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BUCS’ OPPONENT: Chicago Bears
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium
SPREAD: Bucs by 7
WHERE THE BEARS STAND: The Bears are 1-4 and in last place in the NFC North Division.
BEARS HEAD COACH: Lovie Smith
BEARS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Terry Shea
BEARS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Ron Rivera
BEARS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Dave Toub
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE:
OVERALL: 24th (291.4 ypg)
RUSHING: 30th (76.7 ypg)
PASSING: 17th (214.8 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE:
OVERALL: 4th (282.7 ypg)
RUSHING: 21st (124.5 ypg)
PASSING: 4th (158.2 ypg)
CHICAGO BEARS OFFENSE:
OVERALL: 26th (283.6 ypg)
RUSHING: 14th (122.8 ypg)
PASSING: 29th (160.8 ypg)
CHICAGO BEARS DEFENSE:
OVERALL: 25th (359.2 ypg)
RUSHING: 29th (139.6 ypg)
PASSING: 20th (219.6 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW…
…the Bears produced just a 1-7 record on the road in 2003?
The Chicago Bears aren’t known for having a potent offense. In fact, their offense ranks 26th overall and is without a solidified quarterback position. Bears second-year QB Rex Grossman was lost for the entire year earlier in the season when he injured his knee. Since then, QB Jonathan Quinn has taken over but has had little success as the Bears’ starting signal caller. Quinn has completed just 52.9 percent of his passes for 280 yards and has tossed one touchdown and one interception. He’s a big reason why the Bears are completing just 26.8 percent of their third down attempts this season. Because Quinn has struggled so much, the Bears had rookie QB Craig Krenzel split first-team reps with Quinn in practice this week. While Quinn will likely start against Tampa Bay, don’t be surprised if Krenzel gets into the game if Chicago gets off to a slow start offensively.
Chicago’s ground game is carried by former Tampa Bay running back Thomas Jones, who has rushed 103 times for 458 yards (4.4 avg.) and scored four touchdowns this season. Jones is quick to the hole and at his best when running north and south. In addition to his running skills, Jones is Chicago’s leading receiver with 23 catches for 178 yards. Tampa Bay’s run defense is ranked 21st in the NFL, but if defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s troops can contain Jones, the Bucs will stand a great chance of completely shutting down the Bears’ offense and winning this game.
The Bears’ offensive line has allowed 14 sacks this season, but this unit is very effective via the ground game. The Bears signed left guard Ruben Brown, who is listed as questionable with a knee injury, and right tackle John Tait, during the offseason in an attempt to upgrade to O-line, and it’s worked. The presence of Tait and G Mike Gandy has Bears offensive coordinator Terry Shea calling a large percentage of Jones’ running plays to go to the right side.
The Bears will have to establish the running game to have a chance of beating the Bucs Sunday because Quinn is struggling and their wide receiving corps just aren’t a talented group. Chicago traded away WR Marty Booker during the offseason, which left David Terrell as the team’s No. 1 receiver. But Terrell hasn’t lived up to his first-round draft status from a few years ago and has caught just 17 passes for 277 yards. When the Bears do manage to get into the red zone, the Bucs defense must account for fullback Bryan Johnson, who has hauled in two touchdown passes this season but is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game with a knee injury.
Chicago’s defense is the strength of its team, but that’s not saying much since the Bears currently rank 25th overall in that department and are allowing 359 yards of offense per game this season.
Although Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera’s group ranks 29th against the run, don’t assume that Bucs head coach Jon Gruden will automatically come out running the ball Sunday. Tampa Bay has produced over 300 yards of total offense over the past two games, and quarterback Brian Griese and rookie wide receiver Michael Clayton have been a big part of the offensive attack. That said, look for Griese and Clayton to lead the attack against Chicago’s depleted secondary, which is without safeties Mike Brown and Bobby Gray, and cornerback Charles Tillman. Gruden will, however, likely mix in running back Michael Pittman and fullback Mike Alstott since the Bucs are without WR Charles Lee (knee). Some good running plays will also help Griese in terms of play-action passes and naked bootlegs.
Chicago head coach Lovie Smith, who served as a linebackers coach in Tampa Bay from 1996-2000, has intsalled his own version of Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s 4-3, Cover 2 defense. Although his defense is struggling, Smith has built it around one of defense’s most talented players in middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. The 6-foot-4, 254-pound Urlacher is a great athlete and surprisingly quick for his size. He’s excellent in dropping back into pass coverage, but Urlacher’s play against the run has left much to be desired this season. Since Chicago’s defensive front four isn’t doing a great job of getting to the quarterback, Smith and Rivera like to use Urlacher on blitzes. He has notched two sacks this year. Pittman, who did an excellent job of picking up blitzes in the backfield on Monday night in St. Louis, will have to fare well in that area again on Sunday.
The Bears will likely be without their best defensive lineman on Sunday. Left defensive end Adewale Ogunleye is listed as doubtful for the game against the Bucs with a knee injury. Chicago traded WR Marty Booker to Miami in exchange for Ogunleye earlier this year, and he’s since been the Bears’ best pass rusher, notching one sack. With Ogunleye likely out, first-round pick Michael Haynes will probably start in his place. Bears under tackle Tommie Harris leads the defensive line with 1.5 sacks, and with both he and Haynes on the left side, Gruden could opt to attack the right side of Chicago’s defensive line, where NT Tank Johnson and RE Alex Brown haven’t fared well against the run and have failed to produce a solid pass rush this season.
Although their secondary is without some key contributors, the Bears still have SS Mike Green, who leads the team in picks with two, and CB R.W McQuarters. Look for Gruden to call plenty of plays that will allow Griese to pick on rookie CB Nathan Vasher, who could be charged with the difficult task of covering Clayton, who has hauled in a team-leading 31 passes for 443 yards and one touchdown through six games this season. As poorly as the statistics suggest Chicago’s defense is playing, the Bears are only allowing opponents to convert 33.8 percent of third third down attempts.
BEARS SPECIAL TEAMS:
Chicago has one of the NFL’s most dangerous return specialists in CB R.W. McQuarters, who has returned 13 punts for 153 yards (11.8 avg.) and has a long of 56 this season. McQuarters and Bernard Berrian, who is averaging 24.9 yards per kickoff return, will likely return kicks against the Bucs.
Bears kicker Paul Edinger, who has been reliable over the past several years, has struggled this season, making just 5-of-8 field goal attempts. Punter Brad Maynard, however, is doing a fine job, evidenced by his 45.1 average and nine punts pinned inside the 20-yard line.
Tampa Bay has played better than its 1-5 record would suggest over the past two games. However, Chicago is playing like a 1-4 football team. Both teams are struggling, but the Bucs picked up some momentum offensively last Monday in St. Louis and their defense should be able to shut down the Bears offensive attack as long as they contain RB Thomas Jones, who might be out to prove something to his former team, which opted not to re-sign him during the offseason.
The Bucs have an advantage in all three phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams. That, along with the fact that the Bucs aren’t good enough to overlook a team like the Bears, has to make one believe that the Bucs can and will win this contest.
FLYNN’S PICK: Buccaneers 20 Bears 6
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