BENGALS QB JOE BURROW VS. BEARS QBs ANDY DALTON AND JUSTIN FIELDS
Burrow's Ohio State buddy, Bengals left end Sam Hubbard practiced against Dalton when Dalton was with the Bengals, rooted for Fields when Fields was with Ohio State and admires both. He's not sure how much he'll see of either of them Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) at venerable Soldier Field, but he knows one thing for sure.
When Fields gets the ball, the monstrous 6-3, 228-pound rookie is running the zone read, that 21st century option play that has bedeviled the Bengals since Hubbard came into the NFL.
"I'm a big fan. A great player with a great future," says Hubbard, a member of that vast Buckeye network. "Big dude with 4.3 (speed), crazy strong. Explosive. Got a great arm. He's going to be a big-time player in this league for a long time."
But it still looks like Dalton is getting the majority of the reps, making this the 15th game in their history the Bengals have played one of their former starting quarterbacks. They're 4-10 in such matchups and Dalton has two of those wins. He's also responsible for the 10th and last loss when he led the Cowboys to a 30-7 win at Paul Brown Stadium back in December.
Bengals Vs. Former Starting Quarterbacks
|9/25/1983||Ken Anderson beat TB’s Jack Thompson||23-17|
|11/21/1993||NYJ’s Boomer Esiason beats David Klinger||17-12|
|12/18/1994||ARI's Jay Schroeder beats Jeff Blake||28-7|
|10/25/1998||OAK's Donald Hollas beats Neil O'Donnell||27-10|
|11/10/2002||BAL's Jeff Blake beats Jon Kitna||38-27|
|12/01/2002||BAL's Blake beats Kitna||27-23|
|11/02/2003||ARI's Blake beats Kitna||17-14|
|11/21/2010||BUF's Ryan Fitzpatrick beats Carson Palmer||49-31|
|10/02/2011||Andy Dalton beats BUF's Fitzpatrick||23-20|
|11/25/2012||Dalton beats OAK's Palmer||34-10|
|11/22/2015||ARI's Palmer beats Dalton||34-31|
|9/11/2016||Dalton beats NYJ's Fitzpatrick||23-22|
|12/22/19||MIA's Fitzpatrick beats Dalton||37-34 (OT)|
|12/13/20||DAL's Dalton beats Brandon Allen||30-7|
"We don't know who we're going to see," Hubbard said of the quarterback quandary. "It could be we see them for a half each or don't see one of them. We have to prepare for both. There are no options."
Fields took five of the Bears' 69 snaps during their Sunday night loss to the Rams and scored his first NFL touchdown when he kept on a three-yard read. He also completed his two passes for ten yards.
The Bengals came into Sunday's opener having allowed the most rushing yards in the league since 2018, Hubbard's rookie year, and their plodding speed and inability to set the edge against the zone read is a big reason why. But while the Vikings don't use it, the Bengals' overhauled defense made a stand against an elite runner in Dalvin Cook, holding him to 61 yards and the Vikes to 67 during their fourth best run effort in the past 33 games.
During the long, hot, 83-snap day they showed they're better constructed to defend the option. Veteran free agent Trey Hendrickson and fourth-rounder Cam Sample give Hubbard help to beef up and set the edge. Speedy linebackers Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither and Markus Bailey are all in their second-years and Germaine Pratt is back for his third to fill the holes they learned by experience.
And here's a guy they've never had in the zone wars.
"Mike Hilton is going to play a big role in stopping these type of offenses," says Hubbard of the slot cornerback they pilfered from Pittsburgh in the offseason. "The nickel is basically like another linebacker in a lot of situations. He's very physical and very disciplined against the run."
Besides personnel, there are other reasons they should be better on the option. They had three weeks of spring practices this year, compared to none last year when the overhaul began. Now when there's a bust they know why because they've walked it through so many times.
