Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, who has a winning record at home, seeks his first NFL road victory as the Bengals try replicate their postseason past in Sunday's matchup (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) at Soldier Field against the Bears.
The Bengals followed up their first Opening Day victory under head coach Marvin Lewis with a Paul Brown Stadium win over the Vikings before heading to Chicago, where Chad Johnson river-danced them to 3-0 and jump-started them to the 2005 AFC North title.
Now after securing head coach Zac Taylor's first Opening Day win over the Vikings at The Paul, they arrive at Soldier Field hoping to bolt out of the gate against a Bears team jet-lagged with Sunday night's rout in Los Angeles and get to 2-0. But the Bengals.com Media Roundtable is split on the matter.
Ben Baby, the Bengals beat reporter for ESPN.com, sees a Cincinnati win as big as his native state of Texas. He projects the Bengals getting to 2-0 for the first time under Taylor by being able to rely on the same formula that beat the Vikes and jumping to a lead. John Clayton, the Pro Football Hall of Fame scribe now covering the league for The Washington Post as well as local and radio, gives the nod to the Bengals because of their pass rush against Chicago's patchwork offensive line.
But it is the Bears pass rush that has Jay Morrison, one of The Athletic's Bengals reporters and resident Stat Masterson with a hair trigger on the best numbers, going with Chicago and the odds of a tight game leaning to the home club a la last week in Cincy. The estimable Brad Biggs of The Chicago Tribune has chronicled the NFL since 2001, when he covered a Bears shutout at The Paul, and done it at The Trib since 2009, when he covered the Benson Bowl and the Bengals rout in Cincinnati. He sees a much closer game than either of those and a Bears win.
Let's go around The Table. As always, visitors first.
The Bears have a really difficult schedule this season. When you look at how it shakes out for them between now and Thanksgiving when they go to Detroit, they really need to win this game because they got off to a really poor start against the Rams. They've been very good defensively under Matt Nagy and they uncharacteristically gave up a whole bunch of big plays to the Rams. When you look at the Bengals' skill position players for Joe Burrow, there's reason to be concerned.
Can they shore up some of these mistakes where they had communication breakdowns in the secondary and guys running wide open in Los Angeles? If the Bears can't clean that stuff up Cincinnati is going to be able to put up a bunch of points. I don't think under Andy Dalton, even with Justin Fields coming in a little bit, the Bears are equipped to score a ton of points themselves. He had one completion over 11 yards last week.
We're taking a look at the two best running backs in the league after week one in Joe Mixon and David Montgomery so that will be interesting to watch. If the Bears have their nose tackle Eddie Goldman back, and he's doubtful after he missed last week when he suffered a knee injury in practice, the Bears should be pretty solid against the run. Without Goldman, they're not nearly as good. They slipped to middle of the pack in the league a year ago.
THE EDGE: I picked the Bears to win a close one. But based on how the Bears defense played the second half of all last season and then on Sunday night in Los Angeles, I'm not really sure what to expect. BEARS, 24-23.
I look at the Bears offensive line and it's one of the worst we've seen in the National Football League in years. Think about the idea they let two starting tackles go and they drafted Kevin Jenkins even though he's got back problems and he's lost for the year. They signed 39-year-old Jason Peters and he's questionable for Sunday. The backup gets a knee injury and he's out, the right tackle is an undrafted guy from a couple of years ago, Elijah Wilkinson. And they're not really great at guard.
Last week your old guy Andy Dalton threw 37 times for 206 yards, and so he's not going to be able to go down field. They were able to run the ball, which surprised me. I have no idea what went wrong with the defense. They really had a bad game. Probably because of Matthew Stafford. The Bengals should be able to mount a really good pass rush and they obviously know Andy Dalton really well. The only thing I worry about is they did give up five sacks last week. That stuff's got to end.
THE EDGE: This is set up. The Bengals are coming off a nice win over the Vikings. The Bears are held back by their offensive line. I think this one could put the Bengals at 2-0. BENGALS, 20-10.
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When you look at where the Bears struggled and where the Bengals succeeded, it favors the Bengals. The Bears gave up a lot of yardage downfield on plays of ten yards or more down the right sideline. If the Bengals put Ja'Marr Chase out there, as I imagine they will, or Tee Higgins, I think they showed a good amount of proficiency with those kinds of throws and what the defense is going to give them and I think that's going to be there again.
