FAB 3. Bears Are A Different Animal And A Dangerous Foe
After Tampa Bay’s hot, 2-0 start, I felt compelled to go back and revise my 2018 season predictions for the Buccaneers. I had the Bucs starting off 2-2 in my original forecast, but revised it to a 3-1 start by changing my pick in the Bucs vs. Steelers game to a win by the Bucs.
Tampa Bay should have won on Monday Night Football and did more to beat itself with turnovers and missed opportunities than anything Pittsburgh actually did. I thought the Bucs were actually the better team and would win six or seven times if the teams played 10 games against each other.
While I changed my pick for the Steelers game, I kept my pick for the Bears game. I’m sticking with my forecast that Tampa Bay loses in Chicago. For the team’s sake and the sake of Bucs fans everywhere I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t like a couple of key match-ups in this game.
First of all, the Bears represent a totally different animal for the Bucs this week. Whereas Tampa Bay faced three proficient passers in New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Philadelphia’s Nick Foles, the Super Bowl MVP, and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger to start the season, this week the team faces a much less accomplished quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky, who has completed 72-of-104 passes (69.2 percent) for 591 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Bears will be the first opponent the Bucs will have faced that is fully committed to establishing the running game. Chicago hasn’t run the ball the way it would have liked to start the season and will try to get Jordan Howard on track against Tampa Bay. Howard has 53 carries for 178 yards (3.4 avg.) and one touchdown, while change-of-pace back Tarik Cohen has 86 yards on 14 carries (6.1 avg.).
Both Cohen and Howard are dangerous out of the backfield with Cohen grabbing seven passes for 48 yards and Howard catching 10 passes for 78 yards.
“They’ve got two really good running backs in Howard and Cohen,” said Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith. “They’ve got guys that can catch the ball on the outside, but they are going to attack us with the run. This is probably going to be one of the best teams thus far that we’ve played in terms of running the football. They’ve got Howard, who is a big strong guy. They’re very different in terms of their physical make-up. Cohen is a guy that will move out in the slot receiver position – catch some short passes and let him use his athleticism.
“It’s going to be important that we’re gap-sound. We were not as gap-sound as we needed to be at the end of the game on Monday night, so we’re going to have to be gap-sound so they don’t run through us and through the middle of our defense with Howard. And then we’ve got to make sure that we can contain and keep Cohen bottled up.”
The Bears will test the middle of the Bucs defense where injuries have taken their toll at the defensive tackle position. Reserve Mitch Unrein is on injured reserve with a severe concussion, starting nose tackle Beau Allen is out with a foot injury and Vita Vea, the team’s first-round pick, only returned to practice last week from a calf injury that forced him to miss most of training camp, all of the preseason and the team’s first three games of the regular season.
The Bucs had just two defensive tackles on the 46-man roster on Monday night in Gerald McCoy and newcomer Jerel Worthy with defensive ends Will Gholston and Jason Pierre-Paul moving inside to play some defensive tackle to help out with depth. McCoy injured his biceps in the loss to the Steelers, so it’s of great importance that Vea sees his first NFL action on Sunday at Chicago to help slow down the Bears’ ground game.
“He’s a really big kid and he’s coming along very nicely with what he wants to do and the coaches are pretty pleased with him,” Worthy said of Vea. “If we get him and Beau back, we can really solidify our defensive line. It’s going to be great for us. We definitely get a chance to solidify a good rotation and bring a young guy along with an already good room of good veterans. I’m still new here so it’s fun for me to continue to learn from a lot of guys but we have a lot of good playmakers around us and [Vea] has no option but to get better playing in a room with us.”
Trubisky, who is in his second NFL season, is not a good enough quarterback to carry the Bears offense right now, especially as he is still learning Matt Nagy’s offense. Chicago’s game plan will feature a heavy dose of Howard and Cohen running to the right quite a bit, targeting small cornerback Brent Grimes, who is not a great tackler in the run game.
The Bears also want to play “keep away” from the Bucs’ potent, high-scoring offense and limit the amount of possessions Tampa Bay will have by controlling the clock. Chicago has not scored more than 24 points this season and can’t afford to get into a shootout with Tampa Bay.
“They are taking the philosophy of ‘Let’s keep it out of the other offense’s hands,’” Smith said. “I would think this week that would be something they would probably want to do, especially with the way our offense has been playing offensive football. They’ve been doing a great job. The more time they can keep them on the sideline the better chance they probably feel they have to win. It’s going to be our job this week to do a good job of controlling their run game.”
The Bears defense also poses a significant challenge for the Bucs offense, which allowed three sacks last week to Pittsburgh, which features a blitzing 3-4 defense. Chicago’s 3-4 scheme is a bit different and its personnel is even more dangerous. The Bears lead the league in sacks with 14, and have five interceptions, which is tied for second in the NFL.
Pro Bowl outside linebacker Khalil Mack was acquired in a blockbuster trade with Oakland and is playing like one of the 1985 Chicago Bears defenders with four sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one interception and one touchdown. Defensive end Akiem Hicks, a 6-foot-5, 332-pound monster, has two sacks and two forced fumbles, while 6-foot-7, 294-pound defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris has one sack.
Eddie Goldman, the Bears’ 6-foot-4, 322-pound nose tackle, has one sack, draws double teams and helps free up inside linebackers Danny Trevathan (two sacks, one forced fumble) and Roquan Smith (one sack) to blitz. Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, the Bears’ first-round pick in 2016, has 11.5 sacks in his first two years in the league, but has yet to get a sack this season and will look for his first against Tampa Bay on Sunday.
I don’t like the match-up between Mack, who is playing on another level this year, and right tackle Demar Dotson, who is not playing as well as he did last year. The Bucs could exploit some weaknesses in Chicago’s secondary if Ryan Fitzpatrick has time to throw the ball. But against the Bears’ blitzes – that’s a big if.
“Dot is a very prideful man and very serious about his craft,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said. “He’s got a challenge this week and I’m sure he’ll be up for it.”
Chicago is tied for eighth in scoring defense, allowing only 18.3 points per game, while Tampa Bay’s scoring offense is third in the NFL with an average of 34 points per game. While the Bucs have the top-ranked offense, averaging 473 yards per game, the Bears’ stingy defense is only allowing 289 yards of total offense.
Something has got to give on Sunday. If the Bears can run the ball against the Bucs – like I think they will – and if Mack and the Bears front seven can get to Fitzpatrick and sack him or force errant passes that get picked off – like I think they will – Tampa Bay could very well be 2-2 heading into the bye week. I just don’t like some of the match-ups in this game and believe they favor Chicago.
The Bears are 2-1 with their only loss coming at Green Bay, 24-23. Chicago beat Seattle, 24-17, and won at Arizona 16-14. I think they’ll win in another very close game on Sunday.