1 – I'll take Justin Fields for 1,000
The Bills have faced extraordinarily mobile quarterbacks before and fared well. Buffalo was able to pull out a victory over Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in Baltimore back in Week 4, holding him to 217 total yards and 73 on the ground with a long of just 18 yards.
The circumstances are similar this week against Chicago's quarterback, who became just the third signal caller in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season, joining Jackson and Michael Vick, in Justin Fields. Fields reached exactly 1,000 rushing yards last week when he ran for 95 yards on just 15 carries in a close loss to Philadelphia (25-20). Eighty-one of those yards came in the first half.
"Just watching the tape he's fast," said Bills' DT DaQuan Jones in an appearance on ‘One Bills Live’ this week. "When he decides to run on a scramble, he takes the open grass and you'll see him get 20 yards like it's effortless. On the QB runs if he gets the edge, it's game over. So we've got to make sure we're on our 'P's and 'Q's and have our gap integrity and make sure our ends do a good job of sitting down and reading that quarterback and make him run lateral and not vertical."
Fields joined Josh Allen one of three quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era to run for at least 75 yards in three consecutive games in a single season. Allen did it in his rookie season (2018) and the aforementioned Jackson did it in 2019. He's also on pace to break Jackson's single-season rushing record for a quarterback (1,206 in 2019).
Head coach Sean McDermott sees Fields' total game as priority number one for Buffalo's defense.
"Extremely talented player," McDermott said. "He's done a great job of leading their offense and I'm sure leading their team. He puts them in scoring positions. He's had a number of explosive plays, including third downs, where he has converted via the air or via his feet. So red-zone, two-minute, he's an issue."
Jones believes if they can limit the escape lanes for Fields and get a good push up front, it will go a long way in limiting Chicago's rushing production.
"You have to be able to control the line of scrimmage and make sure that we can make them one dimensional and knock out the run game," he said. "If we can make them pass the ball it's less of a threat when a team is only doing one thing as opposed to two things."
Fields has not rushed for fewer than 71 yards in each of his last five games including a single-game league-record 178 for a quarterback against Miami in Week 9.
2 – All about that base?
All season long opponents have tried to pull Buffalo out of their nickel package by deploying heavy personnel groupings on the field with two or three tight ends or two backs with a tight end. And for virtually the entire season the Bills have been able to play effectively enough even with five defensive backs on the field choosing that personnel package on more than 95 percent of their snaps.
Last week, however, the Miami Dolphins were effective in scheming up their rushing attack to pull nickel corner Taron Johnson into the box and defend the run against much larger blockers. Buffalo gave up their most rushing yards over expected in a game this season (+68) as the Dolphins rolled up 188 yards on the ground. Their 11.2 yards per carry on rushes outside the tackles last week was the most against Buffalo since Sean McDermott became head coach (2017).
A part of the problem was sound, fundamental tackling, which can be a challenge at times in a defensive scheme designed to attack and get upfield. And Jordan Poyer believes Fields is just a part of what makes Chicago ground game so productive.
"The backs are extremely good," Poyer said. "They break a lot of tackles. So for us, it's going to come down and playing team defense, all 11 guys, hats to the ball, being able to communicate, understanding our jobs. It's a good offense so we've got to understand what we've got to do to win the game. We're going to have to play well to win."
Chicago could have RB Khalil Herbert back in the lineup this week as he was activated off injured reserve this week. He serves as a quality change-of-pace back to their primary rusher, David Montgomery.
"It's kind of like thunder and lightning with Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber back in the day with the Giants," said former Bears DL Corey Wootton in an appearance on ‘One Bills Live’ this week. "David Montgomery is the downhill runner who can do pretty much everything. Herbert is the home-run hitter. Before he got hurt he was averaging six yards per carry. He's super explosive so I'm looking forward to him returning. He's probably a game-time decision."
Knowing the Bears number one rushing offense is coupled with a passing attack that ranks last in the league, might they consider playing a base defense with three linebackers instead of their familiar nickel defense?
"We looked at the game plan and we'll do whatever coach Frazier is comfortable doing," said Jones. "I think we're confident in stopping the run and stopping the pass whether it's nickel or base. We had a lot of missed tackles last week that kind of messed us up and we had been playing nickel all year and stopping the run pretty well. But whatever coach Frazier wants to do is fine because we feel like we can play well either way."
