The Chicago Bears have won two consecutive preseason games under new head coach John Fox, but the team will be in for its biggest test of the exhibition slate on Saturday as they take on the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bears are facing a variety of obstacles in the game, and to help dissect some of those, we are highlighting five key players that will help tell us a lot about what we can expect from this team when the regular season begins in two weeks.
The Bears are likely going to be missing their top four wide receivers when they take the field on Saturday night, but with the team wanting to get work in installing a game plan, expect to see plenty of throws, and Bellamy should be a big beneficiary.
The receiver has had a solid camp for the Bears, but this will be a big test against a tough secondary. If he can excel, the Bears will likely give him more snaps with the first team squad when they take on the Packers at Soldier Field in two weeks.
Cutler is going to have a difficult time getting into an offensive rhythm without some of his key targets on the field Saturday night, but it will still be worth watching to see if he can execute Adam Gase’s offensive game plan in the team’s final full-scale dress rehearsal before the regular season.
Cutler has said all of the right things and has made it a point to converse with Gase on the practice fields on numerous occasions, but all of that work will be tested once the coin is tossed in Cincinnati. This may not be a regular season game, but it is one that the Bears are going to treat like a serious test.
Players going into their second year in the NFL are generally expected to make strides forward, but one could make a compelling case that Fuller has regressed during training camp and the preseason. He hasn’t successfully defended a pass so far in the preseason, and he’s routinely being beaten off the line of scrimmage by every receiver that he faces.
The road will not get easier for Fuller as he goes up against A.J. Green on Saturday night, but the Bears’ defense still needs the cornerback to step up. The team can’t afford to constantly drop safeties into coverage to help him out, and he’ll have to start winning some one-on-one battles if he’s going to have a bounceback season.
With Jeremiah Ratliff suspended for the first three games of the regular season, Goldman is going to have a big test on his hands as he slides into the nose guard position for Vic Fangio’s defense. He dealt with some conditioning issues early on in the preseason, but he has recovered nicely and has played some solid football in game action.
Saturday will pose a real test as he takes his place in the middle of the defensive line against a tough Cincinnati running attack. Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard are both excellent backs, and Goldman will have his hands full trying to provide solid defense up the middle of the field.
We have been targeting McClellin as a player to watch throughout the preseason, but this will be the ultimate test as he looks to solidify his position as the starting middle linebacker for the Bears. He has done a nice job early in the preseason in both coverage and pass rush, but the Bengals’ offense should give him an excellent test of his all-around ability.
Will he be able to keep an eye on Andy Dalton and the passing game? Can he help fill in gaps and stop big gains from Hill and Bernard in the running game? Those questions will tell us plenty about what we can expect from McClellin this season, and from the defense as a whole.