Week 2 of the 2021 NFL season will feature a matchup where the past meets the present. When the Cincinnati Bengals (1-0) visit the Chicago Bears (0-1) at Soldier Field this Sunday, they'll face an old friend again in Andy Dalton.
The Bengals already own a victory over the NFC North, as they defeated the Minnesota Vikings 27-24 in overtime at home last week. The Bears, unfortunately, have more questions than answers after opening the season with a prime-time loss against the Rams in Los Angeles.
Cincinnati at Chicago
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 19 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Bears -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Dalton vs. Cincinnati Part 2
Last year, as a member of the Dallas Cowboys, Andy Dalton went up against Cincinnati, his former team, in Week 14. The Cowboys beat the Bengals 30-7 with Dalton completing 16 of 23 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Dalton was starting in place of an injured Dak Prescott, while No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow didn't play for the Bengals in that game due to a torn ACL suffered earlier in the season.
Now, Dalton is under center for the Bears after receiving mixed reactions in his Chicago debut. Last Sunday night against the Rams, Dalton went 27-for-38 for 206 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception (on a tipped pass near the goal line). He only completed one pass that went 10 yards or more (5.4 ypa), was sacked three times, and threw mostly short passes in an effort to hold off the Rams' relentless pass rush. He wasn't necessarily terrible, but many Bears fans still aren't sold on Dalton as the starter.
Rookie Justin Fields was under center for five plays against Los Angeles. He completed both of his pass attempts (10 yards), scored the first rushing touchdown of his career, and the Bears' offense looked faster with him on the field. Had Fields started, Chicago would have been able to do more on offense because of Fields' ability to extend plays with his feet. The question for this week is will Fields get more playing time?
In his first game back from injury, Burrow showed little rust against Minnesota. He completed 20 of his 27 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns. Similar to Chicago, however, there are concerns for Cincinnati when it comes to pass protection. And Week 1 put those on full display as Burrow was sacked five times. But when he was given time, Burrow demonstrated the strong arm, accuracy, and fearlessness that made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2020.
2. Concerns with both defenses
It wasn't a great Week 1 for either team on this side of the ball. The Bears gave up 386 yards and 34 points to the Rams. Matthew Stafford had plenty of time to throw, which made it easier for him to carve up a pass defense that had numerous lapses in coverage, most notably on Cooper Kupp's 56-yard touchdown catch to open the third quarter. Chicago managed just one sack, didn't force any turnovers, and allowed Los Angeles to convert six of 11 third-down opportunities. In his first game with his new team, Stafford tossed three touchdowns and posted a near-perfect passer rating (156.1).
Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn combined for just two tackles, and it's fair to wonder if either was at full strength after showing up on the injury report entering the game. Quinn is listed with a back injury this week. but overall the defense appears to be in better shape health-wise entering this game compared to last week. And with Cincinnati's offensive line still a work in progress, perhaps the Bears' pass rush will be able to get healthy on Sunday too.
The Bengals had defensive issues of their own against the Vikings, giving up 403 total yards. Cincinnati couldn't protect a three-point lead late in regulation, as Minnesota drove 60 yards to set up a game-tying 53-yard field goal to send the game into overtime. The Bengals forced just one turnover, but it was a big one, as Dalvin Cook's fumble lead to Evan McPherson's game-winning 33-yard field goal on the final play of overtime. Cincy did sack Kirk Cousins three times and held the Vikings to just 67 rushing yards but still gave up 336 through the air as Minnesota held the ball for more than half of the game (35:09).
Pressuring the quarterback (and likewise protecting him) will be a key to this game. Both defenses also will look to do a better job getting off the field on third down and finding a way to come up with the big play.
3. These teams can run the ball
This is the one area where both teams were successful last week. The Bears ran for 134 yards against the Rams, 108 of those from David Montgomery (on just 16 carries). Montgomery averaged nearly seven yards per carry (6.8) and scored a touchdown. Head coach Matt Nagy loves to run the ball, but falling behind 13-0 early caused him to adjust his game plan.
Running the ball effectively will not only help take some of the pressure off of the pass protection (and Dalton), it also will allow the defense to catch its breath. A strong running game also will benefit Fields when he's under center, as it should open up things for the passing attack. But again, Cincinnati did an outstanding job last week, holding the dangerous Cook and the Vikings as a team to 67 total rushing yards.
And for the Bengals, Joe Mixon was even more successful on the ground than Montgomery. Mixon finished with 127 rushing yards and a touchdown on 29 carries (4.4 ypc). Chicago limited the Rams to 74 yards on the ground, but they also didn't need to run the ball much because of Stafford's effectiveness. Both teams will no doubt try to establish their running games early, and whichever is most successful could determine how this one plays out.
The Bears were a postseason team last year, while the Bengals are still further behind in their rebuild. Chicago has the more proven team on paper but Cincinnati is 1-0. It'll be a tough game, but the Bears can pull out the close win at home.
Prediction: Bears 23, Bengals 20
— Written by Gabe Salgado, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.