With the 3-1 Buccaneers traveling to Chicago for a Thursday Night Football game against the 3-1 Bears there won’t be an SR’s Fab 5 column on Friday. Instead, I’ll be posting my post-game column, 2-Point Conversion, on Friday morning.
With Tampa Bay having a quick turnaround with the Thursday night game, I decided to pull my 4 Match-ups To Watch section out of Fab 4 and present it to you on Wednesday as a preview of the Bucs vs. Bears contest.
Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting vs. Bears WR Darnell Mooney
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While all eyes will be on the marquee match-up between Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson and Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis III, the match-up that may have more of an impact on the game will be Murphy-Bunting vs. Mooney, a rookie receiver who ran a 4.38 at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. The Bucs liked Mooney coming out of Tulane where he averaged 16.7 yards per catch and finished his Green Wave career with 19 touchdowns. Mooney is the second-leading receiver in Chicago with 20 catches for 145 yards and one touchdown. He wound up scoring the game-winning TD against the Giants in Week 2 and had his most productive day against the Colts last week with five catches for 52 yards.
Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Murphy-Bunting really struggled in coverage last week, allowing seven catches on all seven targets for 137 yards and two touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus. Murphy-Bunting wasn’t at 100 percent due to a groin injury that forced him to miss most of the Broncos game in Week 3. Look for the Bears to test Murphy-Bunting’s speed by putting Mooney and Anthony Miller, who is averaging 14.8 yards per catch and has two TDs this season, in the slot to try to out-run him vertically down the seam like Chargers receiver Jalen Guyton did for a 72-yard score last Sunday. Advantage: Push
Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul vs. Bears LT Charles Leno, Jr.
Leno was off to a hot start to the season as a pass protector and has a 77.5 pass blocking grade from PFF through for games. But the 6-foot-3, 306-pound Leno struggled last week against Indianapolis, allowing three pressures, including one sack, one hit and one hurry and that earned him a 47.8 pass block grade versus the Colts. Leno will face a big test this week with Pierre-Paul, who saw his consecutive game streak with a sack end at five – dating back to last year – on Sunday against the Chargers.
Bucs OLB Jason Pierre Paul – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Pierre-Paul bottomed out with a 48 overall PFF grade, including a 48.1 pass rush grade versus Los Angeles. JPP notched just one tackle and one hurry in a sub-par game. Pierre-Paul did miss some practice time with a knee injury this week, so perhaps that injury affected his play. Pierre-Paul will want to rebound on national television and get back in the sack column. The 6-foot-5, 270-pound edge rusher will want to atone for last week’s performance and he’ll take it out on Leno on Thursday night with a big game. Advantage: Pierre-Paul
Bucs RG Alex Cappa vs. Bears DT Akiem Hicks
Surprise! Khalil Mack doesn’t lead Chicago in sacks. Hicks is off to a hot start with 3.5 sacks this season and is tied for the team lead with inside linebacker Roquan Smith for tackles for loss with five. Hicks had one of the Bears’ four sacks the last time the Bucs played in Chicago, which was a 48-10 annihilation of Tampa Bay, and he’ll give Cappa fits all day. The 6-foot-5, 332-pound Hicks is the Bears’ fourth-leading tackler this year 18 stops in addition to five hits and seven hurries to go along with those 3.5 sacks.
Bears DT Akiem Hicks – Photo by: Getty Images
Cappa has beefed up this offseason and added some needed size and strength, which he’ll need to do battle with Hicks, who is a real load. Cappa has seen his overall PFF grade drop each week since he earned a 73.1 against New Orleans in Week 1. Last week against Los Angeles, Cappa posted a 61.8 PFF grade and allowed two hits and one hurry versus the Chargers. However, Cappa has just one penalty this year and hasn’t allowed a sack. Thursday night in Chicago will present Cappa’s biggest test of the year. Advantage: Hicks
Bucs RT Tristan Wirfs vs. Bears OLB Khalil Mack
While Hicks leads the Bears with 3.5 sacks, Mack has just 1.5 sacks this season. After posting four straight double-digit sack seasons in Oakland (2015-17) and Chicago (2018), the five-time Pro Bowl edge rusher totaled just 8.5 sacks last season, but he did force five fumbles. Yet Mack had just 14 QB hits in 2019, which was his lowest total since notching 12 as a rookie in 2014. Despite the lack of sacks, Mack is playing at an elite level with a 92.1 PFF overall grade, including a 90.7 pass rush grade. Mack has just two QB hits this year, but already has 18 hurries.
Bears DE Khalil Mack – Photo by: Getty Images
Wirfs has had an incredible start to his NFL career and hasn’t allowed a sack in his first four games against top-notch opponents like New Orleans’ Cameron Jordan in Week 1 or Los Angeles’ Joey Bosa last Sunday. Wirfs has earned a 73.7 PFF overall grade and a 76 pass block grade through the first four weeks. If Wirfs, who has given up just eight pressures and committed only two penalties, holds Mack at bay on Thursday night his PFF grades will surely go up. It might be seem crazy that Mack won’t get the advantage in this match-up, but that’s how good Wirfs has been so far. Advantage: Push
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org