Date: September 7th 2014
Kick-off: 1pm EST
Venue: Soldier Field, Chicago
The Bears finished the season with an 8-8 record last year. The 2013 Bears run defense will go down as one of the worst in recent memory. They gave up a whopping 161.4 yards per game on the ground and 5.3 yards per carry (both league highs). The only team to give up more run plays of more than 20 yards than Chicago was, you guessed it, the Buffalo Bills.
Offensively, you can’t look past the quartet of Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte. Marshall and Jeffery have a serious claim to being called the best WR duo in the NFL, combining for 189 catches for 2716 yards and 19 touchdowns last year. Forte had the best season of his career last year, continuing to prove a dangerous player both as a runner and a receiving option from the backfield.
LT Jermon Bushrod is a two-time Pro Bowler and LG Matt Slauson had an impressive first year after leaving the Jets. Veteran C Roberto Garza is a wily old pro and while he’s looked out of sorts at times in preseason, his experience and smarts will help make up for some creaky old joints.
The area where the Bills could get some real advantage is on the right side of their offensive line. The Bears right side will be manned by 2nd year duo Kyle Long (RG) and Jordan Mills (RT). Long is coming off a good rookie year but he will have his hands full dealing with the Bills interior D-linemen. Mills drew rave reviews after his first start last year but his play tailed off and doubts still persist about his skills as a pass protector. Mills will have his skills tested to the limit dealing with Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes. Mills has also missed all of preseason with a foot injury but is expected to play Sunday.
Besides Marshall and Jeffery, the Bears have very little in the way of depth at WR. They signed Santonio Holmes a few weeks ago which brings a wildcard to the table. You can never tell which Holmes is going to turn up on any given day. In his 5 games against the Bills during his Jets days, he averages 2.4 catches for 41.4 yards and 0.6 touchdowns when not covered by whipping boy Justin Rogers. Granted, he also had Geno Smith and Mark Sanchez throwing him the ball.
At tight end, Martellus Bennett will start. He’s coming off his best year in 2013 and could become a factor. There’s 3 more viable threats to contend with and the Bills have an affinity for giving up chunks of yards to tight ends. Behind Bennett, there’s not much in the way of a threat. Former Pats player Matthew Mulligan will be the #2 TE but that will only be for blocking purposes.
The Bears have revamped their defensive line since last year. They have signed Lamar Houston and Jared Allen to start at defensive end with Willie Young coming in from the Lions to feature heavily in the rotation. Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea will man the interior spots, being backed up by rookies Ego Ferguson (2nd round – LSU) and Will Sutton (3rd round – Arizona State). They’ve taken a few steps to fixing the run defense but time will tell just how much of an influence the new recruits will have.
At weak side linebacker, Lance Briggs is back from injury after missing 7 games at the back end of 2013. Briggs will be joined by DJ Williams in the middle and Shea McClellin on the strong side. Briggs is no spring chicken and unlikely to reach the same heights as previous years and McClellin is playing his first season at linebacker after two poor years at defensive end. McClellin should be a better run defender in space than on the line of scrimmage but he’s likely to struggle in coverage.
In the secondary, the Bears added Kyle Fuller in the 1st round. Fuller is an athletic cover corner with a tenacious side and a personal favorite of mine. Fuller was injured early on in the Bears second preseason game and hasn’t played since but seems to be raring to go for Sunday. Fuller won’t start in their base defense but will play outside in their nickel package with Tim Jennings playing the nickel.
At safety, Ryan Mundy will start. Mundy is a 6th year player but has only started 14 games in his career, 9 of which came last year with the Giants. Last year, Mundy gave up a passer rating of 113.5 and only had 1 interception and 2 pass break-ups. Alongside Mundy will be Danny McCray who couldn’t get a game in for the horrible Dallas Cowboys defense last year, mainly because he was a liability during 2012. In that 2012 season, McCray played 10 games giving up a passer rating of 118.6 and was relegated to a special teams role last season.
Bears Special Teams:
Kicker Robbie Gould is about as good as they come. Career FG conversion rate of 86% and a healthy touchback rate as the kickoff man. Although during preseason, they gave up 13 returns on his 18 kickoffs with an average of 28.2 yards per return. Rookie punter Pat O’Donnell makes the roster. O’Donnell is a sixth round pick from Miami who took the Combine by storm running a 4.64 dash time and putting up more reps than Jadeveon Clowney. O’Donnell averaged 43.5 yards per punt in college. Jeremy Cain is replacing long snapping legend Patrick Mannelly in Chicago. Mannelly called it quits last year after 16 years with the Bears. Cain is a 10 year veteran so expect no drop-off there. Michael Spurlock will replace Devin Hester as the Bears return man. Spurlock averages 24.2 yards per kickoff return with 3 career TD’s and 9.6 yards per punt return with 2 career TD’s.
Where we can win:
- The improved run defense we’ve seen in preseason must show itself on Sunday. Making them one dimensional will help us attack.
- We must be able to get pressure early and often. This isn’t the offensive line of old in Chicago but we match up well against them. We must get contact on Cutler early to unsettle him.
- We must run block better than we did in preseason. This Bears defensive line is there for the taking if we can impose ourselves on them early. Keeping control of the clock will be vital to limit the Bears offensive potency.
- They will drop 8 in the box to stop the running threat. EJ must take his shots down-field with a single high safety. Scott Chandler will need to catch everything thrown his way, sending him down the seam might be the biggest threat we have.
- Attack Shea McClellin in coverage, it’s the area he’s most likely to struggle in. We need to make their OLB’s defend the entire width of the field.
- Kickoff/punt coverage needs to improve, we can’t give up any short fields on Sunday.
I’ve come to expect that with the Bills, nothing goes completely as it should. This game is a fantastic match-up, while it won’t capture the imagination of the casual fan, smart football people should be watching this game closely. It should be a very tight game and one that the Bills can win. Hopefully the Bills enter the Ralph for the home opener 1-0.