For the Chicago Bears, Sunday represents more than just the first game of the regular season. Rather, it represents the culmination of months of restructuring, hard-work, and game-planning as they try to erase the memories of narrowly missing the playoffs on this very field over eight months ago, and that quest will continue Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.
The question then becomes this: how can the Bears jump out of the gate strong and begin the season 1-0 before they hit the road for two nationally televised primetime games over the next two weeks? We answer that question in this edition of Three Keys.
Run Game Needs to Get in Sync
The Bears’ running game looked impotent during the preseason, with Matt Forte seldom looking like the top-tier running back that he’s proven to be in his career. A lot of this likely had to do with several factors, including ill health of several offensive linemen and not having blocking schemes laid out (meaning that holes weren’t opening up where they normally would), but it still was disconcerting to see the team become so one-dimensional against tough defenses like the Seattle Seahawks.
On Sunday, the Bears have to open up the playbook and get that running game going. The defense is reconstructed for this season, but it would still be nice if Forte and Ka’Deem Carey could run the ball effectively and eat up some game clock in the process. It will give Jay Cutler more time to throw the ball in the pocket when they do dial up passing plays, and it will keep the fans at Soldier Field content on a gorgeous afternoon.
Pass Rush Must Disrupt Manuel’s Timing
Second-year quarterback EJ Manuel has some new toys to play with in Buffalo, but the Bears’ pass rush could make Sunday feel like the first day of school rather than Christmas morning. Jared Allen is going to be a big part of that as he looks to make a splash in his first regular season game, but look out for Lamarr Houston and Willie Young on the other side of the line.
The duo will get some favorable matchups when the Bills decide to double team Allen, and if they can perform like they did during the preseason, it could be a long afternoon for the Buffalo quarterback.
Linebackers Must Diagnose Running Plays
During the preseason, everyone from Lance Briggs to Shea McClellin seemed to be so focused on stopping the run that they would jump into the incorrect gaps and overpursue runners before they disappeared up-field. That kind of zeal and enthusiasm is a good thing, but it has to be channeled properly if the Bears are going to have success against CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson on Sunday.
Briggs is obviously a proven performer in this area, so the onus is going to fall on McClellin, who will see a majority of the snaps at the strong side linebacker position, and Jon Bostic, who could see action in nickel packages, to be on their game this afternoon. Those two players have the speed to corral running backs, but do they have the cunning to do so? This will be a great first test to find out.