Chicago Bears at Cincinnati Bengals: Five Things to Watch For

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Aug 22, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Chicago Bears head coach John Fox during their pre season game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bears travel to Cincinnati Saturday for the third and most important game of the ridiculously long preseason. The end of the preseason can’t come fast enough for the Bears, who have been beset by injuries to a handful of players, many of whom figure to have prominent roles.

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Through two preseason games, the starters for the Bears have been inconsistent while the second- and third-stringers have been solid. Against Miami, the first-team defense gave up a lengthy touchdown drive while the offense sputtered in two drives, managing only a field goal. In the second game, this time against Indianapolis, the defense improved, forcing several stops and surrendering one touchdown, while the offense managed three field goals.

While the reserves secured both wins for the Bears, both the starting offense and defense have improved. Quarterback Jay Cutler looked better and more comfortable running the offense in the second game, although it was against an admittedly weaker defense than the preseason opener. And the defense showed marked improvement, with Pernell McPhee and other defenders bringing pressure on Andrew Luck and for the most part shutting down the Colts running game. All things considered, a good showing.

Aug 22, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is sacked by Chicago Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee (92) at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Not everything has improved for the Bears, though.

The Bears are coming into the game against the Bengals with a litany of walking wounded and a handful of positions and backup slots still up for grabs. Even several starting roles are unclear, as the offense is still seeking a competent right tackle and the defense is now facing more uncertainty after Jeremiah Ratliff was suspended three games following a driving while intoxicated incident in 2013.

Defensively, Ratliff’s suspension means the Bears are down their best defensive lineman for the first three games of the season, thereby putting added pressure on a unit that’s not overly deep to begin with. A guaranteed starter at either defensive end or nose tackle (probably the latter, judging from the first two preseason games), Ratliff’s suspension will force the Bears to give extended looks in the next two games to a rookie and other reserves.

Offensively … sheesh. The receiving corps is starting to resemble the teams from the early- to mid-2000s, when a good receiver was capable of snagging 50 balls. Injuries have depleted a unit that was thought to be a strength coming into the season. I would argue that this situation is the biggest problem facing the Bears, so let’s start there.

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