When the Bears and Cincinnati Bengals look in the mirror, what they may very well see is each other.
Cincinnati’s 10-6 record in 2012 was good enough for a wild-card berth and first-round playoff loss to Houston. The Bears lost a tiebreaker to the Minnesota Vikings at 10-6 and ended up watching the playoffs at home.
Cincinnati was 22nd in total offense, 18th running and 17th passing, 24th in interception percentage, 25th in quarterback sack percentage, 27th in third down efficiency and 12th in points per game.
The Bears were 28th in offense, 10th rushing but 29th passing, 28th in percentage intercepted, 27th in quarterback sack percentage, 22nd in third-down efficiency and 16th in points per game.
Defensively, these were two of the NFL’s best in 2012. The Bears were fifth in total defense, eighth against the run and eighth against the pass while the Bengals were sixth in total defense, 12th vs. the run and seventh vs. the pass. The Bears were second in percentage intercepted by, the Bengals 15th, but the Bengals were third in QB sack percentage and the Bears 11th. The Bears were sixth in third-down efficiency and the Bengals were eighth, the Bears third in points allowed, Cincinnati eighth.
The Bears last year were the league’s best with 44 takeaways and second in turnover/takeaway ratio at plus-20, the Bengals were seventh with 30 takeaways and 11th at plus-4 in turnover/takeaway.
The Bengals offense is led by quarterback Andy Dalton and All-Pro receiver A.J. Green. Dalton has been extremely productive in the regular season and threw for 3,669 yards last year, completing 62.3 percent of his passes with 27 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Dalton also scored four rushing touchdowns.
Like Brandon Marshall, Green is an elite receiver who should be complemented this year by the continued development of Mohamed Sanu at the other receiver spot and the addition of rookies Tyler Eifert at tight end and Giovani Bernard to back up Benjarvus Green Ellis at running back.
Cincinnati could cause real matchup problems for the Bears in passing situations when they go two wideouts, two tight ends and one running back with Green, Sanu, Jermaine Gresham, Eifert and Bernard all on the field at the same time.
The Bengals did have trouble protecting Dalton last year and Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin will have to complement Julius Peppers and Henry Melton, pushing the pocket to keep the Bengals multiple weapons in check.
Expect Charles Tillman to shadow Green all over the field in the game’s best matchup and keep an eye on 5-foot-8 Tim Jennings, who will find no good matchups with the 6-2 Sanu, 6-2 Marvin Jones, 6-5 Gresham and 6-6 Eifert on the field.
On defense, Michael Johnson, Geno Atkins, Domata Peko and Carlos Dunlap make up one of the NFL’s top defensive lines and Atkins is the best three technique in the league. The game’s second best matchup will feature Atkins on the outside shoulder of Kyle Long or insider shoulder of Jordan Mills.
Terence Newman is an 11-year veteran at cornerback whose best years probably are behind him and although Leon Hall can be a shutdown corner at times, with Newman at 5-10 and Hall at 5-11, Marshall presents a significant mismatch against either one.
Vontaze Burfict, Rey Maualuga and former Steeler James Harrison are tough against the run and Harrison can be a fierce blitzer, but all three struggle in coverage.
Safeties Reggie Nelson and Taylor Mays are tackling machines, but they both also can struggle in coverage.
Look for Marc Trestman to run numerous slants and quick curls on one- and three-step drops to the middle of the field.
It seems certain the winner of this one will be the club that protects its quarterback and the football the best.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at [email protected]