The Bears Bucs game this Sunday will be the home opener for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after their game was canceled last week due to Hurricane Irma. This may be an advantage for the Bucs or it could just as easily be a disadvantage. You never know how these emotional events can play out. It can be a bonding moment between team and fan and they may rally behind it or it can be a massive distraction. After all, their homes were vacated for a few days and they had to deal with the cleanup and losses that may or may not have occurred. One advantage they should have is dealing with the hot weather although this time of year cold weather teams have not been in cold weather yet. So this figures to be an interesting contest and we’ll have to see how all these intangible factors play out.
The tangibles we already know. One, the Bucs handed the Bears a major beat down last season, but most of that was due to the play of the Bears more so than Buc dominance. One, Jay Cutler had one of his worst games as a pro. So the Bucs enjoyed good field position due to Cutler’s inaccuracy and poor decision-making which included a pick 6 to former teammate Chris Conte. The defense made errors too. In the second half, the Bucs were backed up on their 1st possession all the way inside their 10-yard line. It was a third and 30 something. Bears put on a devastating rush and then rookie OLB Leonard Floyd appeared to have Winston dead to rights for what looked like would be a momentum-changing sack for a safety. Somehow Winston escaped Floyd’s grasp scrambled out of danger and chucked a wounded duck to the middle of the field to a wide-open Mike Evans for a huge gain to midfield and a third and forever conversion for the first down and from that point the route was on. Bears may be looking for a little payback for that one. On paper, the Bucs appear to have a personnel advantage over the Bears, but let’s dive into the head to head matchups between these two teams units.
Bears Passing Game Vs. Bucs Pass Defense:
On paper, the Bears appear to have an advantage on the Bucs passing defense. They ranked 22nd against the pass and didn’t really invest too heavy on the defensive side of the ball the last three seasons via the draft. Most of those guys are on the other side of the ball. They were tied for first with most 40 plus gains against with 16 and tied for 3rd most 20 plus yards were given up so they’re susceptible to the big play in the air. Sure they can put on pressure with talents like Noah Spence and Gerald McCoy playing an outside/inside game, but their DB’s are pretty small so the Bears should be able to use size against them with their TE group and bigger receivers. This is one reason why I think Tanner Gentry will be activated against the Bucs this Sunday. He’s exactly the type of receiver you want going over Vernon Hargreaves and Brent Grimes who both stand at 5’10”. Even slot receivers like Kendall Wright will have a size advantage over nickel corner Robert McClain who is only 5’9″ himself. They also have youth that can be exploited by a crafty veteran Quarterback, but whether the Bears have that in Glennon is debatable. Hargreaves is in year two coming off a very rough rookie debut season and Justin Evans is a rookie Safety. Chris Conte and Grimes give them veteran presence but both of them can be had as well. They did pick up Bronco cast off TJ Ward, but he was never really a coverage safety. More of a box safety and now in his advanced years is even more so. The x-factor will be Glennon. Will he take advantage of his knowledge of their defense or will they take advantage of their knowledge of him and take away what he does well and force him to do things he doesn’t. The offensive line will be key here. One more question. Who checks Tarik Cohen when he lines up in the slot?
Bears Running game versus Bucs Run Defense:
This is another matchup that should prove favorable for the Bears. Last season the Bucs were the 11th worst defense against the run and as I said they did not make enough impact moves in the draft or free agency to remedy that. One of the reasons for this is their defensive line is a light unit built for gap penetration and getting after the Quarterback. The Bears running game is going to be their go to this season as far as moving the offense up and down the field and maintaining possession of the ball to both keep dangerous offenses like this Bucs offense off the field and keeping the Bears defense fresh to better defend these explosive offenses they’ll face this season. In this game, it’ll especially be so as it’s supposed to be a very hot and humid day. The Bears have two dangerous backs to hand it off to and a line that run blocks as good as any. It’ll also be interesting to see if they’ll incorporate waiver acquisition, Taquan Mizzell in this game.
Bears Passing Defense versus Bucs passing offense:
This is where the Bucs make their money because it’s where the money is paid. Tamp bay has done a good job in acquiring talented weapons for Jameis Winston to throw to. It’s a pretty scary lineup of pass catchers in Wide Receivers Mike Evans, Desean Jackson, very talented rookie Chris Godwin and fellow rookie O.J. Howard. However, the job they did of assembling a good pass blocking unit was not equally so. They ranked 18th in total Offensive line ranking on NFL.com. They also allowed the 5th most Quarterback hits at 109 and tied for the 12th most sacks allowed at 35. Fortunately for the Bucs, Winston is mobile in the pocket otherwise that figure would be even higher. The Bucs also did not rank very high in total yards. Only 18th and 16th in passing offense. As a matter of fact, the Bears ranked higher in both at 15th and 16th respectively. They did rank higher in the most important category 16th in Points scored at 22.1. Still, far from prolific. They did make 3 very good additions in Jackson, Howard, and Godwin. We have yet to see how effective the rookies will be but adding a speedster like Jackson should open up things up underneath to the rest of their targets. Triggerman Winston will go downfield without fear as he is a gunslinger and gets a lot of big plays because of it. He’ll also put it in harm’s way as well so the Bears should have opportunities to get some picks today. They need to bring their hands with them.
Bears Run Defense Versus Bucs Run Offense:
The Bears run defense appears to be much improved this season with added depth to offset any losses they may have during the season. Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, and Mitch UnRein do a great job of creating a wall up front making it difficult to run inside. Backups Roy Robertson-Harris, John Jenkins, and Jonathan Bullard aren’t much of a drop-off. The Bears Outside Line Backer’s do an excellent job of setting the edge to help limit outside runs and running backs from bouncing runs outside when the middle is shut down. The ILB’s are missing arguably their best run defender in Jerrell Freeman, but Nick Kwiatkoski is a thumper himself who will fill in nicely working in tandem with Danny Trevathan. The Cornerbacks are big and physical against the run and Quintin Demps and Eddie Jackson did a great job versus the run in the season opener. On the other side of the ball, the Bucs running game is questionable at best. They ranked 24th in total rushing yards and 30th in average yards per run at 3.6. Line play and a very nondescript unit of running backs make the Bucs one-dimensional offensively and one area the Bears should exploit and be able to pin their ears back and put a devastating pass rush on to disrupt the timing of the passing game and make Winston very uncomfortable in the pocket.
Both the Bears and the Bucs were not very dangerous in punt returns as the Bucs ranked 18th and the Bears 24th. However, the Bears do have more options there now with Eddie Jackson and Tarik Cohen who averaged 15 yards a return last week. The Bucs not so much unless they do decide to use Jackson in the return game. Bears also have Pat O’Donnell who is very good at hangtime and ball placement helping out his coverage unit. In kickoff returns the Bears ranked 18th and the Bucs dead last at 32nd. Deonte Thompson is pretty capable and can break off some long ones. As for Field Goals Bears ranked 30th and the Bucs were at 23rd. Connor Barth looks more comfortable and appears to have increased leg strength as he boomed a few into the end zone for touchbacks and nailed a 54-yard field goal that had plenty of distance and could have gone in from further out.
The Bears pretty much have the advantage on all head to head matchups except the Bucs passing game on offense. This should be a Bears win, but who knows how much of an advantage the Bucs have in having game film on the Bears this season and two weeks to prepare for them. The Hurricane issue will be a toss-up as far as advantage and disadvantage go. I feel there will be neither an advantage or disadvantage. Goldman has had issues with dehydration in the past so that requires monitoring, but as I stated earlier the Bears defensive line depth is much better than last season. This one should go the Bears way. Especially if they can get pressure and hits on Winston.