If Buffalo chooses to even sprinkle in some 4-3 base defense, the third linebacker expected to replace Johnson in the lineup would be veteran A.J. Klein.
3 – Rolling in the red zone
Buffalo's offense has caught fire in the red zone of late. Over their last four games, the Bills have reached the end zone 11 times on their last 13 red zone possessions, including a 4-for-5 performance last week against Miami.
Bills' QB Josh Allen attributes the recent run of success to sweating the small stuff in the week of preparation leading up to the games.
"I think attention to detail in practice, understanding our concepts and then guys making plays," Allen said. "We've put in some new stuff and trusted the guys to go out there and make some plays and they have."
Offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey explained why changing things up is a virtual necessity if you want to remain successful in finishing drives in the end zone.
"I think the biggest thing is just kind of the adjustments you've got to make from week to week or during the game," Dorsey said. "I think those things are huge in the course of a game, just because defenses are so good, and you've got to be able to adjust throughout the game and throw them different looks and try to do some things based off of what you're seeing."
Perhaps even more encouraging is Buffalo is spreading the ball around to different targets in the red zone. Last week alone, TE Quintin Morris, RB Nyheim Hines and RB James Cook all scored their first receiving touchdowns on red zone possessions.
"Having guys to be able to step in and contribute like that it's something we talked about with the players when we met (this week)," Dorsey said. "When you look at that game, just the contributions from everybody on the field that day mattered for us. We had all those guys with catches, we had linemen having to come in and play. Anytime you look at a stat sheet and you can see five, six, seven, eight guys with touches, I think that that helps you as an offense."
The Bears defense ranks 27th in red zone defense giving up touchdowns almost 64 percent of the time (63.8%).
4 – Windy city for real
The forecast in Chicago for Saturday's game calls for bitterly cold conditions with temperatures not expected to get above 10 degrees. That coupled with sustained winds of 25 to 35 miles per hour will have wind chills around 10 to 15 below zero.
The temperatures aren't really a concern for the Bills, who played in sub-zero temperatures just last season in their Wild Card Playoff game against New England when it was five below zero.
It's the wind that could impact passing on Saturday, which may not affect the Bears 32nd ranked passing attack as much as it could the Bills fifth-ranked passing game.
"Every game is different," said Allen. "Whatever the weather is we'll deal with it and kind of adjust on the fly. But having that experience in the wind and playing in Laramie, Wyoming for a few years I'm comfortable in that situation. Every situation is different, so we'll see."
Wind gusts are forecast to be over 40 miles per hour at times on Saturday at Soldier Field.
5 – Second quarter surge
If the second quarter in Saturday's game plays out like the rest of the season has for the Bills offense and the Bears defense, Chicago will be hoping those are the fastest 15 minutes in the game.
Buffalo ranks fourth in the league in scoring and second in point differential (+135) to the Philadelphia Eagles (+143). Just over 38 percent of the Bills' points have been scored in the second quarter this season (147). Having given up just 70 points in the second quarter defensively this season, Buffalo ranks third in the league in point differential in that quarter (+77).
"We want to score every time we touch the ball and sometimes it's just a feel-out process and understanding what the defense is trying to do," said Allen. "And it's just kind of an in-game adjustment of like, 'Alright, this is their plan, let's get to these plays.' But guys are just going out there and executing. We're trusting each other right now we're communicating very well. We're going to continue to find ways to improve but we're playing good football because we're talking, we're being smart. We're making sure that we're holding on to the football and making good decisions."
Unfortunately, for Chicago's defense, the second quarter has been a bit of a problem. They've surrendered 148 points, more than they've given up in the first and third quarters this season combined (130). Their point differential of minus-58 in the second quarter ranks 32nd in the league.
"The defensive line is the weak spot," said Wootton. "They've struggled to get pressure all year. As a defensive line they have eight and a half sacks total. So they haven't been able to generate pressure. There have been times when opposing quarterbacks the past couple of weeks have had 10 to 20 seconds to throw and they've hung their secondary out to dry. It's been tough sledding. They've struggled with run defense as well. This defensive line has been getting pushed around."
Their defensive line play is a big reason why the Bears have allowed a league-high 32.3 points per game since Week 8.