We are officially halfway through the NFL season and your Chicago Bears are right where they belong: First place in the NFC North.
They have an excellent chance to remain in first place after this weekend as they travel to Buffalo to take on the lowly Bills.
I am a true believer in the old adage that any NFL team can beat any other team any given week. So while this may seem like an easy win, we shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves.
Just ask the Vikings how looking past teams can cause trouble. The Vikings got steamrolled by this very team just a few weeks ago.
Believe it or not, there are a few areas where the Bills do well, and a few areas the Bears will need to focus on if they want to stay atop the NFC North.
I am sure Nathan Peterman is a nice guy, but I am positive he isn’t an NFL quarterback.
In three games this season he is completing 40-percent of his throws with one touchdown and four interceptions. His yards per attempt is an abysmal 3.4. 31 NFL teams have more yards per carry than Peterman has yards per passing attempt.
If he plays the rest of the season, his passer rating of 20.8 would be the lowest full-season passer rating since the merger. Interestingly, the “record” holder is none other than Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw who had a passer rating of 30.4 in 1970. Don’t expect the same career trajectory for Peterman.
If the Bears feel the need to make things more difficult for Peterman they will want to blitz early and often. In his career, he is 3 of 21 for 24 yards no touchdowns and four interceptions when blitzed. A passer rating of zero.
Clearly, the game plan should be to make Peterman throw the ball as much as possible. In order to do that, they will need to…
Stop Inside Runs
Regardless of who plays quarterback on Sunday, the Bills offense as a whole is nothing to be scared of. But if they have any chance of winning, they will need to run the ball. Specifically, run the ball up the middle.
On runs inside the tackles this season, the Bills average a great 4.5 yards per carry. If you just count runs inside the guards that number jumps to an incredible 4.9.
Conversely, they are only averaging 2.8 yards per carry on runs outside the tackles.
The Bears don’t give up many yards on the ground no matter what direction opposing teams run. But they have been especially stout against inside runs holding teams to 3.2 yards per carry.
Akiem Hicks (2nd), Eddie Goldman (19th), and Bilal Nichols (27th) are three of the of the top graded run defenders in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. They should have no issue against an offensive line that starts two former Bears in Vlad Ducasse and Jordan Mills.
The Bears defense should be able to limit the Bills fairly easily, but that won’t matter if they don’t …
Protect the Football
Bears fans saw first hand in the Miami game how quickly things can go awry when you don’t hold onto the football. Two costly fumbles, amongst a litany of other factors, cost the Bears a chance at the win.
If there is one thing the Bills do well it’s force fumbles. They lead the league in this category with 14 (three more than the Bears who sit at third in the league).
In their win over the Vikings, they were able to strip-sack Kirk Cousins twice. Mitch Trubisky, as much as he’s improved this season, has fumbled 13 times in only 19 career games. He will need to take care of the ball in the pocket against a Bills team that has the eighth-best pass rushing grade according to PFF.
Not only does he have to protect the ball in the pocket, he needs to avoid making risky throws. Trying to make a big play and forcing the ball into coverage against a tough Patriots team is one thing, but against the Bills, he needs to take what the defense gives him.
14 points will win this game if they don’t turn the ball over and give the Bills long fields consistently. Nathan Peterman isn’t orchestrating 80-yard scoring drives barring a fluke play.
On paper, the Bears should win by double digits. But as we all know the better team doesn’t always win the game. Turning the ball over and not stopping the run is an easy way to lose to an inferior opponent.
The Bears overlooked the Cardinals earlier in the year and were lucky to escape with a win. With every week I feel more and more confident that Matt Nagy will not let this team overlook an opponent again.
The Bills don’t have the offensive firepower to overcome an early deficit. So if the Bears stop the run, keep them behind the sticks, and consistently give them long fields we should be looking at another easy win, a 5-3 record halfway through the season, and another week atop the NFC North.