LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — No more promises. No more vows.
It’s time for the Chicago Bears to put words to action and show that their rebuilt defense is ready to deliver as advertised.
They host the Buffalo Bills in the season opener this week hoping the big makeover starts to pay big dividends and set a course to the playoffs for just the second time in eight years.
They brought in five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen hoping he could spark a nonexistent pass rush and run defense after Chicago got trampled last season. He’s not the only addition to a defense that was one of the worst in franchise history.
The list includes end Lamarr Houston among others. The Bears are healthier, too, after being ripped apart by injuries, and they believe they now have the stoppers to back a prolific offense heading into coach Marc Trestman’s second season.
That starts on the line, particularly with Allen.
“I’ve been on some good defensive lines, and I feel just right there with them as far as comfortability level, knowing what we’ve got to do,” said Allen, who left Minnesota for a four-year deal with Chicago.
There is some uneasiness hovering in Chicago because the defense looked less than dominant during the preseason even when the starters played. And now, it counts.
The Bills are entering a new era after the death of founding father and Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson in March. They’re looking for more after three straight 6-10 seasons and 14 playoff misses in a row — the NFL’s longest active streak.
They acquired receiver Mike Williams in a trade with Tampa Bay last spring. They traded their 2015 first-round pick to Cleveland to move up five spots in the draft to take Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins at No. 4. They used three of seven draft picks on offensive linemen and added depth at running back — already a strength — by acquiring Bryce Brown in a draft-weekend trade with Philadelphia.
“It’s time for us to go out there and prove ourselves, and we got a great team to do it against,” running back Fred Jackson said.
Here are some things to look for in Sunday’s game:
MONSTERS AGAIN?: The Bears don’t necessarily need their defense to play like the Monsters of the Midway given the strength of their offense. They just need it to be more effective. Considering how bad it was last year, that shouldn’t be difficult.
The Bears ranked 30th overall and last against the run while tying Jacksonville with a league-low 31 sacks. They gave up 2,583 yards rushing and 5.3 per carry — both club records. But that was last year. They could have eight different starters from the finale against Green Bay in December. Allen (five), Jeremiah Ratliff (four), Lance Briggs (seven), Charles Tillman (two) and Tim Jennings (two) bring a combined 20 Pro Bowl selections.
MANUEL FOR IMPROVEMENT: If the Bills are going to break their playoff drought, their hopes hinge largely on Manuel. Though healthy after being sidelined three times last year with knee injuries, he hasn’t shown signs of taking a big step in his development.
He finished with a 4-6 record with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season after being selected 16th out of Florida State. He got a reminder this week that he still has a long way to go when teammates did not pick him for one of the six team captain spots.
FOR STARTERS … : It wasn’t a great preseason for the Bills’ starting offense. That group failed to score a touchdown on its first 18 possessions before reaching the end zone on consecutive third-quarter drives against Tampa Bay’s second string in a loss Aug. 23. The starters were also scoreless on three possessions in the finale against Detroit last week.
In all, they had four field goals and two scores on 23 possessions. That’s a concern considering all the moves the Bills made on offense.
TOP THAT: The Bears made huge strides on offense in their first year in coach Marc Trestman’s system. Can they top it?
Chicago leaped from 29th to fifth in passing and 28th to No. 8 in total offense in 2013. Jay Cutler had a career-high 89.2 rating, but he missed five games because of injuries. The last time he played a full 16 games was 2009, after the Bears acquired him from Denver.
DOMINANT D: Plenty of eyes will be on the Bears’ defense. But don’t overlook Buffalo’s.
A dominant front line has three returning Pro Bowl picks (Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus), and end Jerry Hughes had a career-high 10 sacks. They added linebackers Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers in free agency. One concern: outside linebacker, with Kiko Alonso out with a season-ending knee injury, and replacement Nigel Bradham serving a one-game NFL suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.