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Rest assured, Bengals ready for Bears

Cutler and crew don't inspire fear from this defense

David Haugh

In the Wake of the News

8:39 PM CDT, September 4, 2013

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CINCINNATI — Defending Jay Cutler once seemed so easy to Bengals outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

Burfict was a teenager growing up in Corona, Calif., whose family loved the Broncos. When Burfict played for Arizona State, he wore No. 7 in honor of John Elway. Whenever Cutler encountered controversy playing in Elway's shadow in Denver, such as when he traded in-game insults with Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, Burfict always had his back with critics.

"I loved that and hated Philip Rivers because he was talking to my quarterback,'' Burfict, 22, said Wednesday at his locker. "Cutler's a great quarterback. People say when he's hot he's hot but when he's cold he's too cold. I've always defended him through cold times. But now I'm in the NFL and facing him. So I'll have some words to see if I can rattle him too.''

Do the Bengals believe they can rattle the Bears quarterback in Sunday's season-opener at Soldier Field enough to affect his decision-making? What is the book on Cutler, according to the Bengals scouting report?

Smiling, Burfict shook his head as he carefully pondered a response.

"Hmmm, what's the book on Cutler?'' Burfict said. "I don't know if I should answer that.''

Sitting one locker stall away, fellow Bengals linebacker James Harrison butted into the conversation he overheard. Minutes earlier, Harrison cussed out a team employee regarding a misunderstanding over his parking spot so his ire already had been raised. Not that it takes much for the former Steeler who forged a reputation for being as hard to approach as he is to block.

"There is no book on Cutler!'' Harrison snapped. "He's an NFL quarterback with the ability to be a starter. You prepare for him the same as any quarterback. It's not more difficult. Everybody knows he's inconsistent but that could be said for a lot of people.''

As for any threat Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall posed, Harrison scoffed. For a guy who shunned HBO cameras during "Hard Knocks,'' a surprisingly animated Harrison provided a glimpse of what everybody missed.

"Brandon Marshall can't throw himself the ball, can he? OK,'' Harrison said. "When you go into stopping any team, the priority list starts with the run. Matt Forte. From there you shut off anything else. If you can't stop a team from running, they can play-action you to death. You need to make them one-dimensional. That's my thing.''

That's partly why the Bengals signed the 35-year-old former NFL defensive player of the year: Shore up a swarming defense and sharpen the edge of a team thinking Super Bowl.

"That's where our heads are,'' defensive tackle Geno Atkins said. "We have enough talent and hard workers … no me guys.''

No question, after two straight NFL playoff appearances, an air of quiet football confidence has settled along the Ohio River banks in this baseball town. The arrival of higher expectations this season signaled with the signing of Harrison and the drafting of dynamic tight end Tyler Eifert don't necessarily need to echo out of Paul Brown Stadium to be felt inside it.

"You can definitely sense that buzz and vibe in the locker room,'' Bengals wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said.

Sanzenbacher, the former Bear who became a Chicago fan favorite by embracing his inner Tom Waddle, made the Bengals as one of seven wide receivers. That "Hard Knocks'' romanticized his iffy roster status embarrassed the 5-foot-11, 184-pounder who thinks bigger.

"They portrayed it as making the team was the be-all and end-all for me,'' Sanzenbacher said. "Making the team is the first step but that never has been on top of my list of things to do.''

Doing anything to help the Bengals beat his former team is, such as offering first-hand advice on the perils of Charles Tillman's ball punch. He remembers.

"The best I've ever seen at it,'' Sanzenbacher said.

Athletic wide receiver A.J. Green won't argue. Green grinned recalling how Tillman forced him to fumble during the Pro Bowl, a mistake he vowed not to repeat when it matters.

"I'm going to be wrapping it up like a freakin' running back, both hands on the ball,'' Green said. "Don't worry about (yards after the catch) this week. Keep the ball covered.''

To get a better grasp on the Bears defense under coordinator Mel Tucker, Green can watch last year's 27-10 victory over the Jaguars in which he caught six of underrated Andy Dalton's passes for 117 yards against Tucker's unit. Meanwhile, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis will dig deep into his film library for past versions of Marc Trestman's offense he called "West Coast-ish.''

Will the Bengals study any video of Trestman's CFL days?

"If I told you, I'd have to kill you,'' Lewis said.

Lewis laughed at his own joke. His team's Super Bowl aspirations, in contrast, could not be more serious.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh