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OPPONENT: Chicago Bears
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium
WHERE THE BEARS STAND: The Bears are 7-3 on the season and in first place in the NFC North division.
BEARS HEAD COACH: Lovie Smith
BEARS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Ron Turner
BEARS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Ron Rivera
BEARS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Dave Toub
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE: OVERALL: 21st (307.9 ypg) RUSHING: 17th (111.9 ypg) PASSING: 21st (T) (196.0 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE: OVERALL: 3rd (272.7 ypg) RUSHING: 5th (94.2 ypg) PASSING: 7th (178.5 ypg)
CHICAGO BEARS OFFENSE: OVERALL: 28th (263.5 ypg) RUSHING: 5th (134.0 ypg) PASSING: 30th (129.5 ypg)
CHICAGO BEARS DEFENSE: OVERALL: 1st (252.1 ypg) RUSHING: 7th (91.2 ypg) PASSING: 2nd (160.9 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW… …the Bucs have won seven of their last 11 meetings with the Bears?
SCOUTING THE BEARS
Quarterbacks Chicago’s offense isn’t pass oriented in nature. Instead, the Bears rely heavily on their potent ground attack to move the chains. However, moving the ball through the air is something Bears QB Kyle Orton has managed to do as of late.
The 6-foot-4, 223-pound Orton has great size, but he’s a rookie and isn’t the most accurate passer in the league. He’s completed just 54.9 percent of his passes for 1,389 yards and tossed eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions since replacing Rex Grossman (ankle) as the starter in Week 1.
Although he’s helped Chicago put together a six-game winning streak, Orton will not be asked to win this game for the Bears. The only way Orton will throw the ball more than 20 times is if the Bucs get a double-digit lead early.
Running Backs Former Bucs RB Thomas Jones is having an outstanding season. He’s rushed for 840 yards on 192 carries (4.4 avg.) and six touchdowns while fending off rookie RB Cedric Benson for the starting job. The Bears currently have the fifth ranked ground attack in the league.
Benson will not play Sunday due to an ankle injury, which means the Bucs No. 3-ranked defense will get a heavy dose of Jones. The Bucs proved they could contain Jones last season when they held him to just 52 yards on 13 carries. Tampa Bay will stand an excellent chance of defeating Chicago if it can have similar success vs. Jones on Sunday.
Wide Receivers Chicago’s wide receivers have struggled as a result of inconsistent play from the quarterback position.
Bears R Mushin Muhammad is the team’s leading receiver and most dangerous threat in the passing game. He’s hauled in 44 passes for 523 yards and three touchdowns. Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber is all too familiar with Muhammad from the receiver’s playing days in Carolina. Muhammad, a seasoned veteran, will find a way to get open at times, but Orton may have trouble hitting him.
Bucs CB Brian Kelly will be matched up with Bears WR Justin Gage, who has caught 16 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown. Kelly, who leads the Bucs defense with three interceptions, shouldn’t have a problem covering Gage.
Tight end Desmond Clark is a player Orton likes to utilize in the passing game. Clark has caught 19 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns this season. Tampa Bay’s defense had some trouble covering Atlanta TE Alge Crumpler last Sunday, but Clark isn’t in the same league as Crumpler in terms of talent and ability. Still, the Bucs linebackers and safeties, particularly Jermaine Phillips, must contain Clark since Orton will likely try to exploit a weakness in Tampa Bay’s secondary created by injuries to free safeties Dexter Jackson and Will Allen, both of whom are questionable for the game.
Over the past three games, Tampa Bay’s defense has allowed opposing offenses to convert 23-of-39 (58.9 percent) of their third down attempts. This game will likely be a defensive battle, which means the Bucs defense must get itself off the field as fast as possible. The good news for Tampa Bay is Chicago’s offense is converting just 30.8 percent of its third down attempts this season.
Offensive Line Chicago’s offensive line, which is made up of left tackle John Tait, left guard Ruben Brown, center Olin Kreutz, right guard Terrence Metcalf and right tackle Fred Miller, is a physical unit. They’re the main reason why the Bears have established one of the league’s better running games, which is averaging 134 yards per contest.
