With injuries starting to pile up for both teams, it’s more difficult to gauge exactly where the game’s matchups are going to fall as the Bears and Bengals rosters are rapidly depleting. Take a listen to this episode as Will DeWitt goes through his weekly five matchups and three keys that you must pay attention to on Sunday.
First up, let’s analyze the five critical matchups.
1. Mitchell Trubisky vs Geno Atkins
Even though this is technically more of a matchup between Atkins and guard Tom Compton, I’m taking things a little further and putting the matchup on Trubisky. Why? Well, simply, there’s just no way that Compton (even with help) is going to be able to slow down Atkins who has 58 quarterback pressures and seven sacks this season.
And honestly, I’m not even worried about the sacks as much as I am the general pressure Atkins can consistently bring. Trubisky has struggled with pressure in his face. He gets happy feet and tends to lose his composure in the pocket by throwing the ball without setting those feet. It’s led to some poorly thrown balls with a lack of accuracy.
Surely, the Bengals and Atkins are well aware that fact. That Trubisky’s passer rating goes from 85 when kept clean all the way down to 50 when pressured. Expect Atkins to be in his face early and often, and how the rookie responds to the pressure will be the key to this matchup. Does he stand tall in the pocket? Can he avoid the pressure, step up and make a throw? Or will Trubisky sling the ball off balance, without setting his feet? The difference is a completed and incomplete pass, which can be the difference between a sustained drive and a three and out.
Edge: Geno Atkins
2. Chalres Leno Jr vs Carl Lawson
Well, if Atkins wasn’t enough to worry about then we might as well throw Lawson into the mix. He’s putting together a really solid rookie season with his seven sacks and will give Leno Jr. fits all game long. Lawson is strong at the point of attack, knows how to use his hands (especially with countermoves), and we learned on Tuesday that he is a student of the game and is always looking to improve.
Leno Jr. will be facing a player who has 52 pressures and 32 hurries this season. For Leno, he’s only given up 18 pressures this season and two sacks, which ranks around 10th for offensive tackles this season. He’s done a solid job at protecting the blind side for Trubisky despite having to square off against some good pass rushers.
This may be the most difficult test of the season for Leno Jr. How well he can handle Lawson will show Bears Fans exactly where his talent level is. This is a battle that I’m going to pay extra attention to on Sunday, as you should too. It’ll be a good one.
Edge: Carl Lawson
3. Akiem Hicks vs Trey Hopkins
Poor Akiem Hicks, he’s been on the field for over 90 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps since the bye week. He’s been dealing with injuries and that hot start that he had to the season is starting to fade away into the abyss.
Hopkins, an undrafted pro in his second season has played in nine games this season and has only allowed ten pressures and one sack. Chicago’s pass rush has been nonexistent, and there’s no way that the Bears outside guys are going to get it done this week.
The most talented player up front for Chicago is Hicks. Despite being overworked, he needs to dig deep in this one and find a way to disrupt Dalton in the pocket. Hicks also needs to ensure that the Bengals, who have struggled to do so all season, can’t establish the run, especially between the tackles. Hopkins has struggled to generate push and opening running lanes all season.
Edge: Akiem Hicks
4. Kyle Fuller vs A.J. Green
Already discussed this matchup in full in our game preview podcast. Green is the Bengals most targetted receiver and Fuller is the Bears most targeted corner. Fuller has been tasked with going up against some pretty good receivers of the course of the season, and this will be another tall order for the corner who has had a very inconsistent season.
Green has 60 receptions for nearly 900 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s been Andy Dalton’s go-to guy, and you have to expect that those two will try to connect early and often. In fact, when the Bengals offense has moved the ball this season, it’s been through Green.
Fuller will have to be at the top of his game on Sunday in order to slow down Green. He did get an interception a week ago, and hopefully, he can build off it. But I think Green has all the intangibles to overpower Fuller all game long.
Edge: A.J. Green
5. Tarik Cohen vs Nick Vigil
I said in the preview podcast that I want to see the Bears use more of Tarik Cohen. In fact, he is my prediction for this week’s MVB. Cohen needs to be on the field more and have a bigger role than that of a decoy. I’m pinning him up against Vigil for two reasons. One, Vigil is the Bengals most targeted linebacker and he has struggled on making plays on backs after the catch. Second, well … he seems to be one of the only linebackers that will be able to play for the Bengals. He was limited in practice, but with injuries to others at the position, I expect him to give it a go.
Cohen has the ability to make people pay after the catch with his elusiveness, and he’ll need to make Vigil miss in order to create some of those explosive plays that have been lacking for Chicago all season long.
For Cincinnati, Vigil has been a liability and hopefully, the Bears know that and exploit him, especially with their playmaker in Cohen. In a pure talent standpoint, I think Cohen wins this matchup by a landslide, but how Dowell Loggains tends to not put Cohen in good spots, it brings it down a notch or two.
Edge: Tarik Cohen