Neither coach Marc Trestman nor quarterback Jay Cutler could be accused Thursday of inflating expectations for the Bears’ offense in Sunday’s season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
That’s probably a smart move, considering the offense still is learning a new system, and its first true test will come against one of the NFL’s best defenses.
“We just want to play efficient football, take care of the ball,” Trestman said. “We know the strength of our football team initially is going to be our special teams and (on) the defensive side of the ball because there’s going to be some unknown (with the offense).
“Initially we just want to have balance in our attack. We think we’ve got a great upside here, and that could evolve starting on Sunday. We’re hoping it does.
“But taking care of the football is the No. 1 thing; playing efficient at the quarterback position, having some balance, protecting the quarterback, those types of things. Points come when you do take care of those types of things.”
Points did not come easily to Bengals opponents last season. Cincy was No. 8 in points allowed, led by a front seven that is tough vs. the run and finished No. 3 in sack percentage.
The Bears will start rookies at right guard (Kyle Long) and right tackle (Jordan Mills) on a rebuilt offensive line that includes new starters at four of the five positions.
So it’s only natural that Cutler’s comfort level isn’t sky high.
“(I’m) only as comfortable as I could be up to this point,” he said. “We’re still learning things and still getting better each and every day. I don’t think we’ll be where we want to be for this game, but eventually we’ll get there each and every week.
“We’ve just got to be good enough to beat the Bengals this week, and hopefully we are.”
The front four, led by tackle Geno Atkins, provided 43 of the Bengals’ team-record 51 sacks in 2012, and the defense was sixth in the NFL in yards allowed.
Atkins had 12½ sacks last season, the most by any tackle in the league, and 6-foot-7 defensive right end Michael Johnson added 11½. He and 6-6 left end Carlos Dunlap form imposing bookends whose length and reach can make it difficult for quarterbacks to find clear passing lanes.
“They’re really long guys,” Cutler said. “A defensive front kind of like ours (with 6-7 Julius Peppers and 6-6 Corey Wootton) with the linebackers (Rey Maualuga, James Harrison and Vontaze Burfict) that really get downhill and defend the run well with only seven in the box.
“That can really disrupt the passer. We’ve got to do different things. We’ve got to hit them from different angles, and you’ve got to move the passing point, move the pocket from time to time, and we’ve got to get rid of the ball quickly.”
Mills, a fifth-round pick from Louisiana Tech, will match up with Dunlap, who missed time with a concussion but is expected to start Sunday. Depending on alignments, Long will face Atkins and 322-pound nose tackle Domata Peko, who has been the line’s top tackler in four of the past five seasons.
“We sure wish we could play a team that wasn’t quite as good up front,” said Aaron Kromer, Bears offensive coordinator/offensive line coach. “But it’s a good challenge.
“It’s a good opportunity for the guys to see where they are. It’s going to be a growing process throughout the year. Hopefully we’re better in Week 2, and in Week 16 hopefully we’re better than in Week 15.”
As well as the Bears’ rookies played in the preseason, no one expects it to be easy for them, especially in Week 1.
“There are going to be bumps in the road,” Cutler said. “There are going to be some missed assignments. We just want to minimize them as much as we can.
“It’s a young group of guys on that right side, but they’re really good players. I think they’re going to be here a long time playing together, and I think it’s good they’re on the same side.
“They kind of balance each other out, and they’re able to talk to each other quite a bit.”
The Bears just hope the Bengals’ fearsome front four doesn’t have the rookie offensive linemen talking to themselves Sunday.
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