Bears TE Zach Miller - Photo by: Getty Images
It’s not quite like tangling with the likes of Greg Olsen, but it’s no easy task.
Chicago Bears tight end Zach Miller is enjoying a resurgence in his injury-stunted career and brings his game to town Sunday against a Bucs team that’s had its issues covering the position.
Atlanta Falcons tight ends Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo caught four of eight targets for 78 yards and two touchdowns. Two of those receptions went for explosive gains of 28 and 32 yards. A week prior, Oakland Raiders tight ends Mychel Rivera and Clive Walford combined for six catchers on seven targets for 67 yards, a touchdown, and a big gainer of 27 yards.
Miller, who actually was a Buccaneer during the 2013 offseason, is a step above all four of those aforementioned recent opponents. The 32-year-old’s seven-catch night against the Minnesota Vikings two Mondays ago bumped his reception total to a career-high 40 with eight games left to play. That’s the fourth highest total among NFL tight ends and Miller’s catches have gone for 393 yards and three touchdowns.
This is Miller’s second year actually contributing on the field with Chicago despite being signed to a futures contract at the end of the 2013 season. A litany of injuries wiped out all three of his 2012-2014 campaigns.
Speaking with the Tampa Bay media over the phone this week, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said Miller’s increased role in the offense is a development he saw coming.
“We knew kind of what we had in him when we got him,” said Cutler, who missed five straight games this year before returning for Chicago’s 20-10 Monday night win over Minnesota. “It was just a matter of fitting him into the offense and giving him opportunities. Towards the end of last year, we started kind of feeding him the ball, giving him more and more touches and he hit free agency and they were lucky enough to get him back. So, we have to keep finding a way [to get him the ball] because he is a matchup problem for most linebackers. If you look at this team in Tampa Bay, those guys can run.”
Bucs linebackers handling coverage responsibilities with consistency has been a growing issue of concern this season. First-year defensive coordinator Mike Smith addressed the topic Thursday, focusing not only on weakside linebacker Lavonte David but the entire secondary.
“We are a match defense and as we like to say, ‘If you drop a match, you start a fire,’ ” Smith said. “And you’ve seen a number of fires out there through the first eight weeks of the season. It’s very important for us as a group to learn from that. We’ve had, quote, a ‘mini-bye,’ so we’ve had an opportunity to again evaluate what we’re trying to get done and we’re going to do everything in our power to play much better defense in the second half of the season.”
A few more dropped matches against Miller and the Bears may not result in nine-catch, 181-yard raging infernos like the one sparked by giving Olsen too much open space Week 5 in Carolina. But Chicago and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains are going Miller’s way more and more, especially to move the chains. Twenty-three of Miller’s 40 receptions resulted in first downs.
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