Bears offense vs. Bengals defense
As odd as it is for you to read it, it’s just as odd for me to type it, but the Bears are riding their offense this season. When the offense fails — as it did in Week 1 against the Packers and last week against the Falcons — they lose. When it succeeds, they are winning games. After their subpar performance against Atlanta, I have the utmost confidence that they’ll rebound against an improved, but banged up Bengals defense. Cincinnati is just five notches below the Bears in run defense, ranked No. 11 and allowing just 96.8 yards per game and 3.9 yards per carry. It could be another long day for Matt Forte, so the onus will be placed on Jay Cutler and the receivers to move the ball through the air. I think they’ll be up to the task and they should have a huge day against the 28th-ranked pass defense of the Bengals, who are allowing 254.8 passing yards per game and have given up 9 passing touchdowns, sixth-worst in the NFL. The Bengals have recorded 16 sacks this season, so Jay Cutler could be on the run. However, half of those sacks were recorded by Antwan Odom, who will not play against the Bears due to an injury.
Bears defense vs. Bengals offense
There’s been a lot of hoopla this week about Cedric Benson and how he’s the No. 3 rusher in the NFL. Furthermore, because he had a rocky, three-year stint with the Bears, there is added drama. Benson claims, as do the Bears, that there is nothing to prove in this game and that revenge is on nobody’s mind. But the public — as a whole; I can’t speak for certain individuals — is not stupid. Everybody knows Benson wants to record 150 yards and 3 touchdowns and punish Bears defenders with his tough running style. And we all know the Bears defense wants to put him out of commission with a violent hit, just to send a message that they haven’t forgotten his take-the-money-and-run-away, short-lived career in Chicago. I’m not worried about Benson having a big day. The Bears are No. 6 in the league at stopping the run and I feel they’ll hold Benson in check. What concerns me is the other Bengal that made headlines this week, Chad Ochocinco. And I worry about the guy that’ll be throwing him the ball, Carson Palmer, who is probably the best quarterback the Bears will have faced this season, even more talented than Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Matt Ryan. I hope the Bears can generate a better pass rush than they did last week against Ryan, and maybe new acquisition Gaines Adams can help the defense do that. I hate to say it, but perhaps the injury to Tommie Harris — he will not play Sunday — will benefit the Bears. I’d rather have a healthy player with a higher motor, like Marcus Harrison, out on the field than a banged-up Harris, who hasn’t done much this season anyway. If the Bears can get after Palmer, I think they’ll be in great shape. If not, the pass defense is in for another long day. I expect the latter.
The Bears had one of their best performances on special teams under Dave Toub’s leadership against Detroit three weeks ago. After the bye week, they came out and had one of their worst performances against Atlanta, which included an inexcusable penalty for having 12 men on the field. The penalty gave the Falcons a first down and cost the Bears momentum and change of possession. I still have faith that the Bears are one of the league’s top special teams units and will show it on Sunday. Two of the NFL’s most accurate kickers of all time will face each other this week in Robbie Gould and Shayne Graham. Graham has missed three field goals this year, but two of those were blocked. That may leave an opportunity for the Bears to get their first block of the season, something they did a few times the past couple years. While the kicker battle is pretty even, I’ll take Brad Maynard over Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber. Huber has just as many punts as Maynard downed inside the 20. But Maynard’s net average and return yards allowed are far superior. Huber has punted the fourth-most amount of times this year, so Devin Hester should get quite a few returns. Johnny Knox will help boost the field position as well.
In 2005, I gave the Bears no shot at beating the Bengals. Sure, the game was at Soldier Field and they had just come off a 38-6 victory over the Lions. But the Bengals entered the game with Palmer, who was in the first of two-straight Pro Bowl seasons that year, under center, whereas the Bears trotted out rookie Kyle Orton, who had five interceptions that game. Things have balanced out considerably. The Bears have the firepower with Cutler to combat the signal-caller on the other side of the field. The question is whether the Bears’ defense can do something they haven’t been very good at the past year and a quarter: stopping the pass. With the Bengals a competitive team this year, you can bet crowd noise will help their home field advantage. And while Benson may have a chip on his shoulder and something to prove, so do these Bears. They were embarrassed by how they played on national TV last week against the Falcons and will be out for redemption. They know they’re in a tenuous situation, falling deeper behind the Vikings in the NFC North and losing a grip on a potential wild card spot. If these Bears are as good as we or they think they are, they’ll be more than ready for whatever the Bengals throw at them. It should be a close game, but the Bears should head home with a ‘W’.
Final Score: Chicago 24, Cincinnati 20