In Monday's edition of Grizzly Details, we take a deeper look at the Chicago Bears' 24-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoon on the lakefront.
A Tale of Two Lines
Coming into the season, most pundits would have told fans that one of the Bears' biggest strengths was their defensive line, while one of the biggest question marks was their rookie-laden offensive line.
On Sunday, the two lines seemed to reverse roles. The d-line didn't really get much pressure on QB Andy Dalton, who used a combination of hurry-up offense and good protection schemes to keep Julius Peppers and Henry Melton at bay. Tackle Stephen Paea did get some good push on the pass rush, and Shea McClellin did end up having a couple of good looks coming off the end, but in general there was no real pressure put on the Bengals, and their offense was able to get into an easy rhythm in racking up three touchdown drives of 80 yards or more.
As for the offensive line, the big questions about Kyle Long and Jordan Mills starting on the right side of the line were largely muted today. Both guys helped keep Geno Atkins, one of the best defensive ends in the league, at bay, and both played a key role in the biggest play of the contest for the Bears.
On the 4th-and-1 play in the fourth quarter, the Bears ended up calling a run by Matt Forte toward the weak side of the line. On the handoff from Cutler, Mills got great leverage on his block, and Long did one better and came across the line to pick up another defensive lineman.
The duo's effort ended up springing Forte for an eight yard gain, gave the Bears the first down, and ultimately led to the next play, the winning touchdown reception by Brandon Marshall.
Obviously, we can't draw any long-term conclusions from a single game, even a big victory against a talented Bengals team, but at least in the short-term, any real questions about the right side of the offensive line have been answered, and the defensive line is left looking for answers as to
what went wrong.
Tillman, Jennings Run Hot and Cold in Secondary
The Bears' secondary has looked questionable at times during the preseason, and that inconsistency reared its head once again during Sunday's game.
Yes, Charles Tillman did pick up two interceptions in the game, and Tim Jennings did force a key fumble that enabled the Bears to get the ball back and drive for the winning score, but there were also a couple of plays that saw Cincinnati WR AJ Green beat both corners to balls.
More worrisome than a good performance from an All-Pro receiver was the way that the Bears seemed unable to keep a lid on the Bengals' passing attack up the middle of the field. Both Cincinnati tight ends looked good on Sunday, with Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham combining for 10 catches on 10 targets for 82 yards.
There were glimmers of hope in that area as well, with linebacker James Anderson breaking up a couple of passes over the middle of the field, including a key stop on 3rd-and-15 when the Bengals were attempting to come back after the Bears had taken the lead in the fourth quarter.
The forced turnovers in that area of the game definitely will soothe any bad feelings about the secondary, but if that kind of play continues without the increased number of turnovers, then it could become an issue for a team that has always prided itself on its defense.
Even Distribution the Name of the Game
Last season, it seemed as though the Bears did nothing but target Brandon Marshall in their offensive game plan. Head coach Marc Trestman seemed programmed to change that mentality this season, and if Sunday's results are any indication, then he is going to stay true to that belief.
That's because Cutler targeted four different players at least six times in the game. Marshall did lead the way with 10 targets, but Alshon Jeffrey was targeted an impressive eight times, and Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett each got six chances.
Part of that success is obviously due to the stellar play of the offensive line, which prevented the Bengals from picking up a single sack against Cutler in the game, but a good deal of credit is due to both Cutler and Trestman too. The coach called a good game with a variety of offensive sets for the Bengals to try to contend with, and even when those schemes broke down, Cutler was still able
to use his mobility to create plays to his checkdown receivers.
If the Bears can continue to spread the ball out the way they did on Sunday, then it is going to be very difficult to gameplan against them, and there should be many more happy weekends down the road.