Come Sunday morning at kickoff, the Chicago Bears’ first-team offense won’t have taken a competitive snap in over two weeks. So it won’t be all that surprising if Jay Cutler and his band of merry men come out flat against the Buffalo Bills.
Let’s hope that’s not the case, though, as this Bears offense matches up very well against the Bills defense.
While running back Matt Forte didn’t see a lot of action during the preseason, he undoubtedly will be a large facet of head coach Marc Trestman’s offense. Forte had the best season of his career in 2013, rushing for 1,339 yards and scoring 12 total touchdowns.
The strength of the Bills defense lies up the middle, the place defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams call home. Pro Football Focus ranks both Dareus and Williams in the top 10 at their respective positions against the run.
Despite the power up the middle, the Buffalo defense ranked No. 28 last season against the run, giving up an average of 128.9 yards per game. Where Buffalo is weak is on the outside, and that just so happens to be where Forte finds a lot of his success running the ball.
Last season, Forte ran for an average of 5.1 yards at the edges and 6.1 yards running behind the tackles. That’s where he’ll encounter defensive ends Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams, neither of whom are stellar run defenders.
Forte is most dangerous when he finds space, and Trestman knows that.
In the passing game, the Bears hold all of the edges against the Bills. Receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are bigger and stronger than Bills corners, Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore. Last season, the Bills secondary struggled against some of the league’s bigger and/or more physical receivers. Josh Gordon had 86 yards and a touchdown; A.J. Green went over 100 yards with a touchdown; Roddy White caught 10 balls for 143 yards, and Vincent Jackson had 70 yards and a touchdown.
The Bills operate a high-risk, high-reward style of defense. Last season, they gave up 28 passing touchdowns in 16 games, but they also had 23 interceptions, good for second in the league.
This means Cutler’s decision-making will be closely watched. There will be plenty of opportunities to win this game without him having to force the football. Unfortunately, forcing it has been one of Cutler’s biggest problems since entering the league. The eye test, based on training camp and preseason action, will tell you that Cutler is a different quarterback than he was last season.
Opening week would be a great time to display his improved footwork and renewed patience in the pocket, wouldn’t it? He’ll be up against it, though. Buffalo’s pass rush is one of the league’s best. So Cutler could find the pocket collapsing on him if the Bears’ offensive line doesn’t come to play.
Right tackle Jordan Mills has been battling a foot injury since training camp, but he has told reporters that he intends to play Sunday. Mills will have his hands full with Mario Williams, who had 13 sacks last season.
It doesn’t get any easier down the line, either. Kyle Williams had 10.5 sacks and Hughes had 10. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod will have to deal with Hughes’ speed and athleticism off the edge, which can’t be an easy task in the first game of the season.
But for the first time in what seems like forever, the Bears actually will have some continuity on the offensive line. The same five guys who started all 16 games last season are back and ready for another go of it.
Chicago will beat Buffalo by getting into a rhythm on offense, moving the ball on longer drives. Until Mel Tucker’s defense shows itself to be anything more than a liability, which very well could happen this season—who really knows at this stage—the Bears offense is going to have to carry this team through the tough part of the schedule early in the season.
So Trestman and his Bears would be wise to take advantage of this weaker opponent and focus on building a rhythm and good habits going into its Week 2 trip to San Francisco.
Chicago’s offense evolved an incredible amount in Trestman’s first season. It will be interesting to see how this offense comes together in its second season.