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5 things to watch: Bears-Bills

1. Martz’s play calling: It’s becoming increasingly difficult to put much stock in remarks made by offensive coordinator Mike Martz and head coach Lovie Smith when the two continue to say one thing during the week, only to put the team on a different path on game day. Martz and Smith have made it abundantly clear the Bears need to strike a more equitable balance between the run and pass.

“Absolutely, we do need to run the ball more,” Martz said.

But at what point does the head coach finally hold the coordinator accountable? The fact the Bears take on the worst-ranked run defense in the NFL on Sunday should make running the ball a no-brainer. So we’ll see what happens.

2. Production from the running game: It doesn’t make sense to call for more running plays if Matt Forte and Chester Taylor can’t validate the demands with production.

Forte has averaged 2.9 yards per carry or fewer in five of seven games, which needs to change for the club to have any type of faith in leaning on the ground game. Taylor, meanwhile, has averaged 3 yards or more per carry in five of seven games, but the club hasn’t given him near as many opportunities as Forte.

Although the club considers Forte the lead back, it needs to even out the workload between him and Taylor, which not only keeps both fresh, but potentially keeps a defense off balance because of their varying styles.

3. Protection: The Bears roll out their fifth combination of starters along the offensive line on Sunday, and interestingly, it could be the club’s best yet.

Roberto Garza, who has missed the past two games after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, returns to start at right guard, the position in which he spent most of his time before switching to left guard during training camp. Utilizing Garza on the right side should solidify communication on the protections on the right side because of the pairing of a veteran with rookie right tackle J’Marcus Webb. It should also help in the ground game.

Still, the club needs to firm up the left side of the line, where guard Chris Williams and tackle Frank Omiyale have struggled.

Shoddy protection has been the root of the Bears' problems on offense, but this is the week the line needs to pick up the pieces to finally help the unit get on a much-needed roll.

4. Jay Cutler’s decision-making: Porous protection plays a role in Cutler’s sagging passing numbers. But it’s a combination of protection and the quarterback’s decision-making causing Cutler to throw twice as many interceptions (6) as touchdowns (3) in his last three outings.

Former St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, who spent extensive time in Martz’s system, says Cutler lacks confidence and hasn’t quite gotten up to speed with the timing aspects of the offense.

“I see hesitation in the back end of his drop and in the pocket, where he wants to get back there, hitch a couple times, see something come open and then make the throw,” Warner said. “In this offense, it’s not built that way.”

Chicago’s offense relies on the quarterback throwing to spots almost blindly based on the coverage, and expecting the receivers to be in the correct spots. So Cutler needs to trust in the system, and not force throws late. If it’s not there, throw it away. Punting isn’t always a bad thing.

5. Chicago’s secondary rotation: Rookie safety Major Wright makes his return against the Bills, but it’s unclear how much he will actually play. Considering starters Chris Harris and Danieal Manning have played relatively well, the Bears could wind up disrupting the chemistry they’ve built from playing together by giving Wright too many snaps.

It’s expected that Wright will see time in some of the club’s situational substitution packages.

At cornerback, it’s worth keeping an eye on Tim Jennings, who won’t have the luxury of Zack Bowman -- who is out with a sprained foot -- as a potential replacement. The two rotated some prior to Bowman sustaining the injury. So in Bowman’s absence, the Bears could turn to Corey Graham, a fourth-year veteran and special-teams standout.