By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
Its three down and one to go for the AFC East section of the Chicago Bears schedule.
The finale takes place this week at the home of the rowdy and passionate Bills Mafia in Buffalo. Entering into upstate New York as the favorite, the Bears are expected to benefit from an imploding Bills offense and a team that overall that has not been able to capture the playoff magic they had from a season ago.
Both the Bears and the Bills will be playing with major injuries effecting them, but as it was last week against the Jets, the Bears’ opponent is clearly suffering more as they have lost their starting quarterback as well as their backup.
As it was last week, Chicago may be again without both Khalil Mack and Allen Robinson as both are listed as questionable, Kyle Long assuredly joins them on the sideline as he in all likelihood will miss a good amount of time after a foot injury in last week’s contest.
In spite of the injuries, none of which hit the Bears in too sensitive a spot depth-wise, this is still a very winnable game with many different elements are in their favor. Saying this game would be winnable is not the same as saying it would be easy — even with the depleted Bills offense they are complimented by a defense that can be formidable, ask the Patriots about them after their tight (for three quarters at least) game this past Monday night.
Motivations should also help see Chicago through this one, this is a game where a victory for the Bears would keep them in first place in the NFC North before the club heads into three straight division games.
If the Bears are able to accomplish these four goals, then less stress will accompany #Bearsnation and allow for more time to enjoy what should be an extremely entertaining slate of NFL games league-wide this Sunday.
0 to 100 Real Quick — The Bears were a fast starting team in the early part of the season.
We used to have to complain about how the Bears aren’t finishing games because of how well they played in the first half compared to the second, but since the Miami game the Bears have had a real problem getting the engine revved up after the opening whistle.
The Bears have scored a grand total of 24 points in the first halves of their last three games compared to 59 total points in the second half which has produced a record of 1-2. The Bears weren’t necessarily in danger of losing last week to the woeful Jets but there should not have been any reason why the Bears had only a one touchdown lead with 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
The Bears allowed the Jets to stay in the game and they cannot continue to squander their opportunities this week on the road. No doubt that Bills head coach Sean McDermott is hoping and preaching to his guys to keep the game close going into the fourth quarter for a chance to win. The Bears have to deny the Bills any opportunity to keep it close by starting strong and making the game lopsided early.
Interior Redecorating — When a seemingly harmless run play ended with Kyle Long being rolled up on in the fourth quarter against the Jets, ensuring that he could not finish the game, the Bears were dealt a big blow to their offense.
News broke earlier this week that the all-pro offensive guard could potentially miss between 6-8 weeks and may be placed on injured reserve which would end his season, a decision being mulled over currently at Halas Hall. Take it on the chin and keep moving forward is the only option for O-line coach Harry Hiestand and his group.
Some good news for the Bears is that rookie James Daniels has proven himself ready to start at the left guard position and opposing guard Eric Kush has been a starter all year until last week. Kush was given the week off because he has been battling with neck stingers and so far he has been limited in practice this week.
Other options for the Bears, if they think Kush won’t be ready to play this Sunday, include former Chiefs lineman Bryan Witzmann who was only signed to the team on October 8, but his knowledge of the system coach Matt Nagy brought over from KC makes him a good bet to start in an emergency. The Bears also have Bradley Sowell who has been a solid and capable backup.
Whatever group the Bears decide to use, they better be ready for an aggressive defense in Buffalo and be capable of repeating something close to the 5.3 yards per carry they allowed to be rushed against the Jets.
How Far Has Mitch Come? — For Mitchell Trubisky it has been an interesting last couple weeks against the Patriots and Jets. Many around Chicago are having panic attacks about his inaccuracy as the unfortunate theme of missing lots of throws has continued to show up in recent performances.
Now it is easy to just point the finger at Mitch but lots of things go into a pass play, such as receivers running correct routes, lineman providing a clean pocket for the quarterback to step up into and Trubisky putting the ball in a spot where his guys can make a play. Mitch has been improving in multiple areas regardless of the missed throws.
For example, Mitch has been much more comfortable while in the pocket and he has been keeping his eyes up while reading his progressions. Earlier in the season these were areas of concern, but not so much now.
Another area of concern was Mitch’s pre-snap reads, he had really struggled to identify blitzes in order to change the play to something more advantageous to the offense, but again this part of his game has improved considerably. No doubt McDermott and the Bills will try to challenge the progress Mitch has made in his pre-snap reads by disguising blitzes and coverages.
During the Bills’ game Monday night they came after Tom Brady hard and brought a lot of pressure. However, Trubisky isn’t a statue like Brady and the Bills will have to stay disciplined in their rushing lanes and collapse the pocket quickly to better get hands on him. Defenses have to respect Trubisky’s scrambling ability and the Bills will get burned if they over pursue and allow Mitch to get outside the pocket and use his legs.
If Mitch can do a good job of diagnosing the Bills in his pre-snap reads and audible into the right plays then the offense should find enough success for a victory on Sunday.
Don’t Get Brock Osweiler’d Again — Brock Osweiler has had quite the career against the Bears and almost no career against anyone else.
Arguably, Brock the Bully gave his best performance against the Bears back in week six with the Dolphins. The sad part for the Bears to comprehend after that game was that Brock was a backup quarterback named starter just hours before kickoff.
This week against the Bills, the Bears will face another career backup in Nathan Peterman. Peterman has been simply God awful as a starter in the NFL and holds a 3 to 9 touchdown to interception ratio currently with a completion percentage of 45.7…ouch.
Those numbers would make any offensive savant’s eyes bleed.
To make matters worse, the Bills are dead last in offense and points scored. There is absolutely no reason why the Bears’ imposing front seven should have any difficulties in playing this Bills offense as long as they bring the same effort they gave last week, especially if Khalil Mack is once again unavailable.
Another effective defensive outing will start with stopping LeSean “Shady” McCoy in the backfield to force Peterman, Matt Barkley or whoever the Bills end up playing at quarterback to beat you. On top of all these leadership issues for the Bills offense, their quarterbacks are all the more pressed with a short week to prepare for the Bears defense.
If the New Monsters can have a repeat performance of last week’s victory then they should be plenty good enough to get another win this week.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR