THREE KEYS FOR THE BEARS
Run the ball
Fingers are cramping from typing this week after week, but it’s true: The Bears need to run the ball to eliminate predictability, and improve on time of possession, which in the process helps out the passing game and prevents the defense from being on the field too long. Since Buffalo’s rush defense ranks last in the league, this appears to be the perfect opportunity for the Bears to get running backs Matt Forte and Chester Taylor going. Considering the club has invested $9 million guaranteed between the running backs, perhaps it’s time for the Bears to start getting their money’s worth.
Make Fitzpatrick pay
Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick continues to light up opponents. He’s passed for 605 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions in his last two outings. So it’s important for the Bears’ front seven to put pressure on him and for the secondary to maintain tight coverage. Interestingly, Fitzpatrick has shown a tendency to be reluctant to slide to avoid contact when he scrambles out of the pocket. Instead, Fitzpatrick puts his head down and fights for extra yardage in those situations. So when Fitzpatrick gets out on the loose, the Bears’ front seven -- especially the linebackers -- need to punish the quarterback with hard shots to discourage him from scrambling, which in the past has allowed him to find open receivers down the field.
Stop being stubborn
At the slightest sign of trouble, offensive coordinator Mike Martz calls for an aerial strike almost without fail. Stop it, coach. It’s not only killing the team, it’s jeopardizing the long-term health of quarterback Jay Cutler because of the offensive line’s inability to protect him. Martz needs to diversify the play calling to include a mix of both passes and runs; long pass drops and short drops. The club also needs to diversify its personnel groupings to get more touches for little-used weapons such as Earl Bennett and Devin Aromashodu, who have proven adept at gaining yards after the catch.
THREE KEYS FOR THE BILLS
Experiment on Peppers
Some teams have shown the ability -- not consistently -- to handle Bears defensive end Julius Peppers with just one blocker. The Bears are counting on teams double- and triple-teaming Peppers on occasion, and have tailored the defense to account for such a possibility. But the Bills can throw a curve ball at Chicago by rolling the pocket away from Peppers, and deploying just one blocker to handle him, which frees up more receivers in routes and takes away some of the one-on-one blocks the Bears anticipate in other areas. If the Bills try such a tactic, it’s important for Fitzpatrick to get rid of the ball quickly, which shouldn’t be a tough proposition, considering the Bears play so soft on the outside.
Mix it up on the ground
Buffalo’s backfield duo of Fred Jackson and rookie C.J. Spiller presents significantly differing styles, which can throw a defense off balance. The problem is the Bills don’t distribute the workload evenly enough for it to be impactful. Jackson is the clear-cut feature back, handling the bulk of the carries. But the Bills need to get Spiller -- a dynamic threat to go the distance on any play -- more involved in the attack. Spiller carried just six times in the club’s last game, which clearly isn’t enough for the rookie to develop a rhythm.
Bears’ starting right guard Roberto Garza is coming off Oct. 15th surgery on his left knee, and it’s almost a given his range of motion won’t immediately be the same, nor will his cardiovascular conditioning. Add that to the fact he’s playing alongside a rookie in right tackle J’Marcus Webb, and you’ve got a matchup situation definitely worth testing. The Bills need to bring most of their stunts and blitzes to the right side of Chicago’s line, and use lots of twists that will force Garza to have to move laterally. Moving consistently between their 4-3 and 3-4 fronts would be a good idea for the Bills, too.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: OLIN KREUTZ VS. KYLE WILLIAMS
Kyle Williams has emerged as one of the league’s more dominating defensive linemen, and it’s a sure bet Olin Kreutz will need plenty of help handling him. A nose guard in Buffalo’s 3-4 fronts and a defensive tackle in the 4-3 fronts, Williams has benefitted tremendously from the club’s move to more 4-3 looks, because of the penetrating nature of a four-man front.
Since Buffalo switched to a predominantly 4-3 alignment, Williams has racked up 19 tackles over the team’s last four games, including three sacks and six stops for lost yardage. More than likely, Williams will shut down any attempts by the Bears to run between the tackles. Williams is currently third in the NFL in tackles among defensive linemen with 37.
Kreutz, who is somewhat undersized, won’t be able to handle Williams one-on-one consistently. So look for the Bears to deploy plenty of double teams on Williams.
Two of Buffalo’s last three wins over the Bears have come by more than 14 points.
The Bears haven’t converted a third-and-9 since Week 1, and are 5 of 42 from third-and-8 or longer this season.
Since 2004, the Bears have forced 361 three-and-out drives out of 1,336, which ranks as first in the NFL during that time span.
BY THE NUMBERS
17: Takeaways by the Bears this season, with eight coming on fumble recoveries and nine on interceptions.
4: Punt returns of 20 yards or more by Devin Hester, which ranks as first in the NFL.
13: Bears younger than 25 years old.
39: Career tackles against the Bills in three games by Brian Urlacher.