The big question for the Bengals is going to be how do they respond? What we saw in 2019 where they had a really good week one and had a big letdown in week two, can the Bengals put a big win and good performance behind them and move on quickly enough to get ready for Chicago? That for me is the biggest question mark. Because this team has not been successful over the last few years, can they handle success well when it occurs? We saw that last year when they were able to carry over the momentum of the Steelers' win and beat the Texans on the road. Can we see them do that again, but this time when it actually matters in the balance of the season?
I know there's going to be a lot of talk about how good Joe Mixon is, but look at the Bengals pass offense. They used Mixon to seal the game against the Vikings, but they really used the passing offense on those three straight drives that scored touchdowns and that's what allowed them to bleed the clock and use Mixon toward the end. The Bears struggled in pass defense to a certain degree and the Bengals and Burrow seem to have a good grip on the passing offense.
THE EDGE: I think it's going to be a close game. If the pass protection holds up, the Bengals get another opportunity to jump out ahead early and if they do that they have a chance to win in a similar fashion. I don't think Chicago has enough on both sides of the ball to really challenge Cincinnati if they play the way they did against the Vikings. BENGALS, 28-24
It seems like week two is always a regression to the mean across the league and this is a young team that maybe hasn't quite learned how to deal with success. I'm not sure this is the best spot for them to go on the road. The Bears are going to be desperate after laying an egg in prime time. The Bengals having to go silent count and deal with a crowd for the first time and coming back from a big win, I just think it's going to be a little too much.
As long as there's not a long rain delay where the game ends up being played at night, Andy Dalton beats them again. Bears running back David Montgomery is not quite Dalvin Cook, but he's still a really good runner and he's great at breaking tackles. How the Bengals stopped the run last week was maybe more encouraging than the pressure they got. How they shut down a pretty good running back. I think this comes down to the Bears defense finding a way to get pressure on Burrow, even if they don't hit him but they speed him up a little bit.
THE EDGE: I think it's going to be low-scoring. A kind of grind-it-out defensive game. It could go either way and when that happens I tend to lean home team. I don't know if the Bengals can have the same success on the road that they had at home against Minnesota. Especially with a couple of elite pass rushers in Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks. BEARS, 19-17.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Handling success, yes. Have to do it. But how about handling Fields on defense and Mack and Hicks on offense? That's what Sunday is going to come down to and so we give you Mike Hilton on defense and Mixon on offense in what has become a tune-up for the AFC North.
Fields played just five snaps on Sunday night. But if the Bears have been watching tape of the Bengals defense the last three seasons, they know the zone read has given them fits. Plus, now that the Bears are back on the Lakefront, the wolves are going to be howling for Fields and the whole world is watching. He'll get more work.
The thing is, though, the Bengals are much better constructed this season to handle what Fields gives them on the perimeter and Montgomery offers churning inside.
Edge players Trey Hendrickson, Cam Sample and B.J. Hill weren't here last year, never mind the last three. Neither was Hilton, the feisty, physical slot cornerback from Pittsburgh who gives the Bengals that Steeler edge and is a key guy on the option. The Bengals showed last week they can stop a great runner. If they do it again, the Bears offense is stuck on I-90 like everyone else.
There are concerns with the five sacks the Bengals allowed the Vikes of Burrow and Mack and Hicks are better than what Minnesota had. Not just the Vikings. Most teams. What the Bengals' first two games really has become is precursor of their division games. Both Minnesota and Chicago came at you with physical defenses that make it hard to run and even tougher to protect the passer.
In last week's opener, they appeared to realize they can't expose Burrow like they did last season. Not just because of his knee, but also because their record in the division suggested more balance is needed. Hence, last week's majority of snaps from under center and 29 carries from Mixon for the busiest and best September outing of his career.
After allowing five sacks in a game Mixon posted an NFL-best 127 yards, the Bengals figure to be turning to him again with Mack and Hicks looming. The magic number is 115 yards. That would give Mixon 242 yards to start the season, the best ever by a Bengals back in the first two games of a season, better than Rudi Johnson's 241 in 2006.
Another key number is 26. If Mixon gets those, he'll have 55 carries, one more than Johnson's record in '06. Or maybe even 22. That would give him 51 carries, one more than the old Bears draft pick and late Bengals great Cedric Benson opening the '09 season.
Either number followed by 115 should make sure the Bear doesn't get Burrow and he'll get the Bear.