By Sal Capaccio
When the Bills are on offense
Let CJ, Fred, and Bryce Eat
The first thing that jumps out at me when I watch the Bears play defense is the inability of their linebackers to get to the point of attack against the run. Lance Briggs is in his 12th season, about to turn 34 years old, and coming off an injury that caused him to miss eleven games last year. Shea McClellin was an undersized DE who converted to LB and often has trouble getting off blocks. DJ Williams is a former 1st round pick - ten years ago. He's clearly on the backside of his career, indicated by the fact he's only started five games over the past two years. The group is ripe for the Bills to take advantage of them on the ground, just like most teams did last year.
The Bears were historically bad stopping the run in 2013. They allowed 161.4 yards per game on the ground. That was almost 26 yards more than the next worst team (Atlanta, 135.8)! It’s also the most yards allowed rushing per game for an NFL team since the 2010 Bills allowed 169.6. And the Bears didn’t seem to fix the problem this offseason. Chicago allowed 126.5 yards on the ground on average through their four preseason games.
Here’s a screenshot from the Bears third preseason game against Seattle. Notice how out of position their linebackers are. Marshawn Lynch gets the edge easily - and scores:
Into the soft belly
For the same reason the Bills should be able to run the ball, they should also look to hit the Bears with passes underneath the Chicago secondary. There are some really big, soft holes there for Bills receivers (especially their running backs and tight ends) to settle into and get the ball in space. Two examples from the preseason:
In both cases, not one, but two receivers are wide open between the LBs and DBs. It’s en vogue in Buffalo to knock the check down. But that’s the area EJ Manuel may be able to exploit Sunday in Chicago.
When the Bills are on defense
Cutler is no Fred Astaire
Bears head coach Marc Trestman has done a really good job of designing protection schemes to keep Jay Cutler upright. But the Bills may not have to sack him to make a difference. With Cutler, he’s a tremendous passer when he’s comfortable, but prone to bad mistakes when he’s not. According to ESPN’s Matthew Berry, Cutler had the league’s 6th best QBR when teams sent four or fewer pass rushers at him. However, Cutler’s QBR was only 16th-best in the NFL against pressure. The gap in actual rating was 75 vs 57.1. That's a big difference. So, when Cutler can set his feet, he's as deadly as any QB in the league. But getting him to move, any which way he has to, will give the Bills defense their best chance for success.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz isn’t known as a huge blitzer. But he may have to dial it up more in this one.
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