ReFo: CIN @ CHI, Week 1
Two of the league’s most touted 4-3 defenses faced off on Sunday in what was expected to be a defensive showdown. It didn’t quite turn out that way as the two star receivers stole the show — A.J. Green and Brandon Marshall took turns making play after play. Green ran wild in the Bears’ secondary early on, but after a couple of drops, he fizzled in the second half. In the end, it was Marshall who would beat Terence Newman on a go route and then Reggie Nelson on an out for the game-winning touchdown and a 24-21 victory.
If there were questions as to whether the Bears could contend for the playoffs after losing Brian Urlacher and Lovie Smith they are now answered. Marc Trestman’s offense looked like a well-oiled machine the whole second half and the defense didn’t miss a beat, though Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings must have switched roles for the game as Tillman picked off two passes while Jennings forced two fumbles.
For the Bengals all hope is not lost. In fact, with the rest of the division losing in Week 1, Cincinnati is still in first place. And compared to how the other AFC North teams fell, the Bengals should be feeling pretty good. Next week’s matchup with the Steelers looms even larger now after the loss, though. If there is a must win this early in the season that could be it — if they can’t beat their division rival they’ll take on Green Bay in week 3 and could realistically be looking at an 0-3 start.
Cincinnati – Three Performances of Note
Protecting the Merchandise
With starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth sidelined for the game there were some concerns as to how the Bengals’ offensive line would hold up against a vaunted Bears pass rush. By the end of the game in turned out that their pass protection last thing to blame for the loss. Anthony Collins (+3.0) filled in on the left side swimmingly. He allowed just one pressure despite facing Julius Peppers on 27 snaps. The offensive line as a whole was responsible for just three pressures and they kept Dalton off the turf all the way until the late in the fourth.
On the Edge
With two of the four highest cap hits on the Bengals coming from their starting defensive ends, there is going to be high expectations. So it’s a good thing that Carlos Dunlap (+3.0) and Michael Johnson’s (+3.1) were the first- and third-highest graded defenders for the Bengals on Sunday (Geno Atkins was the second-highest). The two were just too long and too strong for for the smattering of Bears that tried to block them. Both would routinely walk back the tight end or tackle on outside runs and squeeze the running lanes to their sides. They also handled a good deal of the load rushing the passer combining for six of the Bengals’ 12 pressures on the day. Money well spent.
With Andrew Hawkins out for a few months with an ankle injury, Andy Dalton is in need of playmakers not named A.J. Green. On Sunday, Green accounted for 57% of the receiving yards and and 39% of the targets. When those numbers are altered to reflect his percentage of the Bengals’ wide receiver totals they become 86% (yards) and 65% (targets). Those numbers are not sustainable. Marvin Jones (0.0) and Mohamed Sanu (-1.6) had long receptions of 7 and 8 yards, respectively, and both failed to break a tackle.
Jones and Sanu’s poor performance may have had a lot to do with the number of multiple tight end formations. The Bengals used more than one tight end on almost 70% of their snaps and it paid dividends for the passing game. Jermaine Gresham (+1.0) and Tyler Eifert (+1.3) were targeted five times each, both caught all five and Gresham broke three tackles while Eifert broke two. With the success Dalton had throwing to both, don’t expect either to come off the field much any time soon.
Chicago – Three Performances of Note
It was tough sledding in the first half for Jay Cutler and the Bears offense. Their 10 points came on a shortened-field touchdown drive and a 58-yard field goal that probably never should have happened because of a missed holding call two plays prior. Then in the second half they started rolling. Cutler led them to scores on two drives, threw a pick caused by contact during his throwing motion, and then ran out the clock on the final drive.
Cutler’s +6.1 grade was his third-best since he was traded to the Bears in 2009. On passes that traveled over 20 yards in the air he was 3-for-3 and passes over 10 yards he was 9-for-12; the Bears’ quarterback had only two downgraded passes all game. It was a superb performance against an excellent defense, but keep in mind, Cutler started off last season hot as well before the wheels started to fall off. I’ll need to see a few more weeks of this before I call the Cutler-Trestman combo a sweeping success.
Out of the Blocks
If you just watched the highlight reel you may think Martellus Bennett had a sound opener. You would have seen his sensational contested touchdown catch over George Iloka and Vontaze Burfict. What you wouldn’t have seen were Bennett’s sorry attempts to block the Bengals’ rangy defensive ends or his easy dropped pass. The free agent signing from the Giants has always been a good blocker so his -4.4 run blocking grade shouldn’t give too much pause. It’s not every week that he’ll be going up against two 6-foot-6 freaks. It was a poor introduction, but Bennett will come around and surely be an upgrade over Kellen Davis in due time.
Right Side of the Line
One rookie offensive lineman stepped onto the field Sunday and played like a Top 5 pick from the first snap to the last. That rookie was not Kyle Long (-1.7), rather it was fifth-rounder Jordan Mills (+3.4) out of Louisiana Tech. Mills allowed just that one pressure while Long allowed two and Mills was solid all day on the ground. All in all, it was a great showing for both considering that Long was matched up with the best defensive tackle in the NFL, Geno Atkins, for 25 snaps. Starting two rookies on the same side of the line is a dangerous proposition, but so far Mills and Long have made Marc Trestman look like a genius for it.
– The Bears starting corners Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings shared the team lead in both tackles (8) and stop (3).
– Andy Dalton was on target on all six passes thrown over 10 yards down the field.
– While Rey Maualuga made the game-ending mistake, it was Taylor Mays who cheated inside and lost contain on the Bears’ fourth-down conversion that led to the game-winning score.
PFF Game Ball
Jay Cutler’s play was a breath of fresh air for Bears fans. Poised in the pocket, under control, and accurate. It was the most comfortable he’s ever looked in a Bears uniform and his performance deserves this game ball.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @PFF_MikeRenner