MATCHUPS TO WATCH: BEARS OFFENSE VS. BENGALS DEFENSE
Offensive Line vs. Defensive Line: Not exactly strength on strength here, but if one side succeeds in having its way with the other, there's a good chance victory will follow. Jay Cutler must be pressured, and Matt Forte needs to be held in check. They operate behind a line with pretty good size. The front end of the Bengals' 4-4 defense, however, has been diminished in stature. The line lost its ram, end Antwan Odom, who's out for the season. Its ballast, tackle Domata Peko (knee), may not be active and wouldn't be 100 percent if he plays. Chicago quite possibly could see three starters along the Bengals defensive front who were projected to be backups. It may be just the tonic for the Bears' maligned offensive line, or someone from the Bengals, such as LE Robert Geathers or new RE Jonathan Fanene, might step up big in place of Odom and get in Cutler's face. Both are capable. But it may not matter if the Bengals tackle like they did last week against the Texans and if they don't do a better job in zone coverage.
RB Matt Forte vs. LB Keith Rivers: Not only is Forte having a hard time getting on track running the football, as he averages just 3.8 yards per carry, but he's also averaging only 7.2 yards on his 18 receptions and hasn't caught a pass longer than 13 yards all season. Despite the fact that Cincinnati is banged up along the defensive line, there is no reason to assume the Bears will be able to run the ball because they've already failed to do so against some pretty poor run defenses. This offense is more dependent on the pass than it has ever been during the Lovie Smith regime, so perhaps Forte can make something happening through the air – Rivers draws the assignment since weak-side linebackers tend to cover the backs in 4-3 systems.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: BENGALS OFFENSE VS. BEARS DEFENSE
RB Cedric Benson vs. Front Seven: Definitely the marquee matchup of the day after all the pregame attention heaped on Benson, the former bad news Bear. Benson's hard running style allows the Bengals' offense to do what it does best: pound the ball inside to get to the second level and take shots behind the defense in favorable matchups while Benson is doing his gashing. When Benson has a hard time firing up, the Bengals have learned to keep riding him because he eventually breaks off first-down gainers as the game wears on. The Bengals are 24-1 under coach Marvin Lewis during games in which a rusher carries 25 times or more, 4-0 with Benson. The Bears rank sixth in rushing defense and the Bengals sometimes deviate from the run by going no-huddle, but expect Carson Palmer to put the ball in Benson's belly as a way to control the clock and to set up play-action. The Bengals line, loyal to Benson's cause, will be doing its best to help the tailback take it to his former team.
OT Andrew Whitworth vs. DE Gaines Adams: With first-round pick Andre Smith currently nursing a foot injury, this after his lengthy contract holdout, Whitworth mans the left tackle position and protects Palmer's blind side. Adams, who was just acquired from the Buccaneers last week, is a former No. 4-overall pick but will only be asked to contribute as a situational pass rusher off the bench – he will indeed be active Sunday, according to general manager Jerry Angelo. The Bears have been getting pressure on the passer this season after failing to do so last year, but Angelo still felt the need to add Adams because he just might blossom under the direction of defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.
RB Cedric Benson
Getty Images: Andy Lyons
THE BENGALS WIN IF ...
... the offensive line opens up running lanes for Benson and Bernard Scott and gives Palmer enough pass protection to find receivers Chad Ochocinco and Chris Henry, who could give the Bears problems if they get behind the safeties. If cornerbacks Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph contain the Bears' unheralded receivers and the linebackers don't let the tight ends loose, the Bengals might be able to withstand a tough day up front and a bounce-back performance by Forte.
THE BENGALS LOSE IF ...
... Benson is stopped, Forte hurts them on the ground, they can't put consistent pressure on Cutler and special teams continues to be challenged by a top-flight playmaker in the return game – this week Devin Hester, who follows Houston's Jacoby Jones, who followed Cleveland's Josh Cribbs.
THE BEARS WIN IF ...
... they play like their version of the Cover 2 is designed to and force a handful of Cincinnati turnovers. Not only has Palmer already thrown seven interceptions in six games, but Benson had a tendency to put the pigskin on the ground after big hits when he was wearing a Bears uniform. While the Monsters of the Midway have been a solid defensive team thus far, which is especially commendable after losing captain Brian Urlacher in Week 1, Smith and Co. haven't been entirely pleased because they're not getting enough takeaways.
THE BEARS LOSE IF ...
... Forte continues to be a non-factor, no matter how well Cutler and the passing game perform through the air. Since the Bears are still convinced they want to be a running team and play smashmouth football, the offensive line needs to start opening holes consistently and Forte has to rediscover the magic he had as a rookie. The Bengals are 11th in the NFL defending the run, only allowing 96.8 yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry, but they can't afford to put eight men in the box all day against a signal caller like Cutler since their pass defense is 28th in the league at 254.8 yards surrendered per game.
Marc Hardin: The Bengals would love to hit their bye week with a record of 5-2 and have two weeks between this contest and their next game Nov. 8 vs. Baltimore to get healthy. But Sunday's game has all the makings of a physical "Black and Blue" contest, and the Bengals not only hope to come out it with a W but with everybody intact. Cincinnati is cut out for a physical contest, even if all the primary physical presences (Odom, Peko, S Roy Williams) may not be there Sunday on defense. If Cincinnati can control the clock with the running game and keep the defense off the field so it has a chance while being shorthanded, the Bengals will be halfway to 10 wins following the outcome. Oh, and don't forget. It's going to be close. The Bengals always play them close. (And Shayne Graham hits the winning field goal Sunday. Clip and save.) BENGALS 27, BEARS 24.
John Crist: I was starting to buy what the Bengals were selling when they were 4-1 and just beat Baltimore on the road, but getting upended by Houston at home – by double digits, no less – brought them back to earth to some degree and exposed a few flaws. Their aerial attack isn't nearly as explosive as it used to be back when both Palmer and Ochocinco were Pro Bowlers, and their pass defense gave up a ridiculous 392 yards and four TDs to Matt Schaub. While Chicago shouldn't have to rely on that kind of performance from Cutler, I simply believe he's playing on the better team from 1 to 53. BEARS 26, BENGALS 20
To go back and read Part I of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where Marc answered five questions from John, Click Here. To read Part II, where John answered five questions from Marc, Click Here.
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John Crist is the publisher of BearReport.com. Marc Hardin is the publisher of BengalsInsider.com.