The Chicago Bears had one of the worst defenses in the NFL last season against the run, and after an offseason in which they turned over just about their entire starting lineup on the defensive side of the ball, they’ll get a nice test on Sunday when they take on the Buffalo Bills on the lakefront.
That test will come in the passing game to a certain extent, with EJ Manuel looking to take advantage of a new receiver in Sammy Watkins, but primarily the Bears are going to have to contend with one of the more potent rushing attacks in the league. With CJ Spiller leading the way and Fred Jackson serving as a tremendous change of pace back, the Bills are a team that will run the ball down their opponents’ throats on a regular basis, and the Bears are in for a tough test in that regard.
In terms of stopping that run, it all starts with the men up front. Lamarr Houston is going to get a lot of one-on-one blocking matchups thanks to the threat of Jared Allen’s pass-rushing ability on the other side of the line, but he will have to take advantage of that speed off the edge to try to keep Spiller running in between the tackles.
If Houston is able to do his job in that area, then it will come down to the defensive tackles to seal up gaps and keep the running backs contained. Jeremiah Ratliff will be key in this area, and Stephen Paea will as well. One of the more intriguing elements of the Bears’ defensive line are the two rookies that are lining up on the inside, and it will primarily be Ego Ferguson that will have to worry about stopping the run. Will Sutton may get some play on passing downs, but if the Bills try to run against him, he’ll have to use his hand-checking and quick feet to gain an edge in the battle.
If the Bears’ defensive line ends up allowing Spiller to get into space (a likely scenario, considering his skills), then the linebackers are going to have to perform much better than they did in the preseason. Jon Bostic and Shea McClellin both routinely fell for misdirection plays, and they missed their gap assignments on several occasions. Along with middle linebacker DJ Williams, those guys have to make sure that they stay in their lanes and refrain from the overpursuing tendencies that they showed in the preseason.
That’s a lot of moving parts to be sure, but the fact of the matter is that the Bears’ newly formed front seven is going to really have to show their mettle early in the season. The San Francisco 49’ers will test them a lot with Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde in Week 2, so getting some wind in the sails against a tough Buffalo team could be just the boost that the Bears need going into the season.