This Sunday’s game is actually a pretty big early season test for both teams.
The Bears and Bucs come in at 2-1 each and each has some questions to answer and critics to silence before they can be taken seriously as contenders in their respective divisions, as well as seen among the NFL’s better teams.
In the NFC South, a strong division, the Bucs were generally seen as an also-ran or a team that might battle for third place being that the division had three playoff teams a season ago.
The Bears are also trying to establish themselves as more than just another all-defense, no-offense Chicago team that is finally out of its rebuild. Many picked them for third or fourth place behind fellow division powers Minnesota and Green Bay, as well as a surprising nine-win Detroit team from a year ago.
For Tampa Bay, it’s who is going to be the starter? It will most likely be Ryan Fitzpatrick, but he has been wildly streaky for his entire career, throwing for multiple touchdowns before devolving into multiple interception games.
For Chicago, well, it’s more what we don’t know about Mitch Trubisky. Can he show progress in this new offense? Can he get back to showing the good traits we saw last season in strong, downfield accuracy and good decision making.
Hopefully some of these questions will be answered Sunday.
SB Nation site: Bucs Nation
Game day/time/TV: Sunday, noon CT, FOX
Last week: 30-27 loss on Monday Night Football to the Pittsburgh Steelers
Bears all-time record against: 38-20
Last meeting: 29-7 Bucs win in week two last year.
In what was really the Bucs opening game after their week one match up was moved due to a hurricane, the Bears had four turnovers and were down 29-0 in the fourth quarter.
Ultimately, it was one of the first games that showed that Mike Glennon really was not going to get it done.
Historical match ups: This was once a divisional game between these squads, back in the old three division alignment NFL.
The teams met in Week 4 of the 1993 season, with the 1-2 Bears meeting the 0-3 Bucs in Tampa.
The Bears jumped out to a 28-3 lead on two Jim Harbaugh touchdown passes, a Harbaugh TD run and a Neal Anderson rush TD. Chicago went on to add four Kevin Butler field goals and had a fumble return TD to cruise to a 47-17 win.
Offense: The Buccaneers come into the game boasting one of the top offenses in the league, with plenty of big play ability.
Tampa ranks third in points scored, averaging 34 per game and rank first overall in offensive yards.
Their pass offense is way ahead of their rushing attack, with the most passing yards and second most touchdowns (11) in the league. They rank 30th in rushing yards and just 21st in the league in rushing touchdowns with only one.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, the presumed starter, leads the league with 1,230 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. He has the second-most TDs in the league, trailing only Patrick Mahomes while his four INTs is tied for second most in the league behind a five-way first place tie of QBs.
Fitzpatrick, much like his teammate Jameis Winston (3,504 yds./19 TD/11 INT last year), lives off the deep ball. Fitzpatrick leads in the league in yards per attempt (11.1) and yards per pass completion (15.8).
Catching those deep balls are receivers Mike Evans (23 rec./367 yds./3 TDs), DeSean Jackson (12/312/3) and Chris Godwin (13/171/3). Tight end O.J. Howard (11/222/1) is in the midst of breaking out as a sophomore.
Their rushing game is lacking compared to their passing. Peyton Barber leads them (43 att./124 yds./0 TD), while the 36-year-old Fitzpatrick leads them in rushing touchdowns with one and is second on the team in yards with 62. Shaun WIlson (2/15/0) and former Bear Jacquizz Rodgers (9/13/0) are also getting carries. As a team the Bucs average just 3.0 yards per carry. Barber is averaging 2.9 YPC.
This is not a dink and dunk offense, they take deep shots. They are 11th in pass attempts, yet lead the league in yards.
Defense: The Buccaneers defense ranks 31st in the league in yards allowed and is 29th in points allowed.
The units rank in near opposite of their offensive counterparts, with their pass defense ranking 31st in yards allowed, having surrendered 1,088 yards passing, seven touchdowns and only one interception.
Their rush defense ranks third in yards allowed but opponents have scored four rushing touchdowns against them, which is the fifth-most.
In the secondary, there are not many familiar names. Vernon Hargreaves and Chris Conte are on injured reserve, so rookies M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis are starting at CB along with third year pro Ryan Smith, who leads the team with 3 passes defensed. Safety Justin Evans (1 INT/2 PD/1 FR) is the other leading playmaker in the secondary.
Injury report: The Bucs listed seven players on their injury report but only designated four of them as having a practice status:
Full participation: S Jordan Whitehead (shoulder)
Did not participate: DT Beau Allen (foot)
The Bears secondary has had lapses in coverage and has given up some big plays, such as in week one and again last week on the two touchdowns allowed. Now the secondary is banged up too, with Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper nursing injuries.
Fitzpatrick has been sacked only five times but it will be imperative for the Bears to get pressure on him and rattle him. Fitzpatrick makes bad decisions when he’s rattled. If the Bears’ pass rush can get him panicked, the secondary will have chances to make plays.
On offense, the Bears need to get the run going as best as they can and get Trubisky into a rhythm early. Trubisky will have chances against a generous Bucs secondary to make plays and he will really need to make them count this week.
Any missed throw is going to be a chance for Fitzpatrick to take another deep shot downfield.
What to watch for: The Bears and Bucs are each trying to prove themselves as legitimate playoff teams and show that they aren’t the struggling teams of recent years.
This is yet another chance for Trubisky to show some growth and big play ability, especially since this is by far the worst defense he’s faced this season.
Key stats: The Bucs defense ranks 29th in redzone defense. Their offense ranks 17th.
Their offense is number four in offensive third down conversions with 46.9 percent.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is the first QB ever to have three straight 400 yard passing games. The Bears have just two such games since 1950. The last time a Bears QB threw for over 400 yards was in 1999.
The most recent opposing QB to throw for 400 yards on the Bears was Matt Stafford in October of 2015.
The Bucs offense averages 473.3 yards per game while the Bears defense averages 289.0 yards allowed per game.
Fitzpatrick has similar splits for home vs. away except in terms of TD;INT ratio (103 TD-62 INT at home vs. 81 TD-78 INT away) and W-L (33-35 at home, 24-43 on the road).
Prediction: I think the Bears can win this one, the defense can rattle Fitzpatrick into some turnovers and Trubisky will hopefully find some receivers downfield. Bears 24, Bucs 20. (To see my pick against the spread check out my post on Sports Bet Collective here, your first pick analysis is free when you sign up).
Is this game winnable for the Bears?