Commentary

Against Bengals, let him sling

Bears should unleash Cutler against a woeful Cincinnati pass defense

Originally Published: October 24, 2009
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- So how did you spend Bengals Week?

Did you start a Twitter war with Chad Ochocinco?

Did you listen to Cedric Benson's bitter interviews, and check out his positive stats, and angrily shake your fist at your mothballed Cedric Benson jersey?

Did you order a case of Montgomery Inn barbecue sauce only so you could make a YouTube video of yourself smashing it into smithereens?

I really want to know. After all, Bengals Week can cause one to do crazy things. Everyone knows when you play the team from the Queen City, all bets are off.

Seriously, this game would usually rate a 2.5 on the 10-point excitement scale (1 is Lovie Smith reading The Economist out loud, and 10 is riding shotgun in Lance Briggs' Lamborghini), but because the Bengals are so good and because their offensive star, the top rusher in the league, is Cedric freakin' Benson, this is a surprisingly big game.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Rob Grabowski/US PresswireBears quarterback Jay Cutler should find plenty of opportunity Sunday against the Bengals, who rank 28th in the NFL against the pass.

It doesn't hurt that the Bears are 3-2 and the Vikings are leading the NFC North at 6-0. It's never too early to panic over the division, Bears fans, especially after dumping a close game to the Falcons, early favorites for one of the two wild-card spots. With the addition of Jay Cutler, this season -- and probably every season with him (all things remaining equal) -- is playoffs or bust.

Beating the Bengals hasn't been much of a problem for the rest of the NFL, aside from the 2005 season, when they won the AFC Central. But this Cincinnati team is showing uncommon bite, from a healthy Carson Palmer to a focused Ochocinco to a resurgent Benson. The defense has been average, but showed remarkable spirit in a win over Baltimore two weeks ago, with their defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer coaching despite the sudden death of his wife just days before.

The Bengals have already run the table in the AFC North, not an easy task when Pittsburgh and Baltimore are good.

Here's some good news for the Bears, though. The Bengals are unsurprisingly vulnerable at home, just 1-2 compared to 3-0 on the road, where their fans have been overcharged and under-entertained for years. I expect a large contingent of obnoxious Bears fans (That's not a knock. I've been a road fan before, there are no other kind) to mix it up.

The Benson aspect (which has completely overshadowed the Tank Johnson angle) has remarkably spiced up the rivalry. But I don't expect him to play a major role in the game, even with defensive tackle Tommie Harris questionable. The Bears' defense is designed to stop the run, and that's one thing it does very well.

If the Bears' defensive line (no sacks last week) can't get to Palmer, this game could be a shootout. Ochocinco is going to be shadowed by Charles "Peanut" Tillman in what should be a thrilling matchup that demands tiny clip-on microphones.

[+] EnlargePalmer
James Lang/US PresswireBengals quarterback Carson Palmer has passed for 1,375 with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions.

It's not stretch to say this outcome is solely on the Bears' shoulders. It's one they should win, as if the Bengals were 0-5. And after failing a road test last week in Atlanta, it's also another guidepost to December, when we'll really know what kind of team they have.

I don't expect to see Matt Forte run wild, or the offensive line to block wild. The Bengals' run defense is ranked in the middle of the pack, and even when it has allowed running backs good games, Cincinnati has still won.

The Bengals' pass defense, 28th in the NFL, is the problem. I don't get the consternation over the Bears not airing it out. "Airing it out" is what gets guys like Cutler in trouble. I have been more impressed when he has checked down and marched the Bears down the field on intermediate throws, using his receivers' speed to pile up YAC (yards after catch).

You can bet cornerbacks Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph are going to be playing off the ball, and I'm pretty certain Hester & Co. can get past safety Roy Williams -- the ex-Cowboy who is all hit, no cover -- in space.

There's a reason opposing quarterbacks have passed for 1,529 yards and nine touchdowns (with five interceptions) in six games.

I don't think Cutler should take these numbers as a dare, but the Bears should play to their strengths and devise an offensive game plan that is predicated on establishing the pass early and relying on the run late, if they have a lead.

Someone asked Cutler this week if he would like to throw the ball 12 straight times this week, and he replied, "What do you think, you schmuck? Hey, the jerk store called and they're running out of you."

OK, he didn't say that. Cutler actually said he would certainly be in favor of that plan, but he thinks the Bears need to establish the run first.

It was a very mature answer, but I think it's just office politics. The Bears' running game is off the tracks, and with a mediocre-looking offensive line and a running back who could very well be the second coming of Anthony Thomas, it's looking more and more like this is a pass-first, -second and -third team.

So let's see the long handoffs and the quick slants and the hot reads. Balance that out with the counters and occasional dives to nowhere, sure. But let's let Cutler be Cutler, if only 8 yards at a time.

I have a feeling Ron Turner and Cutler have spent Bengals Week thinking the same thing.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He can be reached at jgreenberg@espnchicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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