Bears offense vs. Bills defense
The Bears offense has been an utter disappointment in the past two games, both losses at home. The offensive line has allowed Jay Cutler to get sacked 10 times and they’ve turned the ball over six times. What’s worse is that they’ve rushed the ball just 30 times for 127 yards. If they did that in one game alone for a 4.2 average, I’d say that was a good game plan. But Cutler attempted 39.5 passes per game and the Bears lost both games by only a field goal. What’s more discouraging is that neither game was ever out of reach, as out of the eight quarters they played, only half of one were they ever trailing by more than a touchdown. After being neglected for a few games prior to their two-game losing streak, Johnny Knox has come on as of late catching 11 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown against Seattle and Washington. His success led to Cutler targeting him too many times against Washington because three of Cutler’s four interceptions were intended for Knox. Earl Bennett had quietly amassed 7 receptions for 131 yards the past two weeks. I’d like to see the Bears target him more when passing. Against Buffalo, however, I’d like to see more running than passing. The Bills have the No. 6 pass defense but the league’s worst run defense. They are allowing 188.7 rushing yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry. The heart of the Bills defense lies in the secondary. Safety Donte Whitner leads the team with 65 tackles. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin is ranked third on the list. The Bills operate out of a 3-4 defense with ends Marcus Stroud and Dwan Edwards and tackle Kyle Williams. Their linebackers are suspect, hence the chance they took on acquiring Shawne Merriman after he was waived by the Chargers. Inside linebacker Andra Davis is out with a shoulder injury. Akin Ayodele should fill his place and is joined by outside linebackers Reggie Torbor and Chris Kelsay. Inside linebacker Paul Posluszny is second on the team in tackles. I have a hard time believing that, despite Mike Martz’s stubborn nature, the collective minds at Halas Hall will neglect the opportunity to run the ball and exploit the Bills’ biggest weakness. I imagine this game will be much like the Carolina game, only that the Bears will have Cutler under center to make a few plays and complete more than six passes, instead of the woeful Todd Collins.
Bears defense vs. Bills offense
The wild card in this game is the Bills’ offense. In their last two games following their Week 6 bye, the Bills have taken two pretty good teams — the Ravens and Chiefs — into overtime. They lost both games by late field goals, but they proved that despite their winless record, they’re not too far from winning their first game. Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, he of the Harvard education, completed 53 of 91 passes for 605 yards, 5 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in those two losses. We know the weakness of the Bears’ defense is their pass defense, so the success of the Bills offense will rest on Fitzpatrick’s shoulder. The Bills also run the ball fairly well as they rank 13th in that department led by Fred Jackson and rookie C.J. Spiller. Both backs average over four yards per carry. Despite early skepticism, the Bears’ run defense still ranks in the Top 5 and they should be able to contain the Bills’ ground game, especially if Lance Briggs’ ankle has healed sufficiently during the bye week. The best opportunity for the Bears to win this game on the defensive side of the ball rests up front in the battle along the line of scrimmage. The Bills had four offensive linemen show up on the injury report, although three of them are listed as probable. Still, they’re banged up, particularly their tackles, and it provides a golden opportunity for Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije to get after Fitzpatrick and try to force a turnover. Fitzpatrick is not particularly careless with the ball. He’s thrown just five interceptions and has fumbled twice. For the Bears, they bye week came at a perfect time as they needed to rest some injuries. Briggs, of course, had to leave the Redskins game in the first quarter after his ankle failed to hold up. After two weeks of rest, he should be ready to go. Rookie safety Major Wright should also see his first action of the season after missing the last five games with a hamstring injury. He’ll provide good depth in the secondary where Danieal Manning and Chris Harris have been playing fairly well.
Special teams should be an intriguing part of this game as both teams possess a pair of good kick returners. The Bears’ Danieal Manning is arguably the best kick returner in the league and he’s averaging 25.5 yards per return. The Bills’ Spiller is a notch below him with a 25.4 average and has also returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown this year. Devin Hester has returned to prominence returning punts. He leads the league — among those who have returned at least 10 punts — with a 16.7-yard average and has scored two touchdowns. His fellow University of Miami alum, Roscoe Parrish, has returned 11 punts for 125 yards for an 11.4-yard average. He, too, is a dynamic returner who can take it to the house if given a small crease. Buffalo punter Brian Moorman is like the Bears’ Brad Maynard in that they’ve both had long, successful careers and now their legs are wearing down. Moorman, however, is not quite the directional punter that Maynard is, but he does have a higher average than Maynard, by about 6 yards per punt. Robbie Gould has converted more field goals, and at a higher percentage, than his kicking counterpart, Rian Lindell. Both teams have good coverage units.
Lovie Smith’s teams have been average in the games following their bye week. But if ever there was a reason to feel good about their chances of success, this is the year and this is the opponent. Sure, the fact that the Bills took two of the AFC’s top teams into overtime — on the road — in back-to-back weeks is a reason to give you pause. But that’s simply the sign of a bad team that doesn’t give up easily. If the Bears play a full 60 minutes, they don’t have much to worry about. If they run the ball more and control the clock and if they protect the football and get more takeaways than the Bills do, everything else will take care of itself. There were rumors this week that the Rogers Centre in Toronto was having trouble selling tickets to this game. Although the Bills don’t play too far from Toronto, they’re still a winless, out-of-town (and out-of-country) team, so I can understand why the tickets are ice cold. That, paired with the fact that Bears fans always travel well, ought to make this a comfortable away game for the Bears. The stadium features a retractable roof, so the Bears don’t have to worry about elements. Prior to this year’s baseball season, the stadium installed a newer version of AstroTurf, which is less like the original, cement-like version and more like the softer Field Turf. Regardless, the fact that it’s not grass ought to be an advantage for the Bears, who rely on their speed on both sides of the ball. After seven weeks, this much we know about the Bears: they’re a talented football team with glaring holes at certain positions. We also know that they have a lot more coaching experience now than at any other point in Smith’s tenure with the organization. And as such, I have a hard time believing that with two weeks to prepare for arguably the worst team in football, that the Bears don’t walk away Sunday with a win and a 5-3 record.
Final Score: Chicago 24, Buffalo 13