Will The Good Folks Of Canada Witness The Bills First Win Sunday Against The Bears?
So far in 2010, the Buffalo Bills have come up woefully empty on American soil. And at 0-7, and being the NFL’s only winless team, now is as good a time as any for the Bills to try their luck on foreign soil and come up with their first victory.
The only hitch in that giddy-up is that when the Bills host the Chicago Bears at the Rogers Centre, in their second home city of Toronto, they’ll be looking for their first win there as well. Buffalo began playing one “home” game in Toronto starting in 2008. That season they lost to the Miami Dolphins, falling to the fish 16-3 and last season they dropped a close one to the New York Jets, 19-13. So I guess we’re going to go with the whole third-time’s-a-charm mantra?
Sitting at 0-7 and firmly planted in the basement of the AFC along with the entire NFL, the Bills are off to one of their most dubious starts ever since 1984 when the lost their first 11 games. But as of late, Buffalo’s spirited and encouraging play leads the faithful to believe that the Bills are due to erase that ugly zero hanging in the win column.
For the first time in team history, the Bills have lost the past two weeks, both on the road, in overtime. They scared the pants off of AFC North leading Baltimore two weeks ago, taking the Ravens to the limit before losing 37-34. Last week the script was almost as similar. Against the AFC West leaders, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Bills held the Chiefs to 13 points, but thanks to a Ryan Succop game-winning field goal as time expired in overtime, Kansas City was able to outlast Buffalo, 13-10.
But despite losing their past two games by a combined six points and showing signs of life and improvement, the Bills have aided their opponents with some self inflicted wounds. Buffalo dropped the hammer on the Baltimore defense with 514 total yards of offense, but the Bills turned the ball over four times, including the decisive giveaway in overtime that led to the Ravens’ game-winning field goal. Last week in Kansas City, it was the Bills’ usually reliable special teams and a Ryan Fitzpatrick interception that failed them. Kicker Rian Lindell missed a 53-yard field goal and punter Brian Moorman had a poor punt in overtime that contributed the Chiefs’ squeeking out the victory. Late in regulation, with the Bills moving into Kansas City territory, Fitzpatrick overthrew wide receiver Lee Evans for an interception at the Chiefs’ 27-yard line, ending any possible hopes of Lindell attempting a game-winning kick at the end of regulation.
And then of course, that brings us to the Bills’ run defense. Or lackthereof.
Buffalo ranks last in the NFL in rush defense, allowing 188.7 rushing yards per game. They’ve allowed four of their past five opponents to topple the 200-yard rushing barrier. Last week against the Chiefs, despite giving up a season-best 13 points, the Bills were eaten alive by the Kansas City ground game, surrendering a season-worst 274 yards rushing.
It’s been a Jekyll and Hide season thus far in Chicago. The Bears started out white hot by racing out to a 3-0 record. Since then, however, the Monsters of the Midway have come crashing back to Earth, losers of three of their past four games.
Chicago stumbled into their bye week two weeks ago against Washington. At home, the Bears turned the football over a season-worst six times, with Jay Cutler throwing four interceptions, all to Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall. Cutler was also sacked four times, and Chicago lost an ugly one to Washington, 17-14. Cutler has been sacked 19 times in the past three games and has been sacked a league-leading 27 times so far this season.
The Bears’ protection woes figure not to be a problem against the Bills on Sunday since Buffalo has managed only 11 sacks against opposing quarterbacks in the past seven games. If Chicago is looking for answers in their running game, Sunday would seem to be as good a time as any since they’ll be up going against the NFL’s worst run defense.
Under offensive coordinator Mike Martz, Chicago has only 156 rushing attempts this season, running the ball more than 19 times in only two games in 2010. The Bears are tied for 26th in the league in rushing, averaging 88.6 yards per game. If the Bears are indeed serious about establishing the run more often to set up the pass, Matt Forte figures to be a focal point of that plan. Forte has six touchdowns this season ( 3 rushing, 3 receiving), leads the Bears in rushing with 352 yards and is second on the team in receiving with 303 yards receiving.
Sunday’s contest between Buffalo and Chicago marks just the third time in the last 10 years these two teams have met. The Bears led the all-time series, 6-4, including a home thrashing of the Bills 40-7 in 2006, the last time the two teams played. Buffalo came away victorious in overtime, a home thriller 33-27 in 2002. The home team has done remarkably well in the series; home teams are 9-1 in the series.
Matchups to Watch
RB Matt Forte vs. Bills run defense. Chicago wants to generate more from the running game, and there’s no better time like the present to try to get it established than versus the NFL’s worst run defense. Forte poses as a duel threat to the Bills defense. He’s able to both run and catch out of the backfield, doing the majority of his damage this season as a receiver more than a runner. Still, the Bears have to be salivating at the thought of generating a successful running attack against one of the most horrible rushing defenses in league history.
TE Greg Olsen vs. Bills linebackers/S Donte Whitner. Well, we can’t always pile on the run defense because against opposing tight ends, the Bills are equally woeful. In short, they haven’t stopped a tight end yet this season. The likes of Dustin Keller, Jermichael Finley and Marcedes Lewis have dominated against the Bills, and while Olsen isn’t an elite tight end, he’s had his moments in the past. He’s not a game-changer, but then again the Bills have made average tight ends look great and great tight ends look like first ballot hall of famers.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Bears defense. Chicago ranks fifth in the NFL in total defense, allowing 317.0 yards per game. They rank fifth in the league in takeaways with 17 and have allowed only four passing touchdowns, the fewest in the NFL. Fitzpatrick has given Buffalo strong play at quarterback, throwing 12 touchdowns since taking over as the starter after Week 3. No question Fitz would like to have a handful of throws back last week, overthrowing Lee Evans near the end of the game that cost the Bills a chance to attempt a game winning field goal, and then overshooting a wide open C.J. Spiller in overtime that would’ve resulted in an easy touchdown. Chiefs defensive end Tamba Hali harrassed Fitzpatrick all afternoon last week, and he might be in store for more of the same this week as the Bills must deal with defensive ends Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije.
Prediction: Bears 23, Bills 19. Chicago returns from their bye week, rested and rejuvenated while looking to get the train back on the right track. The Bears still have to be boiling over the way they lost at home against Washington two weeks ago. With the Bills playing better and coming so painstakingly close to a victory the past two weeks, it’s believed that the Bills are going to break through. But Chicago has had two weeks of preparation and cannot afford another bad loss, nor can they avoid their third consecutive loss if they hope to remain in contention in the NFC North. It also helps this game is at a neutral site, despite it being considered a “home” game for Buffalo.