Bears-Bengals Matchups to Watch

Six player-vs.-player matchups that will have the most impact on the outcome of Sunday's regular season opener between the Chicago Bears and the Cincinnati Bengals.

OFFENSE

WR Brandon Marshall vs. CB Leon Hall
In last year's season opener, Marshall caught nine passes – a Week 1 franchise record – for 119 yards and 1 TD. Yet in three career games against the Bengals, the last two of which he was lined up against Hall, he has just 13 total catches and no touchdowns. Hall, an All Pro in 2009, is an underrated cover corner who doesn't back down to talented wideouts like Marshall. If Hall can keep him in check, the Bengals won't have to roll safeties over the top of Marshall, which would then make it harder on the rest of the Bears' pass catchers. Marshall, who will likely be dealing with a sore hip for most of the season, needs to set the tone early and force the Bengals' secondary to give him their full attention.

LT Jermon Bushrod vs. DE Michael Johnson
The Bears made Bushrod the wealthiest offensive lineman in franchise history this offseason and he's going to be tested immediately. Johnson is an emerging pass rusher who racked up 11.5 sacks last season. He has speed, power and quickness off the edge. With weapons along Cincinnati's entire defensive line, the Bears won't be inclined to give Bushrod much help in this game. He'll get Johnson 1-on-1 for most of this contest, so we're about to find right away if Bushrod is worth the substantial investment.

G Kyle Long vs. DT Geno Atkins
The Bengals like to move Atkins all over the defensive line, similar to the way Chicago uses Julius Peppers, so Long won't be the only Bears lineman tasked with stopping arguably the best defensive tackle in the league. But Long will likely receive the heaviest dose of Atkins, which is the toughest test the rookie could have asked for in his first NFL start. Long looked good against some weaker opponents in the preseason but he's about to face a defender who makes even the best offensive linemen look bad. If Long, playing next to fellow rookie Jordan Mills, struggles in this one, Chicago's offense will have a hard time putting up points.

DEFENSE

LB D.J. Williams vs. RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Williams, coming back from a calf injury, practiced this week for the first time since the last weekend in July. There is going to be some rust and some conditioning issues with the 10-year veteran and the Bengals will be looking to take advantage of it. In the run game, expect Cincinnati to go right at Williams with Green-Ellis, a downhill runner who can wear out opposing linebackers. Chicago's defense will also get a taste of rookie runner Giovani Bernard, who is a homerun hitter. If Williams slows down, the Bears will struggle to stop the run. That means rookie Jon Bostic could see considerable snaps in an effort to keep Williams fresh. Bostic is a playmaker but he's still a rookie and he has struggled mightily in coverage.

DE Julius Peppers vs. T Anthony Collins
Cincinnati's Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth is doubtful for the game, which means Collins would be tasked with blocking Peppers for most of the contest. Collins is a career backup, which is juicy matchup for Chicago's best pass rusher. Peppers must take advantage and be a force off the edge. One strip sack could be the difference in this contest and there's no reason Peppers, as well as Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin, can't create those opportunities against Collins.

CB Charles Tillman vs. WR A.J. Green
Green has emerged as one of the best young receivers in the NFL. He has great size (6-4), speed and leaping ability. He was absolutely dominant last year during a nine-game stretch in which he caught at least one touchdown, a Bengals franchise record. Which means Tillman is going to be a busy man on Sunday. This is nothing new to the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback, who is always assigned the opposition's best receiver, yet he's never before faced Green. The Bears will likely give Tillman safety help over the top, as the Bengals lack a true No. 2 wideout, so it would be surprising to see Green go off. But if he does – in 2012 he had five games with 100 receiving yards or more, and 11 games with six or more catches – that will open up the middle of the field for the Bengals' two pass-catching tight ends. That could spell disaster for Chicago's defense, so Tillman again needs to be on top of his game.


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.

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