These aren't your father's Cincinnati Bengals or even Andy Dalton's Bengals.
With starting quarterback Joe Burrow back on the field following last year's torn ACL, the Bengals had their young leader last week. And although they blew a two-touchdown lead in the second half, they managed to pull out a 27-24 win in overtime at home over the Minnesota Vikings.
A good case could be made for the Vikings actually beating themselves in the game, as they committed a whopping 12 penalties for 116 yards to only three penalties on the home team.
Normally the Bengals had been on the wrong side of such self-inflicted totals in the past but they may have improved after two years of flailing away under coach Zac Taylor to records of 2-14 and 4-11-1.
The Bengals' biggest addition is impressive rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase at the X-receiver spot but he could be lined up facing Jaylon Johnson, possibly the only cornerback who came out of Sunday's loss unscathed in the Bears secondary.
There are mismatches the Bengals can exploit against the Bears on both sides of the ball but it could look different than it did against the Vikings, who apparently have had problems fixing the weakness they displayed last season at stopping the run based on Joe Mixon's 129 yards rushing last week.
Bears CB Marqui Christian vs. Bengals WR Tee Higgins
The Bengals bring Higgins into the slot and a 6-foot-4, 218-pound receiver who can run is a mismatch against any slot cornerback in the league. Higgins produced four catches for 58 yards last week. Bengals wide receivers were also vital in the run game with blocking to help spring Mixon past the line of scrimmage. Higgins had a strong rookie season with 67 catches for 908 yards and a 75.9 Pro Football Focus grade, then started out just above this level against the Vikings. It's not just Higgins' speed opponents need to watch for but his ability to run routes and use his size. Christian may not even get the second chance to play slot cornerback. Defensive coordinator Sean Desai chose him over Duke Shelley, who finished at the position last year. A series of gaffes in Bears pass coverage let Matthew Stafford pick apart the defense and Christian was part of the mistake that let Cooper Kupp go completely uncovered for a 56-yard TD catch. It's possible the Bears would go back to Shelley but Christian is a bigger slot corner who might match up better size-wise against Higgins.
Bears OLB Robert Quinn vs. Bengals LT Jonah Williams
Williams was one of the big Bengals acquisitions in 2019 but injury troubles each of his first two years -- a shoulder in 2019 and neck/knee injuries last year—have held down his snap totals. When Williams plays, he has done so with great effectiveness. Pro Football Focus labeled him one of five offensive linemen set for breakout years in 2021. The 6-foot-4, 305-pounder moves well and is a strong technician. Bears right edge Robert Quinn had a solid start to his season, grading out best according to PFF among all Bears on defense and he split a sack with Akiem Hicks. Quinn has been plagued by a back problem and came into the game questionable because of it. The Bears need to have constant pressure on Burrow because he showed last week he could still pick apart a defense even when he's sacked five times, and Quinn is going to need to be more consistent with his pass rush win rate.
Bears RT Germain Ifedi vs. Bengals DE Trey Hendrickson
The biggest Bengals defensive acquisition of the offseason was the New Orleans pass rusher who produced a sack against Minnesota. He had a sack in the Bears' 26-23 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints last year but not going against Ifedi, who was a right guard at the time. Hendrickson didn't face the Bears in the playoff game New Orleans won due to an injury. He is a technique pass rusher more than a speed rusher and has traditional defensive size at 6-4, 270. Hendrickson is an effort rusher who doesn't give up the rush if a first move fails and frequently gets his sacks after a quarterback has had to move in or out of the pocket. Ifedi enjoyed a solid game blocking for the run and didn't allow a sack against the Rams. He missed most of training camp and preseason with a hip-flexor injury but appears fine now and has more closely resembled the player who was a pleasant surprise last year as a low-cost free agent signing. Ifedi's game is strength and power. His problems happen when he doesn't stay square and with Hendrickson's knack for beating the rush on extended plays, there's always the possibility Ifedi's fundamentals can break down in this matchup. The real problem for the Bears is Hendrickson can line up on either side of the formation, which means he could be going against fourth left tackle Elijah Wilkinson if neither Larry Borom nor Jason Peters can play in the game.