Bears vs. Bills: What to Watch for on Sunday

The Bears were the talk of the NFL this week after their 37-6 domination of the Seahawks on Sunday Night Football. Now the Bills come to the Windy City fresh off a surprising victory over the Vikings. Highlighting the festivities will be the return of former Bears coach and current Buffalo head man Dick Jauron. Here are 10 things to watch for this Sunday at Soldier Field.

1. Can Bernard Berrian keep up his torrid pace?
If you extrapolate his numbers over an entire season, Berrian will finish 2006 with 60 receptions for 1,264 yards and 12 touchdowns. A performance like that would certainly earn the former Fresno State Bulldog a trip to his first Pro Bowl. Although not many are expecting him to keep ripping through secondaries like this, the third-year wideout is proving to be more than capable of taking some pressure off leading receiver Muhsin Muhammad. He's on pace to catch 96 passes himself, so it's not like Muhammad is being ignored on the other side of the field. Most importantly, if Berrian can keep the safeties honest with his ability to hit the long ball, the passing game will continue to succeed.

2. Is Tommie Harris already the best defensive player in the league?
That was the talk this week in the Bears locker room. Even Brian Urlacher, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, said that the former Oklahoma Sooner deserves the honor. After being named Defensive Player of the Week for the second time in a row, if appears that everyone has been put on notice as to just how good the yet-to-turn-23-years-old tackle is already. Harris has been a one-man wrecking crew and has five sacks in four games. More importantly, he is forcing teams to block the likes of Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown one-on-one, making their jobs even easier.

3. Can the running game pick up where it left off last week?
Even with the Bears sitting at 3-0 after Week 3, the sports talk radio waves were burning up with questions about the ineffectiveness of Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson. Seattle came to Chicago with the second-best rush defense in the league, but the tailback tandem combined for 135 yards on 35 carries. Jones was just two yards shy of the century mark and also scored the first two rushing touchdowns for the Bears this season. Both of them appear to be rounding into shape after missing the majority of training camp. Buffalo's run defense has been porous so far, so expect a heavy dose of the ground game on Sunday.

4. Is Ogunleye healthy enough to play this week?
Ogunleye was injured along the sideline in last week's game against Seattle, tweaking his hamsting. He did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday, so he's probably about 50/50 to play on Sunday and is still listed as questionable. Even though rookie Mark Anderson has been a pleasant surprise, veteran Israel Idonije would get the start at left end if Ogunleye is inactive. Idonije rolled an ankle and missed the first few games of the season but contributed last week both on defense and special teams. GM Jerry Angelo is looking smarter and smarter for drafting all that extra defensive depth, by the way.

5. When will we ever see Mark Bradley again?
The second-year wideout was the runaway favorite to start at receiver opposite Muhammad, but a series of nagging injuries has slowed him down substantially. He's still less than a year removed from last season's torn ACL, plus he's already injured his hip and ankle to far in 2006. The ankle still has him listed as questionable on this week's injury report, and he was inactive once again last Sunday against Seattle. Nevertheless, Berrian is morphing into a star before our very eyes, so Bradley would have a tough time entering the lineup even if he were 100% healthy. Rashied Davis fits the role of slot receiver much better than Bradley does, so it might be a while before the 2005 second-round pick contributes on offense.

6. Is 'The Interceptor' ever going to make an appearance?
Cornerback Nathan Vasher picked off 13 passes his first two seasons in the league, including eight last year in making his first Pro Bowl. The former Texas Longhorn isn't the proverbial shutdown corner yet, known more as an opportunist with a nose for the football. Vasher has not recorded an interception yet, although fellow starter Charles Tillman has one and nickelback Ricky Manning Jr. had a pair against Seattle a week ago. That being said, the defense is still leading the league in fewest points allowed, surrending just 7.3 per game. Individual statistics are nice for bonus money, but keeping opponents off the scoreboard is more important.

7. Will Rex Grossman have a field day against two rookie safeties?
The Bills will be starting two first-year players at safety on Sunday, first-rounder Donte Whitner out of Ohio State and fourth-rounder Ko Simpson from South Carolina. Whitner has played very well so far, intercepting one pass and ranking fifth on the team in tackles already. Simpson was pressed into duty when veteran Troy Vincent was placed on injured reserve with a bum hamstring, much to the dismay of several Bills players. Outspoken linebacker Takeo Spikes in particular publicly questioned the organization's decision to end Vincent's season. Grossman was the Offensive Player of the Month for September and is generating some early MVP buzz, and he probably likes his chances against those youngsters in the secondary.

8. Is Lance Briggs playing his way right out of Chicago?
Urlacher is the figurehead of this defense, and rightly so, but Briggs is the leading tackler on the team right now. He is a free agent after this season and will be long overdue for a hefty raise. The former Arizona Wildcat is making the veteran minimum in 2006 but is sure to be one of the most highly-sought commodities on the market this offseason. The Bears can slap the franchise tag on him to keep him in town for at least another year, but that will mean paying him Derrick Brooks-type money. Angelo has the organization in very good shape right now as far as the salary cap is concerned, but the Briggs decision is the first domino that will fall in shaping what this team will look like in 2007.

9. Are the Bears due for a letdown against Buffalo?
NFL players live for games like last week against Seattle. Sunday Night Football, national prime time television audience, defending NFC champions coming to town, 3-0 vs. 3-0, and conference supremecy at stake. If the boys in the locker room can't get up for a game like that, something is severely wrong. And after such an impressive victory in every capacity, a letdown the following week is sometimes to be expected. Buffalo has already proven to be better than the experts thought they would be, so if the Bears come out flat on Sunday, they could certainly lose to this team.

10. Will J.P. Losman's mobility present a new challenge for the defense?
Through the first four games, the Bears have faced Brett Favre, Jon Kitna, Brad Johnson, and Matt Hasselbeck. All of them are quality NFL quarterbacks, but none of them will beat you with their legs. Favre and Johnson do a good job moving around in the pocket to buy extra time, while Kitna and Hasselbeck both get rid of the ball in a hurry. Losman isn't exactly a 'running quarterback' per se, but he is fleet of foot and capable of picking up some first downs on his own. The Bears D is as fast as any in football, but they will have to be just a little more disciplined in their assignments because Losman could be dangerous if he finds some open space.


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