By Jeff Joniak-
(CBS) Here are Jeff Joniak’s Keys to the Game for the Bears’ Week 1 matchup with the Bengals.
Marc Trestman and Aaron Kromer un-wrap the package that blends multiple schemes and disciplines from their respective careers, while focusing on the strengths of each Bears player.
Trestman believes strongly in protecting the quarterback, and this is a great place to start against one of the top front-seven defensive fronts in the NFL. Six of the Bengals rotating linemen have combined for 129 career sacks, while life-long Steeler James Harrison has 64 more as a 3-4 linebacker.
Protecting Jay Cutler from Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s aggressive, physical defense will be the number one goal, particularly on third down.
A player like Geno Atkins can destroy a game plan. Few are as disruptive and sudden as the two- time Pro Bowl defensive tackle. Nose tackle Domata Peko is also a difficult assignment and disruptive in his own way. These former fourth round picks offer a stiff first test for the interior of the Bears offense line.
Cutler is being asked to get rid of the ball on time to help ease the burden of the protection challenge, which means receivers have to get open before the Bengals lineman get into their second move.
A handful of bad decisions a game by the quarterback can spoil the stew, and third year Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is not above making a few. He’s an efficient short-to-intermediate passer with above average accuracy; however he’s been intercepted 29 times in his 32 starts, including four pick sixes’ in 2012.
Last season, Dalton completed only 26.3% of his passes beyond 20-yards. Dalton’s quick release is a challenge. He also threw four play-action touchdowns last season to star receiver AJ Green, which was tied for third most in the NFL.
Dalton has a few more security blankets like promising rookies Tyler Eifert at tight end and dynamic third down back Giovani Bernard paired with two-time Pro Bowl tight end Jermaine Gresham. Pressuring Dalton and obstructing his throwing lanes figures to be critical key to the game.
Special Team: Pound
A tone setting hit on special teams or a field flipping return by Devin Hester or forcing a fumble on coverage all could factor in changing the momentum and tempo of what promises to be a highly charged environment at Soldier Field.
Special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillas is a high energy, fiery competitor and he will have his guys dialed in. The Bengals are equally impressive on special teams, fielding one of the premier units in the NFL last season.
They, like the Bears, are a fast, aggressive unit featuring high-end returners like Pac Man Jones on punts and Brandon Tate on kickoffs. It’s unknown if rookie second round defensive end Margus Hunt will be active, but if he is, he must be blocked on placekicks… In college, he blocked 17 kicks including an NCAA record 10 field-goal attempts.
Intangibles: Preemptive Strike
Arguably more than any coach in the NFL, Marc Trestman owns the element of surprise, a true asset in Week 1.
There is not much tape on Trestman for the Bengals to game plan from. It’s old tape with very different personnel from a different time and place in the NFL.
Trestman will try to use this asset to his advantage and a quick strike early in the game will jack up the crowd, and give the team a foundation to build on.
The Bengals were a good road team in 2012, winning their last four and finishing 6-2, before a wildcard playoff loss at Houston. They certainly have read their press clippings as a possible Super Bowl contender under 11-year head coach Marvin Lewis. However, he is 0-and-4 in the playoffs, for a franchise void of a postseason win in an NFL worst 22 years.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play voice of the Chicago Bears on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. You can follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffJoniak.