Scout’s eye: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The NFC North-leading Chicago Bears host the Tampa Bay Bucs Sunday at noon with the game being televised locally by FOX. This will be the toughest test yet for the 2-1 Bears as the Bucs’ offense is capable of putting up a lot of yards and scoring a high number of points. Tampa’s defense is both quick and fast and will be perhaps the best defense the Bears have faced to date this season.
Tampa Bay Offense
The offense has put up averages of 34 points and 473 yards during a 2-1 start. That is easily the most productive offense the Bears have faced so far this young season. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is having a career year, throwing 11 touchdowns against 4 interceptions.
Fitzpatrick is not the most mobile quarterback and was exposed a bit Monday night vs. the Steelers, who sacked him three times. The Bears’ pass rush — which is the most prolific in the NFL — has to be ready to put consistent pressure on Fitz. Pittsburgh showed that if Fitzpatrick is pressured, he can be prone to mistakes — threw a season-high three interceptions Monday night.
The Bucs’ ground game hasn’t been as strong as the passing game, with only 218 yards and a 3.0-yard average per carry. Their leading rusher is third-year man Peyton Barber, who is in his first season as the club’s bell cow. After Barber, the Bucs next-leading rusher is Fitzpatrick, who has a total of 62 yards on the ground — including a 17-yarder vs. Pittsburgh.
The biggest problem the Bears must contend with is Tampa’s WR corps. Mike Evans is a big, physical target and a mismatch for any secondary. Opposite Evans is speedster DeSean Jackson, who is capable of turning a short throw into a long gain.
The tight ends are O.J. Howard — who is almost like a big wide receiver — and steady Cameron Brate. No. 3 WR Chris Godwin has the talent to be very good, and he’s caught a touchdown in three consecutive games, but he has had problems with drops in recent weeks.
The problem the Bears will have in trying to defend this group is that their secondary is banged up. Starting corner Prince Amukamara came out of the Arizona game with a hamstring, and his backup Marcus Cooper is also dealing with hamstring issues. Neither player practiced Wednesday or Thursday, so it remains to be seen if they will play on Sunday. If neither can go, the next man up is rookie free agent Kevin Toliver. Toliver showed at Arizona that he is not ready for prime time, giving up a number of receptions — including a long completion after Cardinals second-round rookie Christian Kirk beat him on a double move.
With the Bears possible being less than 100 percent in the secondary, it puts an extra burden on the front seven to pressure Fitzpatrick. The Bears have not blitzed often, but that could change a bit this week. Between Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith, the Bears have gotten three sacks while seldom blitzing. I expect the latter to change.
Tampa Bay was pressured a lot vs. Pittsburgh, but their offensive line is usually very steady. The tackles are Donovan Smith (left) and Demar Dotson (right), with Caleb Benenoch and Ali Marpet at right and left guard, respectively. The center is veteran Ryan Jensen. This group has given up seven sacks, so you can bet the Bears will want their rush group led by Khalil Mack to change that stat.
Tampa Bay Defense
Between free agency and trades, Tampa Bay has tried to add firepower to their defensive line. They play a base 4-3 scheme, and there is both size and athleticism up front. The newcomers are DEs Vinny Curry — who was with the Eagles — and Jason Pierre-Paul, the former Giant. They give the Bucs far more edge pass-rush skills than they have had in the past. Inside, they are led by Gerald McCoy, who is perhaps the best 3-tech in the NFL right now. First-round pick Vita Vea would be the nose, but a calf injury initially suffered in the offseason has prevented him from making his debut.
The group is not only very good, it goes seven deep The backup DEs (Noah Spence, William Gholston) are both talented former starters. The backup DT is Beau Allen, also a former starter. This is easily the most talented D-line the Bears have faced yet and should give Chicago’s O-line all it can handle.
The Bucs’ linebackers are also talented. While no one in the group is very big, all have great speed and overall athleticism. That means if the Bears try to get matchups against Kwon Alexander, Lavonte David or Adarius Taylor, it won’t be the mismatch they think it might be. This group can stay with backs and tight ends in coverage.
Rookie WR Anthony Miller hasn’t practiced this week because of a shoulder injury that’s expected to sideline him Sunday. Assuming he can’t go, we will probably see more of former first-round pick Kevin White. On paper, the Bears receivers have an advantage over the Bucs secondary, but as we have seen so far, the Bears offense is not yet in sync.
Like the Bears, Tampa’s secondary is dealing with injuries. Starting CB Vernon Hargreaves is on IR, as is former Bear safety Chris Conte. Brent Grimes has only started one game at corner because of injury. So their secondary is in trouble. As I write this, the Bucs don’t list a starter at corner across from Grimes, but it likely will be rookie M.J. Stewart, who can be very physical, with 18 tackles but no picks.
Look for the Bears to try and exploit this group, but he Bucs will try and pressure Mitch Trubisky. The Bucs don’t blitz that often, but when they see on tape that Trubisky can have trouble reading blitzes and getting the ball out of his hand, don’t be surprised when defensive coordinator Mike Smith sends early pressure to see how Trubisky responds.
Weather isn’t usually a factor early in the season, but it could be Sunday. The forecast calls for some rain and a high of just 59 degrees. That isn’t cold for us, but it will be for players coming from Florida. I see this as a close game, and with the Bucs having a short week and going on the road, I don’t think their offense will be as explosive as it has been. I like the Bears, 24-21.