Joniak: Keys To Bears-Bills

November 02, 2018 - 5:04 pm
Categories: 

LAKE FOREST (WBBM Newsradio) -- The Bears (4-3) are on the road to face the Bills (2-6) at noon Sunday. Here are my keys to the game.

Offense

There will be matchups the Bears will try to take advantage of, but they also know the Bills defense is built with high-motor players of all ages. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky may take advantage of the Bears' speed at receiver with Taylor Gabriel, the quickness of Anthony Miller out of the slot and the playmaking ability of Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard out of the backfield. 

The Bills have given up a lot of yards to running backs through the air -- 51 receptions for 408 yards and three touchdowns. Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White has struggled with penalties, being flagged for five holding calls, a pass interference call and one unnecessary roughness. Challenging him with speed might open up some big-play opportunities for the Bears.

Still, the Bills are also one of the league’s better defenses in preventing big plays, allowing 22 of 20 or more yards in eight games. Two key Bills defenders who must be blocked are defensive Jerry Hughes and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. Hughes leads the Bills with 11 quarterback hits and 4.5 sacks, more than he had all of last season. Alexander is always around the ball and has 4.5 sacks, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery this season. On Monday night, the Patriots had a tough time running the ball on the Bills, who limited New England to a 3.0-yard average on 25 rushes. The Bears need to do better than that to create balance.

Defense

The Bills offense is anemic, averaging a league-worst 10.9 points per game. In the last five games, the Bills have just two touchdowns. They have failed to score a touchdown in four games and have just seven for the season. The Bills have been held to six or few points four times this season, than from 2013-'17 combined. They're struggling on first down, creating too many third-and-long scenarios. Buffalo averages barely four yards per play and has yet to record 20 first downs in a game this season.

The Bills have thrown for more than 200 yards just twice this season and have failed to hit the 100-yard passing mark in three games. Veteran receiver Kelvin Benjamin has caught just 36.3 percent of his targets, a shockingly low number given his size and skills. Zay Jones is a rising player in the passing game, and third-string quarterback Nathan Peterman is scheduled to start.

The Bears will aim to make the Bills one-dimensional. A week after suffering a concussion against Indianapolis, Buffalo running back LeSean McCoy sputtered in the loss to New England on Monday night. At one point, he had 11 carries for just one yard. He hasn't scored a touchdown this season and is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. Veteran Chris Ivory has run with decisiveness.

Special teams

One of 10 active kickers to score 1,000 points, Stephen Hauschka is a key leader for the Bills. If the Bears defense allows the Bills to move the ball, Buffalo figures to at least capitalize in field-goal range. The Bills have to play a field position and time-of-possession game in order to stay close. With that in mind, special teams becomes a huge key in this game, as they can give the struggling Bills offense a boost with either short fields or by turning Bears mistakes into points. The Bears need to be dialed in against the scrappy Bills.

Intangibles

Buffalo is a unique place to play. The small city has a big-city football feel to it with rabid fans who support the team no matter the circumstance. The Bears have to match and surpass the Bills' intensity throughout the game. The Bills feed off their crowd, which will make it a loud venue for the Bears offense, which is adjusting with a rookie left guard in James Daniels and a new right guard after the foot injury suffered by Kyle Long last week. Bears coach Matt Nagy has preached to his players all week about the need to be dialed in to the details. That included practice preparation and performance and tape study. The Bears need to play hard and smart for 60 minutes to avoid the upset.

Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.​