The Buffalo Bills have only scored 87 points this season, that’s 47 fewer than any other team in the NFL. They have consistently failed to generate any kind of Offense and their record of seven, total TDs is the kind of thing that Mitchell Trubisky could, single-handedly, knock off in a five-quarter stretch. One of their players, CB Vontae Davis, even retired at half-time in their week two clash with the LA Chargers. The Bears haven’t been this heavily favored to start a game in over 10 years.
So, the Bills are a bad football team, right? Actually, surprisingly, the answer is no.
Only half a season removed from appearing in post-season action, the Bills roster still has much of the talent that propelled them back into playoffs after eighteen years in exile. They added prospective franchise QB, Josh Allen, with the seventh pick of the 2018 draft. The Defense was also reinforced by signing DT Star Lotulelei in free agency and (with another first-round pick) by grabbing LB Tremaine Edmunds – a player who was discussed as a potential target for the Bears in the run-up to the draft. So why are the Bears so heavily favored?
The Bills are onto their third starting QB of the season. Well, their first but also their third. Nathan Peterman opened the season as the starter but was quickly benched (after throwing for two interceptions, 24 yards and a QB rating of 0.0) in favor of Josh Allen. Allen then got injured and was replaced by journeyman Derek Anderson. Anderson sustained a concussion against the Patriots last week and, whilst he’s listed as “questionable” will not play against the Bears. This leaves Head coach Sean McDermott with no choice but to revert to Peterman.
There’s no avoiding the fact that Peterman has had an abysmal NFL career to-date. He has a QB rating of 31.4 over 7 games and, on average, throws an interception every nine attempts. He memorably threw five interceptions in the first half of his first career start to equal the wrong kind of NFL record. The Bears have been through a lot of opposition QBs this season and there’s a strong chance that Peterman will not last the game.
His Backup is a man who is pretty familiar to Bears fans. Matt Barkley started 6 games in 2016 as Jay Cutler and then Brian Hoyer went down to injury (not forgetting Connor Shaw who would’ve been the Bears third-string QB had he not broken his leg in pre-season). Barkley probably exceeded most fans (low) expectations of him as he completed 59.7% of his passes of 1,611 yards and 8 TDs in a Bears uniform.
Beating the 49ers and giving the team a shot at victory over the Titans, Lions and Packers were the highlights of his brief tenure under center. He subsequently dropped off the NFL radar passing through San Francisco, Arizona and Cincinnati (all without receiving a snap) before landing in Buffalo.
The rest of the Bills Offense is not without potential playmakers. Talking of Barkley and 2016, if you had LeSean McCoy, Terrelle Pryor, Kelvin Benjamin, and Charles Clay on your fantasy team back then, you were probably winning your league. This is 2018 though and there’s been nothing fantastic about any of them so far this term. Receiver Zay Jones has shown flashes of his undeniable talent – he is also the only player so far this season to catch a TD from Peterman. Using what seems like a bizarre recruitment policy, the O-Line features former Bears Vladimir Ducasse and Jordan Morgan.
The Patriots last two games have been against the Bears and Bills respectively which helps to give us a benchmark as to what this Bills team might be capable of. The things that flashed on tape were:
– Despite everything they’ve had to put up with this season, the Bills fans were out in force and they were loud. Very Loud.
– In a bid to get something going on Offense, the Bills used a lot of different formations. In the first half, they ran the wildcat on several occasions, direct snapping to both LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory with Anderson lined up as a wideout. They also showed a muddle-look lining both tackles and two tight ends up outside the numbers then shifting the tackles back in again. They even ran a reverse flea-flicker.
For some great analysis on the Bills Offense, read Charlie Smith’s article here.
– The Bills Defense look like they’ll be one of the better units that the Bears have faced this year. They’ve certainly been on the field enough this season to have had plenty of practice… Linebackers Lorenzo Alexander, Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano all impressed against the Patriots combining for 21 tackles with Alexander adding two sacks and a forced fumble. The front seven regularly brought heat and Tom Brady was forced to move off his spot and get rid of the ball in a hurry. The Patriots believed that speed to the edge would give them success. To try and exploit this, they used Cordarelle Patterson as a back and he led the team with 10 carries. They also (as ever) had success in the short and intermediate passing game.
-For a fantastic breakdown of the Bills D, read Jack Soble’s report here.
The 25-6 scoreline makes it sound like a blow-out win, but this game did not get out of hand for the Bills until the fourth quarter. At the end of the third, the teams had combined for six field goals and New England had a 12-6 lead. James White added six points on a 1-yard rush with 10:00 remaining (failed 2-point conversion). The Bills were then driving to try and make it a one-score game again and Derek Anderson looked to have found TE Jason Croom who made a spectacular one-handed grab in the end zone. On review, it was clear that the ball had hit the turf and, two plays later, Anderson telegraphed a seam pass to Charles Clay. Devin McCourty read the QBs eyes, cut in front of Clay and took it 85 yards to the house to effectively kill any chance of a comeback.
Bears winning themes:
As Matt Barkley proved for the Bears, when you’re down to your third/fourth string QB, you rarely win games. Bills fans that I’ve spoken to this week seem to think their best chance of winning will be to hold the Bears to less than 10 points. No team has managed that so far this season.
To improve to 5-3 and dramatically increase their probability of making the playoffs the Bears will need to get:
– off the bus with a “take care of business” attitude
– get the ball out quickly to avoid the Bills rush
– Cody Parkey‘s leg warmed up – he might have a busy day
– after the Peterman (then Barkley) early and often. Turnovers seem like a certainty.
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Image: USA Today