Marc Trestman vs. Lovie Smith?
The beauty of Trestman’s opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at Soldier Field is that he’s facing a team that is a virtual carbon copy of the Bears under Lovie Smith.
In fact, when you compare the records, it doesn’t make sense that Marvin Lewis still is coaching the Bengals while Lovie is out of the NFL. Lewis has yet to even win a playoff game (0-4) and is 79-80-1 in 10 seasons with the Bengals. Lovie not only won three playoff games and was 81-63 in nine seasons, but reached the Super Bowl in 2006. Marvin Lewis makes Lovie look like Mike McCarthy.
Like the Bears under Smith, the Bengals have developed into kind of faux contenders under Lewis — parlaying fortuitous schedules to get as far as they have. In the last six seasons, the Bengals have beaten just seven playoff teams (and one of those was against the coasting Ravens in Week 17 last season). Yet they’ve made the playoffs three times in the last four years. In 2011, the Bengals were 0-7 vs. playoff-bound teams but were 9-0 vs. non-playoff-bound teams and made the playoffs at 9-7 (and lost to the Texans 31-10). They out-Bearsed the Bears.
And therein lies the difference between. Lewis finished 10-6 last season, but the AFC was so top-heavy that the Bengals had clinched a playoff berth by Week 16 at 9-6. The Bengals were 2-2 against playoff-bound teams — resorting to all sorts of razzle-dazzle to beat the Redskins in Week 3 besides beating the diluted Ravens — and coasted into the postseason.
Lovie Smith wasn’t so fortunate. The Bears finished 10-6 but failed to make the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons. They had the misfortune of playing eight playoff-bound teams (only the Lions played more with nine) and went 2-6. The Bears had the good fortune of facing the Colts and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck in Week 1 at Soldier Field and won 41-21, but their luck ran out when they played six consecutive playoff-bound teams to start the second half and went 1-5.
That’s the way it goes in the NFL. Lovie is gone and now the Bears could get an early indication of whether they’ve upgraded at the critical position of head coach. Smith prepared his teams well but won more games during the week than on Sunday. Marc Trestman not only gives the Bears the offensive-minded head head they’ve lacked in recent years, but a beautiful mind who can beat the other guy on Sunday more often than not as well. Appropriately, he’ll get his first chance to prove that against the AFC’s Lovie Smith.
1. The Bengals come to town with one of the best defenses in the NFL, but it depends on whom they’re playing. In 2012, the Bears were fifth in the NFL in total defense (316 yards allowed per game) and the Bengals were sixth (320 yards allowed per game). But against playoff teams, the Bears were second (325 yards) and the Bengals were 23rd (381 yards).
2. Veteran D.J. Williams is expected to start at middle line backer despite missing most of training camp and all of the preseason with a calf injury. But rookie Jon Bostic figures to play at some point because it’s unlikely Williams’ conditioning will hold up for the entire game. Last year, Brian Urlacher missed the entire preseason and played 29 plays in Week 1 against the Colts.
3. Assuming that situation ensues, the middle linebacker quandary could get dicey for Marc Trestman from there if Bostic proves under fire that he can handle the position. Williams, a nine-year starter in Denver, was not a happy camper when it appeared Bostic had taken his spot and might not be the ideal backup (Though cutting Williams in favor of Bostic prior to the season wasn’t a viable option, either. It would have left the Bears way too vulnerable to injury at that position.)
4. NFL teams are coached to not say anything that might, even indirectly, disparage the other team. But when you’re as good as Julius Peppers you can get away with saying things like this: ‘‘I don’t really watch too much of the opponent,’’ Peppers said when asked about Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. ‘‘It’s about us and what we do. I’m not really too concerned about whatever they’re doing over there.’’
5. Speaking of good fortune, the Bears had some good luck with injuries at times under Lovie Smith, but rarely if ever have the Bears gone into a season opener without even one player on the injury report as they did this week. linebacker D.J. Williams (calf), wide receiver Earl Bennett (concussion) and defensive tackle Henry Melton (concussion) are all expected to play in the opener despite missing most or all of the preseason.
6. The Bears have replaced seven of the eight offensive linemen on their 53-man roster at the start of last season. But Chris Williams will start at left guard for the Rams against the Cardinals on Sunday; and Gabe Carimi could start at left guard for the Buccaneers. Williams won his job in training camp. Carimi, who has been working more at tackle for the Bucs, would be a replacement for injured starter Carl Nicks.
7. With four new starters, including rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills on the right side, the Bears’ newfangled offensive line will be challenged by a Bengals defensive line that accounted for 43 of the team’s 51 sacks last season. But the Bengals’ offensive line will have its own problems with the Bears’ defensive line that accounted for 38 of the team’s 41 sacks last year. The Bengals will be without Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who did not play in the preseason after having offseason knee surgery. Anthony Collins, who has started 18 games in six NFL seasons — but none since 2011 — will replace Whitworth.
8. It’s going to take some time to get used to a head coach who seems to have a good grasp of the offense. The Bears made quick decisions on Gabe Carimi and J’Marcus Webb. They elevated seventh-round draft pick Marquess Wilson to Earl Bennett’s No. 3 receiver spot when Bennett was recovering from a concussion. And now they’ve effectively put Bennett on notice by cutting his salary $1 million prior to the start of the season. Cutting the underachieving Webb was one thing. But Bennett is another — he at least has been a key player for Jay Cutler. The Bears must know something about Marquess Wilson — or perhaps some other receiver — that we don’t.
9. On the spot — Here are five players who can’t afford to get off on the wrong foot in the season opener: 1. Jay Cutler, QB; 2. Jordan Mills, RT; 3. Devin Hester, KR; 4. D.J. Williams, MLB; 5. Earl Bennett, WR.
10. The inactive list usually is inconsequential, but with no injuries and 10 rookies, it will be of some interest against the Bengals. The most interesting decision could be at wide receiver, where it would appear that either Joe Anderson or Marquess Wilson will be inactive. ‘‘It’s possible [Wilson] will be up. Quite frankly, it’s possible he could be down,’’ coach Marc Trestman said Friday after practice.