By Bryan Dietzler
The 2-6 Chicago Bears will travel to Tampa Bay to take on the 3-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers this coming Sunday. The Bears are coming off of a 20-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings nearly two weeks ago while the Buccaneers played the Atlanta Falcons last Thursday night and were beaten 43 to 28. The Bucs are ripe for the picking if the Bears can continue to their path to improvement and play well, they have an excellent chance of beating the Bucs.
But there is a lot to look at for this game. Many critical things will factor into how the Bears perform in this contest. We will take a quick look at the factors, why the Bears might win, why they might lose and how things may go.
The Bears got their starting quarterback Jay Cutler back last week and he had a solid game against Minnesota. He will back starting against Tampa and should be able to have some success against Tampa’s pass defense. The Bucs pass defense is allowing 281 yards per game. The Bears offense is averaging 258.8 yards per game passing so the numbers are near the even mark. Can the Bears do more in the passing game against the Bucs? It will all depend on how much time Cutler has to throw and how well he can connect with his receivers.
The offensive line should have starters Josh Sitton and Kyle Long back for this game but against the Vikings, the offense line actually did a pretty good job without them in the lineup. This means they should be even better in this game. Look for this group to provide Cutler plenty of protection and help him to get the ball out quickly.
The wide receiving corps looked decent against the Vikings and you can be assured that its star, Alshon Jeffery, is going to get a lot of looks from Cutler this week. If he has a big game, you can bet the Bears will win. The Bucs will try to cover Jeffery but it seems that there aren’t too many corners in the NFL that can cover him. He may have a big game against the Bucs on Sunday. Overall, I would look for the Bear’s wide receivers to have a pretty solid game and help make Cutler’s life easier.
Chicago re-discovered their ground game last time out against the Vikings and hope that trend continues against the Bucs. Starting running back Jordan Howard had a huge game against Minnesota and could have a good one against the Bucs. While the Bears are averaging around 96.6 yards per game (thanks to a couple of low output games) they have the potential to gain so much more. Tampa Bay is allowing teams to rush for an average of 117.9 yards per game so the Bears can gain some yards.
Look for Howard to have a solid game against the Buccaneers.
We talked about the offensive line. If they can run block like they did against the Vikings, this could be another big outing for the Bears on the ground. Look for them to have success on the offensive line as well.
Overall, on offense, if Cutler can get into a rhythm and find his receivers, the Bears will do very well. Sprinkle in a good dose of the running game and the Bears, who average just 16.4 points a game, should easily be able to eclipse that number against the Buccaneers.
Chicago’s defense had a pretty good outing against the Vikings on Halloween and hope to continue the trend against the Buccaneers. It’s possible that they could get a key member of the defensive line back for this one and that would be huge. Defensive lineman Eddie Goldman, who went out early in the season with an ankle injury, may be back in time for this game and could be ready to ramp it up. Akeem Hicks has been playing better lately and could have a nice game. The defensive line could finally be starting to move in the right direction.
The Bears need to get pass pressure on Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston, a second year player, can carve up a defense and make them pay. With proper pressure, Winston can be thrown off his mark and make mistakes.
Stopping the run was no problem for the Bears in their last game and over the course of the season, they have been just about in the middle of the pack in rushing yards allowed. The Bears are ranked 14th in the NFL right now in rushing defense allowing 100.8 yards per game. The Bucs are averaging 108 yards per game. So things are about even. Tampa Bay may get Doug Martin back so that will give them a boost in the running game. The Bears will have to be wary of him.
Helping to stop the run on defense are the Bear’s linebackers. The best unit on the team has been very productive this season and is led by the team’s leading tackler, Jerrell Freeman. Freeman is a Pro Bowl talent who, coming in as a free agent, hasn’t disappointed. The other three starters, Danny Trevethan, Pernell McPhee and Leonard Floyd, are all getting strong as the season goes on and have the potential to have big games.
Chicago will hope to get a good pass rush out of their outside linebackers. Floyd is coming along and seems to be getting better with each game. McPhee, who missed the first part of the season recovering from a knee injury, needs to be the leader on defense again. If he plays well, the Bears defense will play well. He needs to get after Winston, keep him off his mark and keep the Buccaneers passing game on edge. He can easily disrupt a game.
The linebackers are also very well adept at defending against the run. They should be able to stop the Bucs from running the ball a lot in this game.
The Bears have struggled against stopping opponents passing games this season and part of that is because their secondary is suspect. They have had injuries there and that hasn’t helped but some of the depth there hasn’t developed or stepped up when called upon. If there is a unit on the team that has really struggled, it is this one.
The leader of the secondary, Tracy Porter, has done a pretty nice job minus his slip and fall in the Jaguars game (that cost them the win). He shut down the Vikings passing attack on his side of the field and can be considered a shutdown corner in most instances. Opposite Porter there has been some inconsistency as youth and inexperience have made things difficult. Whoever starts opposite Porter need to play better to have a good game this Sunday.
Tampa Bay’s biggest receiving threat is Mike Evans. He comes into the game a little banged up but is still very dangerous. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is going to put Porter on him as much as possible and this combination should work. If Porter gets off Evans, the guy who covers him needs to be on top of his game or else Evans will do some damage. A solid game by the corners means a win for the Bears this weekend
The safety play this season has been very inconsistent. Adrian Amos has just been average and the other spot, manned by Harold Jones-Quartey (and sometimes Chris Prosinski), has been shaky. The Bears need to get more level headed play out of this group to help right the ship in the secondary. They may not get that this year. At least for this game, if they can play better and not let things get by them, they can help the Bears win on defense. This is a critical position (and has been a thorn in the side of defensive coordinators for the Bears for a few seasons now) and these guys need to perform.
When you look at the rankings, Chicago has been allowing teams to gain around 238.1 yards through the air (which is 12th in the NFL) so they aren’t allowing a lot of yards but some of these yards have come at critical times. The Buccaneers are gaining and average of 249.2 yards per game passing so these two teams are in a pretty even matchup. Chicago cannot let the Bucs have a big game passing the ball because they would most likely lose if they had to play catch up or get involved in a shootout.
The special teams unit has its good parts while others are struggling. Kicking has gotten better but punting has suffered although punter Pat O’Donnell had his best game this season against the Vikings. The kick return teams are ok but the punt return unit has struggled without Eddie Royal in the lineup. It’s not known whether or not he will be back for this game. If he is then thing might turn around.
Coaching has been hot and cold this season. Fox, overall, has done what he can with the talent he has and the things that have “tied his hands” such as injuries. He is a good coach and should have this team headed in the right direction. It will just take time. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains called a perfect game against the Vikings on Halloween and needs to do that in the remaining eight games of the season. He has, however, struggled for a better part of the season (prior to the Vikings game). Fangio is one of the best and with the right talent and execution, can have a great defense.
The Buccaneers are undergoing some changes right now and are still growing. They are in year one of their new regime and are struggling but their future is looking bright. We said the same thing about Chicago a year ago. Chicago’s second season under Fox and General Manager Ryan Pace has been rough but injuries and growing pains have taken their toll on the team through the first eight games.
The second eight games of the season could be (and should be) much better for the Bears.
This isn’t the Vikings the Bears are playing but then again the Bears caught the Vikings at the right time. The Bucs are the Bucs and will continue to be just like they have been for a while. The Bears are the better team, on paper, but are they the better team on the field?
The answer? Well we will find out on the field but if you were to betting on this game, you might want to take the Bears.
It will be close but Chicago will come out on top, win their second game in a row and their third this season.
Prediction: Chicago 24 Tampa Bay 14