Plus, new defensive line coach Marion Hobby, a former co-coordinator at Clemson for years, prepared for it virtually every week and practiced against Deshaun Watson.
"Coach Hobby has a lot of experience (against it) and brings a lot of knowledge," Hubbard says. "As far as personnel, I think we've got a lot of guys that are able to play at a high level whatever you ask them to do."
Strong safety Vonn Bell, like Hubbard, a captain and a Buckeye, has seen the defense improve from last year to this year with six new Opening Day starters.
"It's film study. You see the formations. You know what's coming to you in the situation and really trusting one another," Bell says. "With the different defenses that we do, if we're taking a middle field safety on the post and going to grab something in the corner, replacing. It's just trust and chemistry. As we gel together, we're growing together, so getting better and better. We're excited about that part. It's on the defensive dudes and the DB dudes. No explosives and that's what we did and that's one of our goals so it's a check mark off the check sheet and it's next one up."
The lack of explosion in the Bears offense has the Windy City fretting. Dalton had less than five and half yards a throw in L.A. and no pass longer than 19 yards.
A bearded Dalton Zoomed with the Cincinnati media before he practiced Thursday and he hit it right on the head. Once upon a time the idea of Dalton and his five straight Bengals post-season runs playing somewhere else would have seemed as ludicrous as him sporting a beard.
Here we are. He's on his second team since the Bengals and even though he left just two years ago, there are only four starters left from his last offense (Joe Mixon, Trey Hopkins, Tyler Boyd, C.J. Uzomah) and just two on defense in Hubbard and free safety Jessie Bates III.
Dalton playing for another team, is just another day at the office for everyone.
"Nine years there is a long time. It's two teams now. It's not just Cincinnati," Dalton said. "I was in Dallas last year and now in Chicago. I still see the field. I still think back to all the games I played there. It's just kind of how people's careers work."
Heck, there are just four defensive starters from last Dec. 13 when Dalton threw two touchdowns when he faced Hubbard, Pratt, Bell and Bates.
"There are definitely new faces out there," Dalton said. "I thought they played really well last week. You got the Vikings in lot of long situations on third down and made it tough for them. There are some things that are a little different."
He couldn't escape the incessant Fields question from the visiting reporters.
"That's one thing I'm not doing, I'm not looking over my shoulder. For me I just have to worry about me," Dalton said. "I understand the situation that I'm in, but right now all I can focus on is what I'm doing and what I can do to help this team win. That's all my focus is on."
BURROW-DALTON FIRST 11 STARTS
Burrow and Dalton were teammates for a week after the Bengals chose Burrow No. 1 overall, but it was no surprise when Dalton was waived as they moved on. Now they meet in a derby of predecessor and successor. Dalton wore the other shoe when he split two games with the man he replaced, another Bengals overall No. 1, Carson Palmer.
And, ironically, the Bengals got the shot to draft Burrow when former Bengal Ryan Fitzpatrick spread enough magic to beat Dalton in overtime in Miami in the next-to-last game of the 2019 season that gave the Bengals the No. 1 pick.
Burrow comes to Chicago with one thing Dalton never had. An Opening Day win at Paul Brown Stadium. Dalton led the Bengals to three 2-0 starts and got to the playoffs in two of those years.
"He's done a great job. Obviously, unfortunately he had the injury last year, but he was doing some really good things," Dalton said. "He made a big play at the end of last week to help the Bengals get a win. I thought he was efficient. He's done a lot of good things. He's going to have a bright future."
Still, Burrow getting to 2-0, may come down to how the Bengals contend with the rookie and not the vet. The Bengals are looking at both.
"We just going to do our part and we're going to play our calls, read our keys," Bell says. "We know they have quarterback controversy and we're going to play against who's in there. It's a different type of offense with both of them. You've got the zone read with Fields and more drop back, play-action, boot with Andy Dalton. We know he got a quick release and get the ball out of his hands fast so he doesn't make mistakes. We know the indicators on those two different guys and what they bring."