First Impressions – Bills @ Bears

| August 14, 2011

In the three series watched here it felt more like Buffalo was the team coming off a playoff run and Chicago had the third pick in the draft. Barring a Jay Cutler third down scramble, the Bills defense gave up nothing while Ryan Fitzpatrick used a functional running game, quick passes and the occasional deep throw to give the Bears a lot to think about while chewing up most of the first quarter.
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All considered, the Bills should be pleased with their starters while the Bears need to improve quickly. There were, however, some positives for Chicago in the first stanza and some negatives for Buffalo. Let’s take a look:
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Buffalo – Three Things of Note
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●  For a team with a potentially suspect line, the Bills made no bones about their desire to throw the ball. In 16 plays they used three wide receivers six times and four wide receivers a further four. In addition, they twice split C.J. Spiller out into the slot. They did throw a number of quick passes but they also had time on occasion too. In truth I didn’t see any pressure on Fitzpatrick at all but neither were the Bills running a lot of seven step drops.
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●  For a team looking at running 3-4 it looked remarkably like a 4-3 on the one series we saw. It all boils down to the question of if Chris Kelsay is a DLE or LOLB. On every one of the six plays analyzed he played with his hand down and never dropped; you decide. If it was 4-3 then Marcell Dareus played DLT and gave RG Lance Louis all he could handle. He beat him too quickly to disrupt a screen and later got outside him to pick up a sack.
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●  So what went wrong for the Bills? Well, the only real negative was the play of RG Kraig Urbik. While he held up OK in pass protection, he was beaten twice on running plays; once really badly inside by Henry Melton for a 3 yard loss. In addition, on a screen to Spiller, he had great position on the screen to keep Brian Urlacher outside but allowed the MLB inside to make the tackle short of a first down.
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Chicago – Three Things of Note
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●  On the face of it Johnny Knox appears to be slipping further than third on the depth chart. The first series had Roy Williams and Devin Hester clearly as the starters and although I do believe I saw Knox in the slot once, Earl Bennett picked up a couple of snaps there and seems the likely player for that role. All things considered we believe Bennett was probably the Bears best receiver last year and it would be no surprise to see him next up when the season comes around. The question of if Williams deserves the job over Knox is interesting. Mike Martz has a habit of bringing in guys he’s worked with before regardless of recent performance. The last player who fitted the description of Martz “favorite” was Brandon Manumaleuna and that hardly ended well.
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●  The question on everyone’s lips is surely if J’Marcus Webb was so awful at right tackle just how is he going to handle the move to the left side of the line. The situation reminds many people of the Levi Brown debacle the Cardinals endured last year and the initial signs from this game were not great. On back-to-back plays, Kyle Williams easily beat him outside to tackle the ball carrier for short gain and then on the next snap he was beaten to the corner by Shawn Merriman and held him on a penalty that was declined because of a sack elsewhere. The good news is Gabe Carimi looks a much steadier player and did nothing wrong here or in the camp drills I witnessed before the lights went out in Bourbonnais on Wednesday night.
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●  On defense, the Bears of 2011 looked remarkably like the 2010 edition. Major Wright took over full time from the departed Danieal Manning at FS and with Anthony Adams injured Henry Melton got his shot at DT. On this showing it’s probably Matt Toeaina who has most to fear from Adams return (not that there won’t be plenty of snaps to share in the rotation) because Melton flashed well with one tackle for loss and another for short gain in the running game. This was certainly an improvement on last year but we’ll need to see more to understand if he can generate pressure up the gut on passing plays.
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I know it’s far too early to say this but I do have concerns that Chicago over-performed last year and could be in line for a hard season. I was disappointed that (Carimi aside) they didn’t address the o-line and I’m not sure one rookie can turn around the worst group we’ve seen in three years of grading.

As for Buffalo, I was pleasantly surprised to see they had a plan. I have far less concerns about Kelsay with his hand down going forward than seeing him drop back and on offense they seemed like a team with a plan. Indications are they will be improved over last year but in their division the playoffs still look a fair way off.
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