LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears' protection issues typically flip the blitz switch in the minds of opposing defensive coordinators.
Yet that’s probably not the case for the Buffalo Bills, which seem to be parched in the pass-rushing department heading into Sunday’s matchup against the Bears in Toronto.
“We’ve made some improvements but we haven’t made enough to get a win, and that’s the objective in this business,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said. “We’re getting better, [but] there’s times where you say we don’t care about getting better as long as we win.”
Pressuring the quarterback a few times would be nice, too. While Buffalo’s defense receives plenty of publicity for futility against the run (ranked last, allowing an average of 188.7 yards), there’s a reason the Bills bring the heat on just 20.1 percent of pass plays, which ranks as third-fewest in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The Bills simply can’t get there, which should be welcome news for Jay Cutler and Chicago’s beleaguered offensive line.
“They’ve changed a little bit from the start of the season. They’re playing pretty good football right now,” Cutler said. “They have a good secondary. They are going to challenge you. They are going to press. They are going to man you up. They’re bringing a few blitzes.”
Problem is, few of those biltzes are actually reaching their destination, regardless of the method deployed. When the Bills brought four or fewer rushers in the first seven games, opposing quarterbacks completed 63.4 percent of passes for a passer rating of 101. 6. Those numbers only climbed when the club sent more rushers, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Against five or more Bills rushers, quarterbacks are completing 68.4 percent of attempts for six touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 136.7. Buffalo managed to score just four sacks -- which ties for 25th in the league -- when it sent five or more rushers. When the Bills blitzed cornerbacks and safeties, they were burned for a 66.7 completion percentage for three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 128.1 passer rating.
That’s not to say the Bills aren’t a threat to a Chicago squad which has lost three of its past four.
“I realize they haven’t won a game,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “But watching them on video, they will get your attention.”
Especially the adjustments they’ve made in recent weeks. Rather than continue to allow quarterbacks to pick them apart, the Bills have resorted to playing more nickel in the secondary. To slow the bleeding against the run, Buffalo changed the 3-4 front it was trying to implement back to a 4-3.
The moves translated into positive -- yet slow -- improvement. The Bills have logged seven sacks over their last three games, which could improve once the club gets Shawne Merriman into the fold while allowing the unit to operate more effectively out of its 3-4 front. The club claimed Merriman off waivers Wednesday, and he’s scheduled to report to the Bills on Friday, although he’s already been ruled out for Sunday’s game.
“They are in a situation with their record and their season that they’re probably going to try anything [schematically],” Cutler said. “They might try some different stuff and we have to expect it.”
Gailey said Buffalo needs to ‘expect’ to win, rather than “hope” for victories. It’s a message the coach continues to bang home as the Bills look for their first victory.
“That’s probably the major hump you have to get over, getting guys to expect to win rather than hope to win,” Gailey said. “Until you win it’s hard to overcome that. I don’t care who you are or what business you’re in. If things don’t happen positively, you tend to think the worst. So a big part of what we’re trying to do now is keep working at convincing guys that if we keep doing our jobs, something good will happen. Coming as close as we have the last couple of weeks has helped reinforce that a little bit.”