Here are five keys to look for in determining the Bears fate:
1. Keeping QB Jay Cutler upright….The Bears revamped offensive line is in for a challenge against a deep, talented Bengals front four that accounted for 42 of the team’s 51 sacks a year ago. Long, angular DE’s Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson excel at rushing the passer, and Pro Bowl DT Geno Atkins creates push up the middle. Bears LT Jermon Bushrod faces a test on the left side, while the rookie right side combination of OG Kyle Long and OT Jordan Mills will be indoctrinated to the pro game. Long and Mills handled themselves well in preseason, but the regular season is a whole different story.
2. QB Jay Cutler needs to play mistake-free…..Bears head coach Marc Trestman’s offense is based upon getting rid of the ball quickly and rhythem based.Cutler’s decision-making often comes into question, but in a game that looks evenly matched, a premium will be placed on ball security. Besides the opening game ramifications, Cutler is playing with his future at stake. How well he performs translates to the Bears overall fortunes and will go a long way toward determining if Cutler’s future is in Chicago…or not.
3. Someone besides WR Brandon Marshall needs to step up….Much of the preseason talk focused on how the Bears were going to spread the ball around, with new TE Martellus Bennett and second-year WR Alshon Jeffery in tow. Bennett was relatively quiet while Jeffery enjoyed a solid outing against Oakland and exhibited the skill set the Bears anticipated when they traded up to get him in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Veteran WR Earl Bennett, shelved for the entire preseason due to a concussion, could see the field and has been a valuable weapon for Cutler in the past. With the Bengals expected to blanket Marshall, it’s important for somebody else, possibly even RB Matt Forte to step up and become a contributing playmaker.
4. Bears defense needs to create turnovers….The unit picked up where it left off season during the exhibition slate, but faces a high-powered Bengals offense. CB’s Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings will have their hands full with Bengals Pro Bowl WR A.J. Green. Cincinnati can also pose matchup problems with TE’s Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert. Bengals QB Andy Dalton is solid, but can be forced into turnovers. Expect Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker to unveil more blitzing in an attempt to confuse and rattle Dalton.
5. Special teams could be key….Will Devin Hester flash the skills that made him the league’s most dangerous return man? He showed glimpses during the preseason, but the Bears need some big plays to help their field position. K Robbie Gould appears primed for a big season, fully recovered from offseason surgery. There has been some turnover on special teams units, something that could be magnified on Sunday. The Bears roster contains ten rookies, including three undrafted free agents. Backups are expected to excel on special teams.