This week, they go on the road to face the Chicago Bears, who are looking for their first win of the season. Here is what they need to do to come home with another win.
Don’t Give Them Hope
The Bengals are a better team than the Bears. Thinking about an opponent this way is a bit of an adjustment for Bengals fans, but it’s true. The Bengals should win this game. Often, the first step to winning a game is not losing it.
Last week, the Bengals made a couple of mistakes that allowed the Vikings to come back (specifically the missed tackle by Eli Apple and the turnover on downs deep in Bengals territory). They cannot afford to do that again this week.
The Bengals must stay on top of big plays on defense and avoid turnovers on offense. Blown coverages or missed blocking assignments cannot happen. The Bengals need to play mistake-free football to win. They cannot afford to give the Bears hope.
Maintain a Balanced Offense
With Joe Burrow throwing to three top-flight receivers, we are all looking forward to this team putting up big numbers in the passing game. The time will come for that, but for now a balanced attack that gets Joe Mixon heavily involved is the best approach. This prevents teams from being able to tee off on Burrow over and over as the offensive line continues to develop.
Last week, Mixon led the AFC in rushing, but that didn’t stop Burrow from throwing for 261 and a pair of touchdowns, or first-round pick Ja’Marr Chase from breaking 100 yards in his first game.
The passing game will become a bigger part of the offense as the weeks go on and Burrow will have some monster games, but a balanced approach will work best for this team against the Bears.
Protect the Franchise
Right tackle Riley Reiff and left tackle Jonah Williams did not give up a single sack against Reiff’s old team a week ago. Unfortunately, Burrow did take far too many shots. It was the interior offensive line who struggled most in 2020 and that carried over into Week 1 of this season.
Behind Trey Hopkins, Quinton Spain and Xavier Su’a-Filo, the Bengals have a trio of rookies. They took a big bet on their future building young, developmental depth instead of experienced, reliable depth at the position.
This bet may be the story of the season. They need to protect the quarterback from the interior pass rush. The interior line needs to step up it’s game in this game and throughout the season.
Pressure the Passer
A week ago on the other side of the line of scrimmage, the Bengals did a tremendous job of creating interior pressure.
B.J. Hill and Larry Ogunjobi look like home-run acquisitions at the defensive tackle position. This is huge because it was a major problem for the Bengals last offseason, a problem which radiated and exacerbated troubles in the secondary.
The Bengals need to continue to create pressure throughout the season, and particularly against Andy Dalton in Week 2.
Adjust and Finish
Last season, the Bengals took a big lead on the Indianapolis Colts, but then the defense came undone, and the offense faltered down the stretch.
Offensively, they need to show the ability to adjust to their opponents adjustments and continue to score points. Teams can come back fast in today’s NFL, so you need to keep your foot on the gas. It’s not enough to have a lead. You need to grow that lead and have an understanding of how many points you really need to score to come away with the win.
The defense must be consistent as well, staying on top of big plays that could change the game quickly and countering the offense’s adjustments. This week, one obvious adjustment for the Bears could be benching Dalton in favor of Justin Fields if their offense is not producing.
Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo must have a secondary defensive game plan ready for this scenario. One which accounts for Fields’ strengths and features complex blitzes and coverages that could be confusing for the first-time starter,
Last week, the Bengals won a close game. This was a big step for them, because it’s something they have struggled to do. This week, they need to avoid playing in a close game.
They need to put this team away.