By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) The Bears play host to the Buffalo Bills this Sunday at Soldier Field. Big-picture questions remain unanswered, but here are five individual matchups to focus on.
Right tackle Jordan Mills vs. Bills left defensive end Mario Williams — Mills missed the entire preseason due to soreness in his left foot, which was surgically repaired this past January. Even when he was able to participate in training camp practices, Mills was frequently overmatched by defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Willie Young. This Sunday, he faces an All-Pro defensive end in Williams, who is fresh off a 13-sack season. Williams is a powerful rusher, so if Mills is unable to handle him on his own, the Bears will be forced to keep in a tight end or running back to chip, which will give them one less eligible receiver out in routes.
Interior of Bears offensive line vs. Marcel Dareus and Kyle Williams — Dareus and Williams form one of the league’s most productive defensive tackle combinations. Last season, they finished second and third in tackles by defensive tackles, respectively, and combined for 18 sacks. Keep an eye on which way center Roberto Garza turns in pass protection to form a three-man blocking surface. Whichever way he turns will leave the opposite guard singled up, so the battle on the interior of the line will be crucial for Cutler to be able to step up in the face of pressure on the edge.
Wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery vs. cornerback Stephon Gilmore — Gilmore has enjoyed a healthy offseason program and is quickly becoming one of the premier cover cornerbacks in the league. He doesn’t require safety help over the top, which may allow the Bills to drop an eighth man into the box to help in run support. If Marshall and Jeffery are able to win individual matchups against Gilmore, the Bills will be forced to play with two high safeties, which will open up intermediate passing zones and running lanes for running back Matt Forte.
Defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Willie Young vs. right tackle Seantrel Henderson — A seventh-round rookie, Henderson has a tough task in his first NFL start. When the Bears are in their base defense, Henderson will have to deal with Houston’s speed, quickness and relentlessness. In nickel, he will face a much different style of rusher in Young, who uses his length and wide pass rushing angles to get to the quarterback. Look for the Bills to keep in-line tight ends (known as “Y” tight ends) on the right side and set their running backs to quarterback EJ Manuel’s right when in the gun to help Henderson. Manuel struggles when his decision making is sped up in the face of pressure.
Cornerback Tim Jennings vs. wide receiver Robert Woods — The Bills operate primarily out of three-wide receiver sets (58 percent of the time, per ProFootballFocus), which will put Jennings in the slot against Woods, whom the Bills targeted heavily in the preseason. From the slot, Woods will have a free release and a two-way go against Jennings, so it will be essential for Jennings to read Woods’ hips and play close trail man technique.
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.