut Rashied Davis. I’m not a fan of keeping a wide receiver just because he’s good at special teams, which is what the Bears might do with Davis. If the Bears cut either of their two high rookie receivers, Juaquin Iglesias or Johnny Knox, he could be picked up by some other team and likely will not find his way back to the Bears’ practice squad. Obviously Devin Hester and Earl Bennett are secure as the starters. That leaves an intense competition between two guys that I believe should both be on the roster but probably won’t, and that’s Devin Aromashodu and Brandon Rideau. Both will get shots with the first string offense, as well as Davis, to see what they can do. The position may still be weak, but the depth and competition will be intriguing to watch.
4. Defensive line pressure
This will continue to make my list of things to watch for the remainder of the preseason and it’ll be one of the keys to every regular season game, because — simply put — it is the most important key to winning. It doesn’t matter how good Cutler and the offense are this year, if the Bears don’t pressure the quarterback, they’re going to struggle and won’t make it very far this season. Last week, we saw an improvement from Game 1 from the defensive line. I’d like to say that we’ll see Orton lying on the ground several times tonight, but I don’t have the confidence yet to make that claim. Even if Orton isn’t sacked once, though, that doesn’t necessarily mean the defensive line did not do its job. Against the Giants, the line pressured Manning into getting rid of the ball quicker than he would have liked and that helped lead to some bad throws and stalled drives. Everything starts with pressure, though.
5. Secondary stability
Danieal Manning, Zack Bowman, and Charles Tillman are all making amends, but are not ready to go yet. This extended action for safety Al Afalava and cornerbacks Trumaine McBride and Corey Graham will help figure out what kind of depth the Bears are dealing with here. Nathan Vasher had a quiet game last week, which is good considering his bad play against Buffalo in Game 1 was plenty loud, and needs to improve dramatically to avoid losing his job to Bowman, which may already be inevitable. Craig Steltz had a big game against Buffalo with two takeaways, but didn’t do much last week against the Giants. The hunch is that Kevin Payne and Afalava will be the starting safeties and Tillman and Bowman will start at corner, but that’s why they play the preseason games to evaluate what their best options are. And that’s why Bears fans should keep an eye on how the secondary performs tonight against the Broncos.