Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Bills

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Bills

1. Tackle well. Of the Bills’ 21 plays of 20 or more yards through seven games, 10 of them were passes completed by Josh Allen…who is hurt. Six more were completions by Derek Anderson…who missed practice all week while in the concussion protocol and is officially out for Sunday. Nathan Peterman’s longest pass of the year went for 20 yards against the Houston Texans three weeks ago. The Bears saw how poor tackling against a dink-and-dunk offense could sink them against Brock Osweiler and the Miami Dolphins, a game in which the defense didn’t play well against the run, either. The Bears’ defense has a clear talent advantage over a Bills offense that’s best weapon (or best-known weapon, at least), LeSean McCoy, had 13 yards on 12 carries against the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football. It’s simple: Stick to your assignments, make tackles and the rest will take care of itself. It’s what the Bears did well against the New York Jets last week, but then again, it’s what this team didn’t do well on the road the last time it faced a punchline of a quarterback. 
2. Don’t force anything on offense. Mitch Trubisky talked this week about the importance of taking what the Bills defense will give him, which will have to be his mindset on Sunday. Buffalo’s defense doesn’t allow many explosive plays and is a stingy group that, in a few ways, is a little reminiscent of the Bears’ 2017 defense. Trubisky will need to stay within himself and not try to force a deep ball or a throw into coverage in the red zone when it’s not there, because Buffalo does have a good enough defense to take advantage of a mental mistake. This may not be the highest-scoring game, but as long as the Bears’ offense can keep plugging away at the gameplan drawn up by Matt Nagy, it’ll eventually score enough points to win. 
3. Don’t do anything stupid. The Bills aren’t the worst team in the NFL — see: Raiders, Oakland — but a team that’s starting Peterman and signed Bears castoff Matt Barkley to be his backup doesn’t have much going for it now. The best thing that could happen for the Bills is for the Bears to commit a silly penalty or a poorly-timed turnover. As long as the Bears are disciplined and, again, stay within themselves, this shouldn’t be all that difficult a win. But do something stupid, and the Bears could have the ignominious designation of losing to Osweiler and Peterman not only in the same year, but in the span of a month. 
Prediction: Bears 23, Bills 10. This is pretty much the same as last week’s 24-10 win over the Jets. The Bears play a disciplined, clean game without a string of glaring mistakes and emerge from western New York with a 5-3 record heading into a critical Lions-Vikings-Lions stretch in 12 days. 

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Tarik Cohen was Bears' best offensive player vs. Rams

Tarik Cohen was Bears' best offensive player vs. Rams

The Chicago Bears offense was uninspiring once again Sunday night in the team's 17-7 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. While they could've had another six points had kicker Eddy Pineiro connected on two early-game field goals, it still wouldn't have been enough to win the most important game of the season.

After 11 weeks (10 games), the Bears rank 28th in points per game with 16.9. To put their brutal season in perspective, the New York Jets, who've been atrocious this year, are averaging 16.4 points per game.

Essentially, Matt Nagy has coached Chicago's offense as effectively as Adam Gase has coached the Jets'. 

Still, it's worth acknowledging strong individual performances in the midst of an overall letdown, and in Week 11's loss to the Rams, it was running back Tarik Cohen who stood tallest among his Bears' offensive teammates.

Cohen posted Chicago's highest Pro Football Focus grade on offense with a 74.3. He logged 45 snaps, 10 more than David Montgomery, and was effective when he touched the ball. He totaled 74 yards and a touchdown on 14 touches en route to being the Bears' most effective running back against a tough Rams defensive front. Montgomery managed just 31 yards on 14 carries.

Cohen hasn't had the kind of season that was expected from his role as a do-it-all offensive weapon; he's way behind his normal pace of production as both a runner and receiver. Cohen had 99 carries for 444 yards and three touchdowns to go along with 71 catches for 725 yards and five scores in 2018. He's on pace for just 186 rushing yards and 402 receiving yards this season.

Still, Sunday night's effort was a step in the right direction for him and a sign that he may continue to get more touches as the season comes to a close.

Nagy took hard look at his duties as Bears offensive play-caller, opts to retain that role

Nagy took hard look at his duties as Bears offensive play-caller, opts to retain that role

During the Bears’ 17-7 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, quarterback Mitch Trubisky suffered a hip pointer, an injury that involved monitoring by the coaching and medical staffs from halftime on. Kicker Eddy Pineiro was missing field goals to the point of appearing to affect his coach’s decision-making. The offense was sputtering – again – and the defense, after some early takeaway success, appeared to be sagging emotionally. There were issues at tight end. Aaron Donald had to be accounted for and blocked.

All of which and more was on the head of Matt Nagy, now all of 27 games into being an NFL head coach, and who late in the game needed to stop and have a heart-to-heart, heads-together talk with his quarterback about how he was feeling.

The “and more” on Nagy’s head continues to include calling the individual plays for his bad-and-getting-worse offense.

So Nagy spent a chunk of his morning taking a hard look at whether defenses are on to him, presumably personally as well as schematically. And some of that hard look was whether he indeed should continue being the play-caller in the wake of the offense running 74 plays, netting 7 points and failing to gain 300 total yards for the ninth time in 10 games.

For now, after that look in the mirror, Nagy will remain in control of the play sheet.

“What I would say is this,” he said, acknowledging that if he felt he was the problem, “I’ll be the first to tell you, then we need to be better or if there’s a rhythm to something.

“I have zero ego and I have zero care of giving play-call duties to somebody else. I really do not care about that, and if that’s what we feel like from going through it that that’s what we need to do, then I would do that, I really would.

“But when you go through the tape and you look at things and you know schematically where we’re at and what we’re calling and when we’re calling it…. There’s without a doubt a few plays in that game that I would go back and say, ‘You know what, that’s our fault. We didn’t scheme it right,’ and that starts with me. And I need to be able to accept that and know how do I fix that. But we’ll do everything we can … we’re turning over every stone to get this thing right.”

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