Has your blood pressure dropped, yet?
Last week’s crazy win against the Minnesota Vikings allowed the Cincinnati Bengals to slay many metaphorical dragons. We’re not sure what this means for the 16 remaining games, but signals of a successful season are palpable at 1-0.
Rebounding after giving up a two-touchdown lead in the second half? Check. Receiving massive contributions from brand-new Bengals players? You betcha. Coming out victorious in one of those frustrating one-possession games? Potentially season-changing.
But, while that’s all well and good, it’s in the rearview mirror. This week, the Bengals won’t be in friendly confines of the rocking Paul Brown Stadium, but rather going to a hostile environment at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Hosting their visit is old friend, Andy Dalton, who showed them a pretty awful time at PBS late last year. In that contest, Dalton had two touchdowns, zero turnovers and a 122.6 rating (his second-best of the year), en route to a 30-7 blowout of his former team.
The scenario is much different this time around, though. Joe Burrow is back as are many other critical players, while Zac Taylor and his staff appear to have the players they want in place.
Last week, Dalton and the Bears stumbled on Sunday Night Football, handing the Rams an easy victory. “Primetime Andy” made an appearance, as The Red Rifle committed two turnovers (a fumble and an interception), notched zero interceptions, was sacked three times and had a pedestrian 72.9 rating on the evening.
With Justin Fields lighting up his few snaps and Dalton having familiar big-game struggles, Da Bears faithful are clamoring for more time from the rookie. If the veteran wants to hang on to his starting gig, he’ll need to have a big day against his former team.
Earlier this week, Dalton commented that the Bengals’ defense doesn’t look that much different from the group he faced late last year. That doesn’t seem to be the case, as the Bengals logged three sacks, forced five false start penalties against the Vikings’ offensive line and did an okay job of holding the triumvirate of Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson in check.
Kind of a far cry from the 2019 unit Dalton last witnessed as a Bengal player, as well as the unit he and his Dallas mates crushed last year.
Not aligning in his favor is a patchwork offensive line. Jason Peters is one of the best offensive tackles of his generation, but at 40 years old, he doesn’t seem to have much left in the tank. He’s also currently hampered by a quadriceps issue.
Cody Whitehair and James Daniels are serviceable, but this was a unit that allowed Dalton to get hit, sacked and pressured often on Sunday night. And, if you remember No. 14’s days with Cincinnati, those aren’t scenarios in which he thrives very often.
Dalton does have two of the better offensive weapons in the NFL at his disposal, though. David Montgomery is coming off of a huge day versus Los Angeles and Allen Robinson is one of the best wide receivers nobody talks about.
The biggest thing going for Dalton, though? A 1 p.m. ET kickoff time on a Sunday afternoon. And, while the game plans and X’s and O’s are always in focus on a weekly basis, it’s these emotional and mental aspects that are more in focus this week.
For instance, how will the playing of five full quarters in Week 1 play into this Sunday, in terms of fatigue? Taylor seemed to take it easy on his team in practices this week because of it and the Bengals left Week 1 relatively healthy, aside from the unfortunate Ricardo Allen news, but one full quarter of extra football is a factor.
The revenge plot line and the possibility of Fields breathing down Dalton’s neck for his job are also stories that could provide “bulletin board material” for either team as extracurriculars to this contest.
That said, the success or failure in this one could simply come down to which team can run the ball and stop it more effectively. Even though not much was going well for Chicago Sunday night, a lone bright spot was David Montgomery and his 108 rushing yards on just 16 carries.
Cincinnati held Cook to just 61 yards and a paltry 3.05 yards per carry average last week, so something has to give here. The Bears’ offensive line had overall Pro Football Focus scores ranging from 34.7 (Whitehair) to 61.7 (Peters), while the Bengals’ defensive linemen largely landed in the mid-and-late-70s range, so take that for what you will.
The Bengals are obviously craving balance on offense, at least early in the season, as obvious by Mixon’s 29 carries to Burrow’s 32 dropbacks (27 actual attempts) last week. Cincinnati’s star running back currently leads the NFL with 127 rushing yards, along with a respectable 4.4 yards per carry average.
Mixon is a back that gets better with touches and as the game wears on, so the prevailing thought is that Cincinnati will remain committed to making it work. After all, Frank Pollack wasn’t just brought back to correct the offensive line, but also to get the ground game back on track, as evidenced by the slash and “Run Game Coordinator” in his job title.
One facet of the game that ties in both in-game execution and those aforementioned emotional wild cards is how Taylor will approach fourth downs this week. It sounds like he’ll remain aggressive for all of 2021, but will it be go-for-it-from-your-own-30-yard-line-again-while-on-the-road-type of aggressive this week?
We’ll see, but be prepared for the potential emotional highs and lows that come with those decisions.
My arms are sore from patting myself on the back from calling my exact shot last week, so I’ll try to replicate that success. Las Vegas sees this as a coin flip game, more or less, given the fluctuation of the line from anywhere to three and a half to just two points favoring the Bears--usually the type of gift given to a home team with not many other advantages seen other than playing at home.
Even though it’s been just one game and one win, there’s something already different about this Bengals team. They had a two-touchdown lead in the second half, watched it evaporate and then hung tough to get one of those ever-elusive one-possession wins.
At Paul Brown Stadium last week, the latter part of the game sparked a “Here we go again” aura among the base, as “SKOL!” chants from Minnesota faithful started to take over. However, while a lot of us lamented, these new-look Bengals calmly responded with “Shhhh...We’ve got this.”
It will be tougher for them to carry that sentiment for a road game and after a long contest last week, but, for now, I’ll believe in the Aaron Rodgers-esque “R-E-L-A-X” mantra that the Burrow Boys are currently exuding.
Bengals 30, Bears 21
AC (1-0)— Thanks for the memories and for passing the torch, Andy.