The Chicago Bears travel north of the border to Toronto, Canada, to play the Buffalo Bills this Sunday in a Week 9 matchup between two struggling teams. The Bears, coming out of their bye week, are hoping to end their two-game losing streak against the winless Bills.
How Chicago’s offense performs will likely determine the outcome of the game, as the Bills have, arguably, the worst defense in football. The Bears should have plenty of scoring opportunities, especially against the hapless Bills rush defense, which has surrendered an atrocious 188.7 rushing yards per game.
The Bears, however, must improve their ball security and offensive line play to exploit a vulnerable Bills defense. After diligently working two weeks to adjust their offense following a narrow defeat against Washington, expect Chicago to feature improved blocking and a renewed commitment to the running game (perhaps even some two back sets, as Bears coaches hinted at last week). If Chicago does improve its blocking, as anticipated, the Bears should emerge victorious in Toronto.
When the Bears have the Ball
Offensively, the Bears are loaded with young talent, including a potential franchise quarterback, a crop of talented receivers and two quality running backs in Matt Forte and Chester Taylor. Throughout the season, this offense has shown fleeting glimpses of its true potential, but poor offensive line play and a recent case of turnover fever have stunted the development of this unit.
To right the ship, expect Chicago to emphasize fundamentals this week and run the ball against the porous Bills defense, an approach that should open up the play-action pass for Cutler and his speedy receivers. If Buffalo avoids committing extra defenders to the box, Chicago will run wild.
To stop the run game and force the Bears into unfavorable passing situations, the Bills will likely stack the box to put the game on Cutler’s shoulders. In this scenario, the Buffalo secondary, which has allowed opposing QBs to average a 110.0 passer rating, will face one-on-one matchups against the Bears’ dynamic receivers and tight ends.
To contain Chicago’s passing game, the Bills will need to muster quick pressure on Cutler to create sacks and force interceptions—a tall order for a weak pass defense.
Defensive pressure will be most intense on the inside from Bills NT Kyle Williams. Fortunately for the Bears, their pass blocking is strongest in the middle behind Olin Kruetz, the veteran center.
It is on the outside that Chicago is vulnerable, as LT Frank Omiyale has allowed six sacks this season, while rookie RT J’Marcus Webb has given up five. Additionally, Cutler has had difficulties in identifying free blitzers coming free off the edge.
Buffalo’s defensive ends and outside linebackers will need to take advantage of this weakness and pressure the inexperienced Bears tackles, but so far this year, they have been unable to do so against other teams.
To compensate for an anemic pass rush, Bills defensive coordinator George Edwards may release a barrage of safety and corner blitzes—a tactic that the Seattle Seahawks used effectively in Week 6 to disrupt Cutler’s rhythm and confidence.
In the Dallas and Redskins game, however, Chicago demonstrated it could adjust to the outside blitz and open up holes in the passing lanes for Johnny Knox and Greg Olsen. If Cutler can get rid of the ball as efficiently and effectively as he did in Dallas and, at times, in the second half against the Redskins, the Bears offense could have a huge day.
Overall, Chicago’s offense appears to have the advantage over the Bills in the passing and rushing game. The best chance for the Bills to overcome this disadvantage is to pressure Cutler from the outside and hope for turnovers and offensive line breakdowns. But after two weeks of adjustments during the bye, Chicago should be prepared to handle the pressure.
When Buffalo has the Ball
The Bills offense is improving with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. The rugged, underrated QB is having an excellent season, as he’s posted a 91.1 passer rating over five games.
Fitzpatrick is an accurate passer on short to intermediate routes, but, traditionally, he has struggled with the deep throw. With enough time to pass, Fitzpatrick is an efficient quarterback, who is capable of carving up the Bears secondary, much like other quick release quarterbacks have done in the past (Matt Hasselbeck is a good example).
The Bills are likely to rely on short slants and screens to move the ball against the Bears’ bend but don’t break defense. If Chicago fails to produce pressure on Fitzpatrick, the Bills should have a productive passing game.
Fortunately, for Chicago, the Bills offensive line remains a work in progress, as it has yielded 42 quarterback hits and 18 sacks this season. Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije will likely challenge this line and generate enough pressure to keep Fitzpatrick off balance.
In the past, Fitzpatrick has demonstrated questionable decision-making and poor passing mechanics when pressured, leading to numerous interceptions, which the opportunistic corner backs of the Bears have excelled at producing.
In the running game, the Bills may enjoy some success this weekend. Chicago linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are nursing minor injuries that they have suffered over recent weeks.
Bills running backs Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller could both have a productive day, if Urlacher and Briggs remain hobbled. The Bears defensive line, anchored in the middle by Matt Toeaina and Anthony Adams, should keep the Bills’ running duo from causing too much damage on the inside, but running lanes may open to the outside off the tackle.
Overall, the Chicago defense should contain Fitzpatrick and company. The Bills will likely keep the game competitive through short passes and a solid running game. But the Bears’ ability to generate persistent pressure, coupled with their excellent run defense, will keep the Bills out of the end zone for most of the afternoon.
The Bears, arguably, have the best return team in the NFL. Danieal Manning and Devin Hester can score anytime they get the ball. Look for Buffalo to kick away from Hester and Manning with directional kicks, meaning Chicago should enjoy excellent starting field position throughout the afternoon.
As for kicking, Bears kicker Robbie Gould is off to another stellar season, hitting 12 of 14 attempts this year. Punter Brad Maynard, on the other hand, is mired in a slump, averaging a paltry 38.4 yards per punt.
Buffalo also has great special teams. Kicker Rian Lindell is a reliable, accurate kicker and punter Brian Moorman remains one of the best punters in the NFL. In the return game, Buffalo rookie CJ Spiller has already returned one kickoff for a 95-yard touchdown this season. The Bears may also use directional kicks to limited Spiller’s return opportunities.
Overall, this special teams matchup is draw.
The 2010 season is Chan Gailey’s first year as a head coach in Buffalo. He has previous head coaching experience with the Dallas Cowboys and, in college, with Georgia Tech.
The first years as a head coach are typically difficult, as new systems often conflict with incompatible players. Gailey and his staff are still trying to mold this team to fit their system—an undertaking that will likely take the rest of the season.
In contrast to Gailey, Chicago’s head coach, Lovie Smith, has overseen the Bears for six years. During his tenure, Smith has enjoyed some successful seasons, making the playoffs in 2005 and a Super Bowl appearance in 2006.
Since 2006, the Bears have stagnated on defense and offense, leading to three years in a row without a playoff appearance. Smith’s questionable personnel and play calling decisions have called into question his coaching acumen. Most recently, the decision to bring in Mike Martz as the offensive coordinator has fueled the flames of dissent against Smith, especially as the Bears remain ineffective offensively.
Overall, the coaching match-up is a draw, as both teams have played inconsistently since Week 1 and both teams are struggling to install new systems (3-4 defense in Buffalo and Martz offense in Chicago).
Considering the above analysis, the Bears should win this game behind a solid running game and strong defense. Look for a big game from Forte and Taylor on offense. Defensively, the Bears will likely generate enough pressure to keep Fitzpatrick out of sync most of the day.
Assuming both teams stay healthy throughout the game, Chicago wins 24 to 14.
Question to Fans: Who do you think will win this game, why and by how much?