Reporting Laurence Holmes
Hola from Toronto…wait that doesn’t sound quite right. Anyway, the Bears find themselves in a must-win situation north of the border. The road to the playoffs becomes a lot more difficult if they leave Canada 4-4. Everyone at Halas Hall will feel vindicated in their off-week activities if the Bears can beat the winless Bills. Here’s how I see it going down:
Bears Offense vs. Bills Defense
The Bears numbers are scary. BWAHAHAHA! Happy Halloween…wait that doesn’t sound quite right. Anyway, Cutler & Crew are the 29th ranked offense in the NFL. They are dead last in 3rd down passing. Cutler’s rating is 45.5 in those situations with 3 picks. Even when the Bears succeed between the 20s, they stall in the red zone. In 20 trips, the Bears have only come up with 6 touchdowns. That’s a 30% TD clip. Worst in the NFL. Yes, even Carolina converts more and the winless Bills have 8 touchdowns in only 13 possessions.
The pass game has really struggled. Cutler hasn’t had a multi-touchdown game since week 2. Since that game against Dallas, the Bears QB has 2TD to 6INT, sacked 22 times and suffered a concussion. It’s easy to blame all of this on the offensive line, but Cutler has to make better decisions and get rid of the ball quicker. Mike Martz needs to help protect his quarterback with a run game.
Dust off the Panthers game plan if you have to. The Bills stink at stopping the run. Incredibly, they give up almost 200 yards per game on the ground. DE Marcus Stroud can be a problem and I think SS Donte Whitner is a very solid player, but if EVER the Bears were going to establish the run, this is the game to do it.
In their last combined 25 carries, Matt Forte & Chester Taylor have averaged over 4 yards. Here’s the problem: those combined 25 carries have come in 2 games. Think about that…two RB only getting 25 carries over two NFL games. Having Roberto Garza back should help with communication, but there have been too many times this season when Bears linemen have been over-powered in one-on-one matchups.
I advocate Cutler taking shots down the field, but if the plays aren’t there, he needs to be smart. The Bills as a team only have 1 interception on the season. They’re last in QB sacks with 11. The Bears pass game looks most comfortable when the reads and drops are short and quick. When Cutler is in “see it, throw it” mode, he’s pretty good. Martz hasn’t given him enough opportunities like that this season.
BTW, you should only be worried about Shawne Merriman if your name is Tila Tequila. The newly acquired Merriman will not play.
Bears Defense vs. Bills Offense
The Bears defense has been the best unit on the team. They’re only giving up 14 points a game. They lead the NFL in 3 & outs. Teams convert a league low 29.6% of 3rd downs against this bunch. Lovie Smith points to the Aikman rankings for defense which is a more complete representation of everything a defense does. It includes 7 categories: rushing, passing, third-down efficiency, first downs, points, red-zone effiency and turnovers. An average rating is 75. The Bears rank 2nd in the Aikman’s with a 83.1 rating. That puts them only behind Pittsburgh. In other words, these guys have been ballin’. Israel Idonije continues to take advantage of being single blocked.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is playing well since taking over as the starter. He will push the ball down the field. The Bears will have to be cognizant of Steve Johnson and Lee Evans going deep. If there has been a weakness in the Bears D it’s been on short passes: slants and in routes. Charles Tillman has had a couple of games that are below his normal level of play.
The Bears are getting about 115 yards a game on the ground, but you’d think that number would be higher with Fred Jackson and blazing fast rookie, C.J. Spiller in the backfield. Where Spiller is really dangerous is catching the ball out of the backfield. This guy has speed to take it to the house if the Bears don’t tackle well.
If the Bills want to nullify Devin Hester, they’ll do what the Redskins did…kick it out of bounds. That should give the Bears good field position, but they haven’t scared opponents enough for the Bills to kick to the greatest returner of all time. Roscoe Parrish and Spiller are really dangerous returners. As for the kickers, Rian Lindell missed a critical kick last week that added to the overtime loss, but he’s got a leg.
The Bills have not won a regular season game in Toronto. It’s not really a home field advantage for them. In fact, the promoters had to buy the unsold tickets to make sure the game would be on television in Buffalo. As a team, they’re getting better and you feel like they’re knocking on the door of that first victory.
The Bears are desperate. They have to have this win to keep pace in an improving NFC. The off-week should have been a time for a self-audit. Lovie and his staff need to find out what they do well and do it more often. I’ll roll with the defense…Urlacher, Peppers and Briggs save the day. BEARS 20 BILLS 14.