The Bears will look to rebound from their Week 1 loss to the Rams Sunday when they open their home schedule by hosting the Bengals at Soldier Field. Here are four storylines to watch in the game:
(1) Will the Bears defense bounce back from a disappointing performance in last Sunday night's 34-14 loss in Los Angeles?
First and foremost, the veteran unit must eliminate the mental mistakes and coverage breakdowns that enabled Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford to throw touchdown passes of 67 and 56 yards in the season opener. The first score occurred when safeties Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson Sr. didn't touch down receiver Van Jefferson when he was on the ground, allowing him to get up and race into the end zone. The second resulted from a blown coverage that left receiver Cooper Kupp wide open deep down the field.
The defense was able to stop the run, holding the Rams to just 74 yards and 3.2 yards per carry. But the Bears failed to produce a takeaway and mustered only one sack. The unit also missed 12 tackles on eight plays by defensive coordinator Sean Desai's estimation—most notably on a short pass that Kupp turned into a 15-yard gain on third-and-13 in the fourth quarter.
Veteran linebacker Alec Ogletree, who told reporters this week that he felt the defense lacked energy against the Rams, knows the unit can show what it's truly made of by rebounding against the Bengals. "I think we're a tough, smart defense," Ogletree said. "We play physical and play fast and have fun doing it. This is another opportunity this week to go out there and put that on film so everybody can see. We know the type of defense that we have in this locker room and the type of team we have and everybody's just about learning from your mistakes and not making the same ones over and over."
(2) Will the Bears offense employ more of a vertical passing game Sunday versus the Bengals than it did against the Rams?
Looking to get the ball out of their quarterbacks' hands quickly against a ferocious Rams pass rush led by three-time NFL defensive player of the year Aaron Donald, the Bears threw only short passes in Week 1. That approach contributed to the Bears completing just one pass longer than 11 yards—a 19-yarder to Marquise Goodwin.
The offense could have more chances to stretch the field versus the Bengals. "They play a lot of man, and they come down, they pressure," said tight end Jimmy Graham. "So, you're going to have to win your one-on-one matchups and create windows for yourself, unlike last week, which was a lot of zone."
"They play in-your-face, man-to-man, a little zone here and there," added receiver Darnell Mooney. "But they're not hiding anything. So, there will be some opportunities out there for sure this week."
Starting quarterback Andy Dalton completed 27 of 38 passes for 206 yards with one interception and a 72.9 passer rating against the Rams. Backup Justin Fields was 2 of 2 for 10 yards. In the Bengals' 27-24 overtime win over the Vikings last Sunday, Minnesota's Kirk Cousins connected on 36 of 49 passes for 351 yards with two TDs and a 106.8 rating. Cousins completed throws of 34, 27, 25, 24 and 20 yards in the game.
(3) Will running back David Montgomery and the Bears' rushing attack be as effective as they were against the Rams?
Montgomery showed speed and power in rushing for 108 yards and one touchdown on 16 carries against a Rams defense that ranked No. 1 in total yards and third against the run last season. Busting through Donald's grasp on a 3-yard touchdown burst was especially impressive.
"I appreciated him from the moment I got here," said Dalton, who signed with the Bears in March. "To see the way he works, the way he prepares, the way he practices, and then to see it in a game shows what he's able to do. It's been fun to just see his ability and how he just keeps fighting and finds ways to get extra yards and make some explosive plays for us."
On Sunday, the Bears will face a stout Bengals defense that's anchored by 6-3, 347-pound nose tackle D.J. Reader and 6-4, 305-pound defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi. The line also features end Trey Hendrickson, a free agent acquisition who registered 13.5 sacks for the Saints last season.
"They're a really sound defense," said right tackle Germain Ifedi. "They went out this offseason, they signed some players they thought could really help them. Those players have been contributors in the past and they'll be contributors on this defense … We just can't shoot ourselves in the foot. We can't beat ourselves. But I think if we're executing the play call and doing what we're coached to do in practice all week, I think we can have success. And that goes for any defense. But they're a solid front."
David Montgomery carried for 108 yards against the Rams. See where his rushing yards ranked among all NFL running backs in the first week of the 2021 season.
(4) Will the Bears defense be able to contain a potentially potent Bengals offense led by emerging young quarterback Joe Burrow?
Last Sunday against the Vikings, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft showed no ill effects from the torn ACL that ended his rookie season last Nov. 22. Burrow completed 20 of 27 passes for 261 yards with two touchdowns and a 128.8 passer rating, though he was sacked five times.
"He's a talented quarterback and he's got them off to a good start this year and they believe in him," Ogletree said. "He can do pretty much anything that you ask him to do out there. He's their guy. It definitely presents a challenge for us, but we have to take care of ourselves first and play our style of ball. If we do that, I think we'll be fine."
Burrow's most explosive option in the passing game is his former LSU teammate, rookie receiver Ja'Marr Chase. The fifth overall pick in this year's draft made his NFL debut a memorable one, catching five passes for 101 yards and one TD against the Vikings.
The Bengals ground game is led by versatile running back Joe Mixon. The fifth-year pro rushed for 127 yards versus Minnesota, making him the only NFL player to gain more yards on the ground in Week 1 than the Bears' Montgomery.