The O-line is anchored by Kreutz, who has been to the last four Pro Bowls and is probably on his way to another one. He and Brown will likely double team Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan, who has been extremely quick off the snap and disruptive in the trenches.
Should Hovan draw most of the double teams, Bucs under tackle Anthony McFarland will need to beat Metcalf in one-on-one matchups. This is a matchup McFarland, who is coming off a strong performance vs. Atlanta, must exploit as he appears to have a decisive advantage over Metcalf.
Tampa Bay defensive ends Simeon Rice and Greg Spires will have a tough time getting after Orton when he drops back to throw. Chicago has two of the league’s best offensive tackles in Tait and Miller. In fact, the Bears have surrendered just 18 sacks through 10 games. Rice and Spires must first concern themselves with halting Chicago’s running game, which has been effective on the perimeter.
The Bucs have the 8th-ranked run defense, but they allowed Falcons RBs Warrick Dunn and T. J. Duckett to combine for 133 yards via the ground game last Sunday. The Bucs must do a much better job of defending the run vs. the Bears if they’re going to defeat their former NFC Central rival. That means solid tackling and gap control, especially by the linebackers.
Defensive Line Chicago has the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL, and this unit’s front four has been dominate as of late.
Bears LE Adewale Ogunleye has been a terror for opposing offenses, especially when they pass. He’s recorded a team-high seven sacks, 32 tackles and five passes defensed this season. Ogunleye will go up against Bucs RT Kenyatta Walker, who has been fairly consistent this season and is coming off a strong game vs. Falcons DE Patrick Kerney.
The Bears also get pressure from their interior linemen. Under tackle Tommie Harris has notched 21 tackles, three sacks and one forced fumble. He’s be matchup up with Bucs RG Sean Mahan, who has gotten better as the season has progressed. Harris probably has an advantage here, which may prompt head coach Jon Gruden to have center John Wade help Mahan double team him in the trenches.
If Tampa Bay is going to have success running the ball it might have to do it on the left side of the line, where Chicago NT Ian Scott and RE Alex Brown will attacking from. Scott has recorded 24 tackles and Brown has 29.
Like the Bears, the Bucs will come out and attempt to get the running game going with rookie RB Cadillac Williams. Williams appeared to get back on track in Atlanta last Sunday by rushing for 116 yards and a touchdown. The Bucs offensive line must win the battle in the trenches if Williams is going to pick up where he left off, but that will be tough to do vs. the Bears defense, which ranks 7th against the run.
When Bucs QB Chris Simms does drop back to pass he’ll likely be rolled out to his left a lot since neither Scott, who has not recorded a sack this season, nor Brown, who has notched three quarterback takedowns, are considered great pass rushers.
Chicago ranks 4th in the NFL with 31 sacks. Simms hasn’t been sacked in two straight games and the Bucs would love that streak to continue vs. the Bears.
What doesn’t bode well for the Bucs is the fact that TE Anthony Becht (knee) and starting LT Anthony Davis (ankle) are both questionable for Sunday’s game. Their absence could really hinder Tampa Bay’s ability and production in max protect sets, which the Bucs have featured a lot over the past two games. Both Becht and Davis have helped to get the running game going again and protect the quarterback, and could be sorely missed since rookie Alex Smith and Todd Steussie would start in their place at tight end and left tackle, respectively.
Linebackers Chicago, which plays a defensive scheme that is similar to Tampa Bay’s Cover 2 defense, features arguably the best linebacker corps in the NFL. Like Tampa Bay LBs Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles and Ryan Nece, Chicago LBs have tremendous speed and tackling ability.
Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is the heart and soul of Chicago’s defense. He’s recorded a team-leading 74 tackles, one forced fumble and one pass defensed. One of the biggest differences between Tampa Bay’s and Chicago’s Cover 2 schemes is the Bears’ penchant for blitzing their linebackers. Urlacher is a dangerous blitzer, evidenced by the six sacks he’s notched this season and 32.5 career quarterback takedowns he’s recorded during his six-year career. The Bucs will rely heavily on fullback Mike Alstott and RBs Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman to pick those blitzes up and buy Simms enough time to release the ball. All three of those running backs could be used on screen-plays or as quick outlet receivers in the flats for Simms.
