MATCHUPS TO WATCH: BEARS ON OFFENSE
RB Matt Forte vs. Bills' nickel package
I would suspect that the Bears will try and run the football with a healthy dose of play-action to Devin Hester, but I would put the Bills defense in nickel with a three-wide formation and run the football against that look. If the Bills countered with regular personnel, then I suspect they will throw on the edge. The Bills D just needs to trust each other, and everyone needs to do their job and not try to make a play outside of their responsibility. Believe in your teammates. I would think that the Bills would bring pressure to attack an offensive line that has not held up well against a healthy pass rush this year. They can not generate pressure without numbers, so I would suspect that the blitz will be part of this week's package.
Bears' wide receivers vs. S Jairus Byrd
After leading the NFL with nine interceptions as a rookie out of Oregon last season, Byrd is yet to pick off a pass in seven games for Buffalo. As a matter of fact, not one member of the Bills' secondary has an INT yet, but they face a Bears quarterback in Jay Cutler that threw four picks his last time out and started to revert back to his not-careful-enough-with-the-football form of 2009. Chicago's receivers, Johnny Knox in particular, haven't done a very good job bailing out their QB on 50-50 plays, plus Byrd will be extra motivated in this game since his father, Gill Byrd, is the Bears' assistant defensive backs coach.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: BEARS ON DEFENSE
DE Julius Peppers vs. OTs Demetrius Bell and Cornell Green
I am concerned about the Bears' pass rush against two very inexperienced Bills offensive tackles. The Bills also need to establish the run game early so that they can force the extra defender in the box, and then work the play-action game. They will need to throw on early downs and have a heavy dose of the screen and third-down runs to keep the chains moving.
LB Lance Briggs vs. RBs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller
Briggs has been struggling lately with an ankle injury, and even though he had an extra week to rest up and get ready for Buffalo in Week 9, he spent the majority of the bye at the team's facility in Lake Forest getting treatment. Both Jackson and Spiller catch the ball out of the backfield very well, and one of Briggs' main responsibilities as the weak-side linebacker is to cover running backs on pass plays. The rookie Spiller is especially dangerous in the open field and capable of scoring every time he gets his hands on the ball, so Briggs needs to be a sure tackler Sunday.
RB Fred Jackson
THE BILLS WIN IF...
... they protect the football, don't give up any big, one-play scores and get some offensive mismatches with Spiller isolated on the linebackers. They will also need to take advantage of pressure by the Bears with good recognition, and Fitzpatrick has to get the ball out quickly.
THE BEARS WIN IF...
... they jump out to an early lead and don't give Buffalo any opportunity to build some confidence. The Bills have been blown out a few times this season, 34-7 against Green Bay in Week 2 and 34-14 versus the Jets in Week 4, and the most common theme was that their opponent put some points on the board right away – those games were a combined 20-0 in the first quarter – and buried them early. But if you let this team hang around late, as the first-place Ravens and first-place Chiefs have done the last two weeks, then Fitzpatrick has enough playmakers to make it interesting in the fourth quarter.
THE BILLS LOSE IF...
... they give up a big play in the special-teams game and have not yet figured out how to limit the opposing offense's run game. They have made some positive progress, but they will not survive this game if they are unable to make the Bears one-dimensional. If the Bears do that themselves by virtue of the game plan, then advantage Bills. But I surmise they will use the run more than they have in recent weeks based on the lack of success the Bills have had stopping it.
THE BEARS LOSE IF...
... they can't run the ball consistently against the worst rush defense in the NFL. Coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Martz have both paid lip service to the running game the last several weeks, but aside from Week 5 against the hapless Panthers, the Bears have made zero commitment to the ground attack and simply aren't giving Forte and Chester Taylor enough touches. Should Martz put together another pass-to-run ratio in the 3-to-1 range Sunday, then Chicago is going to be in big trouble.
Mark Kelso: I see the Bills finally getting their first victory in another close game that comes down to the wire. ... BILLS 20, BEARS 17.
John Crist: The Bears are capable of beating anybody, as they've already topped the Cowboys on the road and the Packers at home in back-to-back weeks, even if Dallas turned out to be the biggest pretender in the league this year. On the other hand, the Bears are also capable of being beaten by anybody, with them coming off two straight losses at home to teams that likely won't be in playoff contention come December. Yes, Windy City football fans should be a bit nervous, but I still think Smith and Co. have the better team and get it done in Toronto. ... BEARS 23, BILLS 17.
To go back and read Part I of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where Mark answered five questions from John, Click Here. To read Part II, where John answered five questions from Mark, Click Here.
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John Crist is the publisher of BearReport.com. Mark Kelso played for the Bills from 1986-93 and is now their color commentator on WGRF 96.9 FM in Buffalo.