The Buffalo Bills are no stranger to injuries this season. Fortunately, the Bills have been getting healthier as the season has progressed. The opposite can be said for their opponent today, the Chicago Bears.
Cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Kindle Vildor, both starters, have been placed on injured reserve as of Friday, ending their seasons. Johnson slotted in as the No. 1 cornerback this season for Chicago. He finished the year with a 58.8% completion percentage allowed, and only gave up one touchdown in pass coverage. Johnson made 35 tackles, had seven defended passes, forced one fumble, and recovered one fumble. Vildor, in his third NFL season, worked as the Bears’ second outside corner in nickel packages. He was much improved in pass coverage, working in Matt Eberflus and Alan Williams’ defense, and was a reliable contributor when defending the run. Vildor finished the year with 34 tackles, five defended passes, and one interception.
With weapons like Stefon Diggs, Dawson Knox, and Gabe Davis coming to Soldier Field today, Chicago is going to have to find a way to slow this Buffalo offense with depth pieces. Let's take a look at who will be filling in for the Bears’ defensive backfield injuries, and see what we might expect for this Christmas Eve game.
A second-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Gordon will be thrusted into the top cornerback role this Saturday against the Bills. As rookies do, Gordon has been searching for consistency in his game, but will be coming off his best game as a pro against the Philadelphia Eagles. Gordon had one interception and one fumble recovery, and will need to be at his best if he hopes to contain Diggs. His first interception against New England was a nice, one-handed grab, sealing the win for the Bears.
His interception against the Eagles came on a broken play that had Jalen Hurts scrambling right, something he definitely will see Josh Allen do on Saturday. Hurts would like to have this one back, as this is a forced throw down field — something Allen has improved greatly in his career. Gordon went up and high-pointed the ball, getting the interception for the Bears’ defense.
The rookie has some talent, but this offense Buffalo boasts is one of the elite units in the league. I’d expect an up-and-down game from Gordon. He might make a few plays, given the amount of opportunity he will receive, but I expect Diggs to get his yards against the youngster, as well.
An undrafted free agent, Jones is looking at his third NFL start on Christmas Eve, but has also played 10 or more snaps in nine games for the Bears this season. They have eased him into their secondary rotation, but now he looks to be a full go with the recent injuries. He has 40 tackles and one forced fumble this year.
Another undrafted free agent, Blackwell has been a big part of the Bears’ special teams units this season. He leads the team with seven special teams tackles, and has posted both a forced fumble and fumble recovery. Bears special teams coordinator Richard Hightower had nice words to say about his special teams ace.
“He is playing at a Pro Bowl level. ... Every coordinator comes up and talks to me about how good Josh Blackwell is, and how did you find him.”
This forced fumble on a punt gave Chicago the ball back in opposing territory, setting the offense up with a short field.
It’s not ideal for Chicago to roll out such an inexperienced secondary against the Bills, but with a 3-11 record, they are building for next year. These reps against talented Bills receivers will no doubt help them, but I look for Buffalo to take advantage and capitalize in this matchup. Outside of quarterback, Chicago lacks talent, and it should be exposed on Christmas Eve. My prediction: Buffalo 24, Chicago 10.