Weakside LB Lance Briggs is also an effective blitzer. He’s notched two sacks and 63 tackles this season. Briggs is better than Urlacher in pass coverage. He’s recorded one interception and six passes defensed. Briggs will make it difficult for Bucs rookie TE Alex Smith, who has been one of Simms’ favorite targets, to get open.
Simms might have better success throwing to Smith if the rookie tight end can get a matchup with Bears SLB Hunter Hillenmeyer. While he’s played well this season, Hillenmeyer doesn’t have the coveage skills that Urlacher and Briggs possess.
Secondary Tampa Bay must establish the running game early since it will be hard pressed to throw vs. Chicago’s defense, which is ranked 2nd against the pass (160.9 avg.). Chicago’s secondary has reaped the benefits of the pressure generated by the front seven.
Bears CB Nathan Vasher is coming off a two-interception performance vs. the Panthers. That outing was no fluke as Vasher has emerged as a Pro Bow-caliber cornerback. In fact, Vasher has recorded 32 tackles, six interceptions and 10 passes defensed this season. Bucs speedy WR Joey Galloway will be matched up with Vasher on Sunday. Galloway was held without a catch vs. the Falcons, but he’s still recorded a team-leading 51 catches for 862 yards and seven touchdowns. Although he’s not as fast as Galloway, Vasher might have an advantage of his own seeing as he’s quite familiar with Simms, who was his teammate at the University of Texas.
With Vasher and Chicago’s defense likely to follow Atlanta’s lead and take Galloway out of a significant amount of plays, it will be critical for Bucs WR Michael Clayton to step up big in the passing game. Clayton has struggled this season but is coming off a pretty impressive performance vs. the Falcons. Clayton will go up against Bears CB Charles Tillman, who has notched 59 tackles, three interceptions and 10 passes defensed. Tillman is Chicago’s best cover corner and will make it difficult for Clayton to get open.
Bears strong safety Mike Brown is having a Pro Bowl-type season. He’s capable of playing extremely well vs. the run and the pass, which allows defensive coordinator Ron Rivera to mix things up. Brown has notched 59 tackles, three interceptions and six passes defensed. Brown has been able to spend a lot of time playing in the box since Vasher and Tillman have been doing such a great job of covering receivers. The Bears will likely play Brown closer to the line of scrimmage in an effort to take away the Bucs’ ground attack and force Simms to win this game with his arm.
Free safety Chris Harris might be Chicago’s weakest link on defense, but that isn’t saying much since he’s actually having a pretty good season. Harris, a rookie, has recorded 49 tackles, one sack, one interception and six passes defensed. Harris is much better vs. the run and his cover skills are considered suspect. That said, Simms and Co. could attempt to exploit him in the passing game.
The Bears are allowing opposing offenses to convert just 29 percent of their third down plays this season.
Special Teams Although he’s averaging just 22.9 yards per kickoff return, Bears KR Jerry Azumah is more than capable of breaking off a long one every time he fields a kickoff. He went to the Pro Bowl in 2003 as a kickoff returner, and Tampa Bay’s special teams unit must take the right angles and tackle well in order to contain him since field position will play a huge part in this contest.
Bobby Wade doesn’t have great speed, but he’s quick enough to be perceived as a threat as a punt returner. He’s averaging 9.8 yards per return and broke off a 73-yarder for a touchdown earlier this season. Bucs punter Josh Bidwell is having an outstanding season (47.3 avg.) and needs to come up with one of his better efforts vs. the Bears.
With Sunday’s game shaping up to be a defensive struggle, field goal kicking could be the deciding factor. That could bode well for the Bucs since Bears K Robbie Gould has made just 9-of-13 (69.2 percent) of his attempts this season. He’s just 1-of-4 from 40-49 yards out. Bucs K Matt Bryant, on the other hand, has been outstanding, drilling 14-of-16 (87.5 percent) of his attempts.
One thing that would help Tampa Bay’s offense out is better production from its return game. Bucs KR Torrie Cox is averaging just 19.3 yards per attempt and PR Mark Jones is averaging 8.3 yard per try. The Bucs have had one of the league’s worst starting field positions this season, and they won’t score a lot of points if they have to drive 80-plus yards each time they have the ball.
FLYNN’S FORECAST: Buccaneers 13 Bears 10
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