The Chicago Bears are above .500 and it feels so good! If they want to stay that way though, they are going to have to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field. That Bucs offense has put up some outrageous numbers through the first 3 weeks of the season, but then again, they haven’t faced a defense like the Bears yet.
If we look at the early season DVOA—provided by Football Outsiders—for both teams, this seems to be a strength-on-strength match-up. The Bears defense currently ranks 1st while the Bucs offense ranks 5th. On the other side of the coin, the Bears offense is all the way down at 27th and will be taking on the 29th-ranked defense of the Bucs. Needless to say, something will have to give here.
So far through 3 weeks, the Bears seem to have the slight advantage and this is what I will be watching for:
What to Watch For
On offense, it’s all about getting back to basics. Both head coach Matt Nagy and quarterback Mitch Trubisky had similar things to say in their press conferences on Wednesday. If you missed it, the basic premise is getting back to basics. Nagy admitted that there are plays that he ran in Kansas City that simply aren’t working here and plays that didn’t work there, that are working here.
Another thing I took away from the press conference is that the other 10 players on offense are struggling to digest the full playbook as well. If they weren’t “blowing smoke,” then we should expect to see a lot of the RPO’s, crossing routes, bi or tri-level route combinations with Trubisky on the move (bootlegs/roll-outs), and getting back to more spread concepts (shotgun/outside zone) in the running game. This is something that I noticed right from the beginning and have been clamoring for since the second half of the Green Bay game. Good on them for recognizing it and (hopefully) fixing it!
I would expect a simpler game plan than we have seen so far this year, but don’t confuse that with “dumbing it down,” because that won’t be the case. The fact of the matter is there are plays in this offense that everyone knows better than other plays. When everyone knows exactly what they are doing, they can play fast. So all those fun, but not overly complicated, plays we saw in the preseason when Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray were in the game, look for those on Sunday.
Defensively, it all comes down to pressure. In the first 2 games of the season, the Bucs offense didn’t face much pressure and lit up the stat sheet. For those who watched the Monday night game last week, you saw the Steelers get home in the first half with both the front-4 (or 5) and with the blitz. When that happened, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick—who I fully expect to start—was easily flustered and threw up some nice “duck and chucks.”
The Steelers defense has been pretty putrid so far this season and their secondary is a mess. If they were able to make Fitzpatrick throw the ball up for grabs on at least 6 occasions—3 of which resulted in an interception—in that game, what will he do with Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Leonard Floyd, and company hot on his tail? My guess is that this will be another game where he puts the ball in harms way multiple times.
Where Fitzpatrick really struggled is when the Steelers were playing zone coverage. With a virtually non-existent running game, I would expect to see the Bears play a lot of zone coverage looks this week. The way that the secondary has seemed to find its groove in the interception department, plus the fact that the Bears have 2 solid-to-good coverage linebackers in Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith, and you got yourself a potential recipe for disaster for Fitzpatrick and the Bucs’ offense.
That’s what I will be watching for on Sunday afternoon, what about you? The Bears were a hot mess at times in Arizona, but if they can get back to basics and put pressure on the quarterback, I think it might just be time for the Fitz-magic to run out.
Check out my ‘which players to watch for’ as soon a sit goes live right here.