Beaten-up Bears give Bills a break

Two seasons ago when the Bills hosted the Bears, Chicago was a team on the rise, but going through a horrible season, and the Bills were considered one of the better NFL teams. Buffalo won 20-3 back then. Now the Bears are considered one of the better teams, having surprised with a 13-3 mark in 2001, and the Bills are on the rise. The roles have been reversed in just two seasons.

But the Bears have some obstacles to overcome, with a defense that looks like a M.A.S.H. unit. The team lost nose tackle Ted Washington for likely the season. Right end Philip Daniels was hurt in the opener with a left ankle sprain and is out for up to a month and left cornerback R.W. McQuarters – the team's best cover corner – sprained a knee ligament in the opener and is also out for a month.

Chicago, however, thinks it can overcome those injuries because it's a team defense that doesn't rely a lot on individual performances, but an overall scheme that, when players work together, is theoretically capable of picking up where the original starting defense left off.

The Bears have recently come under fire for claims by Falcons quarterback Michael Vick that the defense intentionally tried to take his knees out during their game on Sept. 15. Defensive coordinator Greg Blache disputed that, saying his unit simply plays hard and tackles – within the guidelines of the rules.

Coach Dick Jauron said, "In the course of a game things are said a lot, but never anything we would hope that would ever lead anyone to believe our intent is to injure that player in a specific way. Certainly, it's never occurred to us to coach that way."

Regardless, the Bears are a team that plays tough-nosed defense and conventional offense to get the job done.

When Buffalo runs

Without nose tackle Ted Washington, there is some concern that Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher won't be as free to stop running plays. Washington, along with defensive tackle Keith Traylor, gummed up the center of the line, not allowing guards to easily come out and block Urlacher. For that reason, Urlacher was often uncovered and could make more plays.

But now making plays won't be as easy for Urlacher with Washington's replacement, 6'4", 325-pound Alfonso Boone, who weighs 40 pounds less than the hulking ex-Bill. Boone, a second-year man whom the Lions drafted in the seventh-round out of Mount San Antonio Junior College in 2000, is inexperienced.

"They are different players. What we lose in power and bulk with Ted, we will pick up in quickness and speed with Alfonso," defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

The Bears limited the Falcons running backs to 66 yards rushing in their Week 2 14-13 win – with Boone playing the last three quarters. In Week 1, Chicago surrendered 134 yards of rushing to Minnesota's running backs, who tore into the Bills' defense in Week 2. And that was with Washington. So there are indications that the Bears defense can be run on this year. Travis Henry may play a big role.

Edge: Bills

When Buffalo passes

Losing Phil Daniels is substantial because he's one of Chicago's top pass rushers. Of course, the Bears' other big pass rusher, weakside linebacker Rosevelt Colvin, is still around. He recorded 10.5 sacks last year and had three sacks after two weeks. The Bears often blitz from their 4-3 to generate pressure. They also put eight in the box on occasion to stop the run.

Keith McKenzie, a pickup from the Browns, may play for Daniels. There shouldn't be much of a drop-off. Now during the Falcons game, McKenzie switched sides with left end Bryan Robinson, because Robinson is still recovering from a broken wrist and finds it easier to use his arms on the right side. Defensive coordinator Greg Blache would not say whether Robinson would stay there until Daniels comes back.

Buffalo will find a favorable matchup against backup left corner Todd McMillon, who's filling in for McQuarters. McMillon, 28, is a third-year player who signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent in 2000. His first start came in Week 2 against the Falcons.

Also fourth-year right corner Jerry Azumah is in his first year as a full-time starter, replacing Walt Harris, who went to Indianapolis.

Drew Bledsoe should be able to throw on the Bears.

Edge: Bills

When Chicago runs

Second-year running back Anthony Thomas was one of the NFL's surprises last season, running for 1,183 yards and seven touchdowns. He had two touchdowns through Week 2. Thomas is a 6'2", 226 pound physical back, who may not have the breakaway speed of some other NFL runners, but is not afraid to bowl over people on his way to the end zone.

He often runs out of a one-back set, but does sometimes run behind fullback Stanley Pritchett. Quarterback Jim Miller also goes to Thomas for about three to four passes a game.

Former Jet tight end Fred Baxter starts for the Bears and adds blocking punch for Thomas and the running game.

The offensive line features two Pro Bowl performers in center Olin Kreutz and 12th-year right tackle James Williams. Williams, who played defensive line at the start of his Bears career, has played so long that he used to spell Steve McMichael and William "The Refrigerator" Perry. He had started 120 games for the Bears through Week 2, but a hip injury made him questionable for the Week 3 game vs. New Orleans.

The Bears are used to running the ball. The Bills, on the other hand, are not used to stopping the run – yet.

Edge: Bears

When Chicago passes

Journeyman Jim Miller has found the right situation in Chicago. In his seventh year, Miller is the unquestionable offensive leader of the. Last year, in his first full season as the team's starter he threw for 13 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. This year, through two games, he had three touchdown passes to two interceptions. Miller is not as sexy a starter as, say, Drew Bledsoe, but, like, Miami's Jay Fiedler, he is consistent enough now to pose a threat to defenses.

Miller has some good receivers. Marty Booker is No. 1, catching 13 passes for 246 yards and a touchdown through the first two games. He's fast and he's got good hands. Dez White has emerged as the No. 2, over Marcus Robinson, who has played sparingly due to healing from a torn knee ligament suffered last season. Robinson may get more playing time if White doesn't catch more passes. The Bears also have David Terrell, but he only had two catches for 23 yards – both were for touchdowns, however.

Chicago will go with three wides occasionally, but that didn't cause much problem for the Bills vs. Minnesota. Chicago has a very good offensive line. Still with the Bills' corners, Chicago will find passing difficult.

Edge: Bills

Special teams

After two weeks, Chicago was eighth in punt returns with former Jet Leon Johnson averaging 12 yards per return. On kickoff returns, Johnson is also the No. 1 guy with a sub-par 20-yard average. Overall, Chicago averaged 21.3 yards per kickoff return – ranked 17th in the NFL. On kickoffs, Chicago was almost as bad as Buffalo had been through the first two games, with up a 29.6-yard average, slightly better than the 30.5 yards the Bills had been giving up. On punts, Chicago was better, ranked ninth in the NFL, by limiting returns to an average of 4.7 yards. Punter Brad Maynard had a 38.9-yard net average, which was 12th in the league. That is actually the highest net average of Maynard's career. Kicker Paul Edinger had been getting his kickoffs inside the 5 this year with regularity. He's an accurate kicker with a good leg. Chicago has a slight advantage over Buffalo, but not by much.

Edge: Bears


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