Some of the narrative leading into the Bears 41 – 9 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday was that this was a “banana-skin” type game. The Bears “might’ve” looked passed it to their upcoming slate of three consecutive divisional games and they “could’ve” slipped up.
Matt Nagy had spoken about “finishing” in the lead up to the game and finish the Bears did. Winning the field position battle early then exploding for 28 points in the second quarter to effectively put the game away by halftime. They were helped by an inept display from the Bills Offense whose first-half drives played-out: Punt, Punt, Punt, Fumble, Interception, Interception, Punt.
The Defense was, yet again, dominant against the run. Led up-front by Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman who consistently won the battle in the trenches. The Bills tandem of LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory rushed seventeen times for just 46 yards. The D-line also kept inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan clean and they combined for twenty-five tackles.
Trevathan made the tackle of the day on Chris Ivory. On first and goal from the one, Nathan Peterman turned to his left and handed the ball to Ivory who followed his Full Back, Patrick DiMarco, towards the end zone. Smith came downhill fast and defeated DiMarco. As Ivory went air-borne for the goal-line, Trevathan stepped into the A-gap and met him with a bone-crunching hit that would knock Ivory backward and then out of the game altogether.
Two plays later, in a piece of future Bears trivia, Nathan Peterman would become the most unlikely of rushing scorers on a one-yard keeper. Peterman broke a Bears thirty-one Quarter streak of not allowing a rushing touchdown. Oh, the indignity!
Pass Rush returns
Despite being without Khalil Mack and Bears Rookie of the Year candidate, Bilal Nichols, the front seven was able to generate pressure on the quarterback. They combined for four sacks and seven Quarterback hits. Aaron Lynch had one of his better games in a Bears uniform but gave up a needless and unprofessional 15-yard, unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to extend a drive that eventually led to the Bills only touchdown of the day. Lynch had earlier given up another (potentially) big penalty.
His face-mask on Peterman as time expired in the first half gifted the Bills a free-play – fortunately, they were unable to capitalize on it.
Leonard Floyd was active in the Bills backfield but again failed to register a sack. His 19-yard, second quarter pick-six will earn him more than a degree of forgiveness though. Why wasn’t Kyle Fuller‘s hit on Zay Jones (which caused Jones to balloon the ball to Floyd) called for pass interference? The rule states that, as the contact occurred within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage, it was a legal hit.
Big day for the secondary
Given Nathan Peterman’s track record, this was always likely to be a feeding frenzy for the Bears secondary. Peterman’s stats will look awful again (31/49, 3 Int and a rating of 45.4) but it’s tough to pin the interceptions on the Bills third stringer QB. Two were initially caught initially then coughed up by receivers and Kelvin Benjamin appeared to run a lazy route allowing Kyle Fuller to jump in front of him for the third.
The Bears allowed just 167 net yards of passing in 49 pass attempts. Eddie Jackson started the turnover avalanche by ripping the ball from TE Jason Croom‘s grasp just as Roquan Smith hit him in his ball-carrying arm. Jackson scooped the ball up and took it 66 yards for the score. On the season, the Bears D now has twenty-one take-aways which have led to 79 points, an NFL high.
It was noted before the game that the Bills’ defense is no pushover. The Bears Offense was continually helped by good field position created by the Defense and good Special Teams play. Joshua Bellamy and Sherrick McManis both downed Pat O’Donnell punts inside the 15-yard line.
O’Donnell put 80% (4 of 5) of his punts inside the Bills 20-yard line. Whilst Tarik Cohen will only be credited with 48 yards of total punt return yardage, he electrified New Era Field. Late in the second quarter, he covered what seemed like double that distance. He nearly lost yardage twice before getting to the edge and scampering all the way to the Bills 21-yard line to set up a Jordan Howard score.
The stats won’t reflect it (12/20 135 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int, QBR 76) and some fans might point to a horrible pick he threw in the 3rd quarter, but this was one of Mitch Trubisky’s better games. He looked composed in the pocket, his footwork was good and he demonstrated improved accuracy. But for two, long pass interference calls (both on Philip Gaines) Trubisky’s stats would’ve matched what was visible on the field.
With Allen Robinson given another week off to recover from his groin injury and Kevin White a healthy scratch, Anthony Miller showed that he’s fully recovered from his shoulder issues, leading the team with five receptions for 49 yards. Miller also recovered an attempted on-side kick.
For all Cohen’s heroics on special teams, he had a relatively quiet day in Offensive terms. Jordan Howard took the lead, running hard between the tackles and finishing a drive from the 1-yard line for the Bears first score. He later barrelled over free safety Jordan Poyer on his way to his second touchdown of the day, an 18 yarder.
Whilst it’s tough to find fault after such a dominant win, there are a couple of points that the Bears coaching staff will need to look at in film sessions and pick up in practice this week:
- The Bears came into the game one of the least penalized teams in the NFL. They racked up fourteen penalties which cost them 129 yards in this game. If they are to continue the winning ways they’ll need to get back to playing clean.
- I’ve written before about Matt Nagy’s “Be You” mantra when he has tightened up his play calling in critical situations. Nagy made several questionable decisions in the second half against the Bills. He was, arguably, too conservative on a couple of occasions leading to three and outs when the Bears should’ve been burning clock. Then he chose, more than once, to attempt to go deep when it seemed more sensible to throw short passes or hand the ball off to Howard. There’s a learning curve for Nagy as a rookie Head Coach and he has already demonstrated a capacity to adapt his approach, so fans should not be concerned. It’s better that he gets experience of the pros and cons of these type of decisions in games that the Bears are in control of. If the Bears are to have success later in the season, he’ll need that experience to fall back on.
With Kyle Long sent to IR, Taquan Mizzell was promoted from the practice squad and straight on to the gameday roster. He was also immediately involved taking over kick return duty from Benny Cunningham. Mizzell also made it onto the stat sheet lining up a receiver and catching a 5-yard screen pass.
Vic Fangio got the opportunity to run some backups out and they performed well for him:
- Kevin Toliver used his length well to break up a pass intended for Kelvin Benjamin in the end zone.
- Joel Iyiegbuniwe had two tackles including one for a loss where he sniffed out a screen pass to RB Marcus Murphy. For those wondering what the fourth-round pick has been up to, Iggy is currently second on the team (behind only Sherrick McManis) in special teams snaps played.
- Isiah Irving had three tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 QB hit, and 1 sack. His sack came in the third quarter when he hurdled an attempted cut block by Left Tackle Dion Dawkins and closed quickly on Peterman. Irving was also the player who chased Peterman down (from the backside of the play) as he attempted to run the ball in on the untimed down at the end of the first half. This kind of hustle will be noticed in film review and may earn Irving some more playing time.
Next up, the Bears are back at Soldier Field to face the Detroit who are currently rooted to the bottom of the NFC North. Racking up over 40 points for the second time this season will carry the Bears into the Lions game on a high. The fact that they were able to get the win without the Offense firing on all cylinders will send a strong message to their divisional rivals.
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