On Sunday, there will be fans at a regular-season Bears home game for the first time since they were routed by the Kansas City Chiefs in December of 2019.
This is viewed as a big emotional edge for teams and last week the Bears apparently needed some type of emotional boost.
Linebacker Alec Ogletree was expecting better energy from the group he has just joined.
"I thought our thing was we just didn't play with enough energy," Ogletree said.
The Bears spent Thursday trying to walk back this comment their inside linebacker made on Wednesday, but the truth can't be put back in the bottle once it's out.
Assuming the fans are going to provide the emotional charge needed to turn back a young, hungry Cincinnati Bengals team this week is asking for another loss.
As much as home field is viewed as an advantage for teams, it didn't turn out this way in Week 1. With home teams owning that fan edge in all venues for the first time since 2019, the home team won only eight of the 16 games.
"I hope it's like the Rams," said Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who is in his second year but hasn't played before a regular-season home crowd. "I hope it's a lot of energy. I hope we get a lot of that momentum that (the Rams) had–their crowd was fired up when they were on defense.
"If our fans are better than their fans, then I can imagine it being really loud and a lot of cheering going on, for sure."
Visiting teams can also feed off the crowd. It can sometimes cause them to rally around each other to a greater extent. It didn't have this effect on the Bears, apparently.
The Bears can't come into the game assuming the crowd is going to get them emotionally charged to play. They need to be emotionally ready regardless.
So in a sense, there are four keys to the game. In reality, no team should ever be emotionally down for a game when there are only 17 of them and they each carry great impact. Here are the three keys for the Bears to beat the Bengals, assuming they can find the energy somehow to do it, whether from the crowd or from within.
Close off the edges
Joe Burrow throws well after moving a bit in the pocket, and that can challenge Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn to keep pocket integrity on the rush. The bigger problem for the Bears defense on the edge is in the running game. Cincinnati ate Minnesota alive with stretch plays and any type of run designed to get outside the defensive ends. Mack has always been a good, if not great defender against the run despite his pass rushing prowess. Quinn has alway been a good pass rusher, but there have always been questions about his ability to stand up to the run. The Bears need to shut down the edge and make running back Joe Mixon get his yards the tough way inside, where Roquan Smith, Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols can have a bigger impact.
Cincinnati's defense plays mostly man-to-man defense with press coverage. They're playing single-high coverage with a deep safety so they might blitz their other safety or slot cornerback, or might come with a linebacker. But they're blitzing more often than many teams.
The Bengals blitzed 31% of the plays in their first game, which put them in the middle of the pack percentage-wise. Considering they were facing Dalvin Cook, who can take screens to the house against a blitz, this was a high risk. What the Bengals got for their big blitz percentage was 6.7% hurries on passes against Kirk Cousins. That was the worst percentage in the NFL last week, which doesn't say much for Cousins considering his lack of productivity, and it really doesn't say much for the Bengals' defensive ability to create pressure with their blitz.
If the Bears pick up Cincinnati's blitz with blockers, or Dalton finds the hot receivers, the opportunity for big plays from players like Darnell Mooney, Marquise Goodwin and Damiere Byrd could be there.
Remember the Speed
Ryan Pace converted the receiver room into a 400-meter relay team because Matt Nagy needed more speed in his offense, then the Bears threw 3-yard passes all day in the opener. If this was going to be the plan, they could have just as well kept Javon Wims, Anthony Miller and Riley Ridley at receiver and not brought in the speed. The Bears didn't complete a pass that went longer than 10 yards in the air. This might not be bombs-away week, but they can hurt the Bengals with intermediate routes in the middle and at the numbers to Allen Robinson or Mooney this week. They also can stretch the field by taking chances on a few deep throws to the sideline early to keep the defensive backs playing press on their toes. They need to make Cincinnati aware of how fast those new receivers are early to scare them off the line of scrimmage against the run and out of the blitz when they are passing.