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Potash's breakdown: Bears at Bills


WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL

ON THE GROUND

With the offensive line having the bye week to get its feet on the ground, the Bears have a golden opportunity to establish the run game against a Bills defense that ranks last in the NFL against the run (188.7 ypg). The Bills have allowed 200 or more rushing yards in four of their last five games. The Bears are tied for 26th in rushing but didn't really try in their last two games: Matt Forte (18-52) and Chester Taylor (7-51) combined for only 25 carries in the two games. Bills coach Chan Gailey promised changes today, but there's not a lot the winless Bills can do at this point. As the Bears know, change can be difficult to install on an O-line.KEY MATCHUP: Bears TE Greg Olsen vs. Bills SLB Chris Kelsay

The Bills have been burned weekly by TEs. Kelsay, a converted DE, has struggled in the transition to the 3-4. The Ravens' Todd Heap, Jaguars' Marcedes Lewis and Jets' Justin Keller each had 2 TDs vs. the Bills. Olsen had 3 catches for 43 yards vs. the Redskins two weeks ago but has potential for much more today.IN THE AIR

Jay Cutler has been shaky since suffering a concussion against the Giants on Oct. 3 (ratings of 69.4 vs. Seahawks, 54.3 vs. Redskins), but this looks like a good spot for him. Quarterbacks have averaged a 102.6 rating vs. the Bills (11 TDs, 1 INT) but are averaging 23 attempts per game. Cutler has thrown 79 in the last two games. Bills have been inconsistent at best in the transition to a 3-4 defense. FS Jairus Byrd, the son of Bears DBs coach Gil Byrd, doesn't have an INT this season after having nine as a rookie in 2009. Protection is always an issue with the Bears. They lead the NFL with 31 sacks allowed. But the Bills' defense has only 11 sacks in seven games.WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL

ON THE GROUND

The Bills drafted C.J. Spiller from Clemson in the first round (ninth overall) and traded Marshawn Lynch to the Seahawks, but the Bills' running game has been uninspiring. While Spiller (32 carries, 130 yards, 0 TDs) flashes the potential that made him a high draft pick, Fred Jackson (75-297, 1 TD) gets most of the carries. The Bears are fifth in the NFL in rush defense (89.3 yards per game) and should be strong today with LB Lance Briggs expected to return from an ankle injury and LB Brian Urlacher benefitting from the bye week. The Bears have to be concerned about QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has 159 yards rushing on 22 carries (7.2 ypc). IN THE AIR

Harvard grad Fitzpatrick is the best QB the Bears have faced in a month. Fitzpatrick is ninth in the NFL in passer rating (91.1), which is pretty good in this offense and good enough to give the Bears fits if Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije don't create problems. A week after Tom Brady had a 69.5 rating against the Ravens, Fitzpatrick torched them for 382 yards, 4 TDs and a 106.9 rating. Three of those TDs went to Evans. But Stevie Johnson, an unheralded third-year pro from Kentucky, has emerged a a threat with 6 TDs in his last 5 games. Johnson, a seventh-round draft pick in 2008, has 30 catches for 409 yards, including 8 for 158 against the Ravens. KEY MATCHUP: Bears CB Charles Tillman vs. Bills WR Lee Evans

Tillman and Evans can be difference-makers but have battled inconsistency. Tillman has struggled in pass coverage but had two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery vs. the Redskins. Evans had a slow start in 2010 but has 16 catches for 248 yards and 4 TDs in his last three games.X-FACTOR

The bye week came at a good time for the Bears -- a chance for veterans to heal and for the offensive line to re-establish itself. Playing a winless team in a neutral site doesn't hurt. The only post-bye trend for the Bears recently is that they beat the bad teams (2-5 49ers, 2-6 Raiders, 0-7 Lions in 2006-08) and lose to the good teams (3-1 Falcons in '09). You never know how this team will react, but all things considered, the Bears should respond with a big effort.SPECIAL TEAMS

With Devin Hester's two returns for TDs, (89 and 62 yards, plus a 50-yard return), the Bears lead the NFL in punt-return average and are eighth in kickoff-return average. Danieal Manning has four kickoff returns of 34 yards or longer (62, 44, 37, 34). The Bills are 16th in punt coverage and 22nd in kickoff coverage, but they can challenge the Bears' coverage units with Spiller, who is averaging 25.5 yards per return, including a 95-yarder for a TD against the Patriots in Week 3.

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