We weren’t initially sure where this game was going to be held but we knew that it was going to have to be played this Sunday. Tampa Bay has already had it’s bye week used up in week 1 due to the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma. On Tuesday, we had our answer. It will be played at Raymond James Stadium as scheduled.
Let’s take a brief step away from football for a moment to keep the residents of Florida in our thoughts as this game approaches. After all, there is more to life than just football. Not only were the player’s, their families and presumably friends in the path of the storm, but many thousands of people who are not associated with the game of football were uprooted from their homes in the past week.
Like I said, I want to keep this brief and not stray too far from football but many of us have friends and/or family in Florida who were no doubt affected by this natural disaster. This is the perfect reminder that these players are human beings, just like the rest of us and despite their station in life, are likely going through some tough times.
Just something to keep in mind as we walk the plank and swing onto the galley amidst the firing of a dozen cannons. Shiver me timbers Bears fans but I have a feeling that we are going to take it these swashbuckling swine, and set them back on a course for someone else’s treasure. These Bears aren’t going to give up easily should be hungry come Sunday.
What to Watch For
On offense, we will need to see the running game established early. Dowell Loggains did an admirable job of that last week but the running game was abandoned late despite the clock still showing ample time to run. Tampa’s defense was not particularly stout against the run last season, and it doesn’t appear that they have done much to fix that.
The passing game needs to be better. I thought the protection was good, certainly good enough to win last week, and getting Kyle Long back this week will help. Despite the injuries to Meredith, White and Wheaton, the Bears receivers were consistently open last week. In reviewing the all-22 film, I counted 3 plays (out of 44 passing plays) where there was no one open. Mike Glennon is going to need to do a better job of finding the open receivers and trusting his offensive line. On far too many occasions, Glennon made up his mind on where he was going to throw the ball prior to the snap. Hopefully the time in the film room will improve that going forward.
Defensively, the Bears have a very stout run defense. With Jacquizz Rodgers being the feature tailback for the Buccaneers, the defense needs to sell out against the pass. Their offensive line is not particularly great and will give up pressure on Jameis Winston, who also has a tendency to hold the ball and see his receivers come open, instead of anticipating them. Vic Fangio needs to empty his bag of tricks up front and do whatever it takes to pressure Winston.
It is not a secret around the league that Winston will hand the ball over (18 interceptions, 10 fumbles in 2016) and give several opportunities per game to take the ball away. If there was ever a game for the Bears defense to get back on track to forcing turnovers, this is the game. Look for pressure up-front and more aggressive play from the secondary. The defense needs to set the offense up with excellent field position.
Who to Watch
Mike Glennon: Now that we have a game of his to study, there was a lot more bad than good. However, the good news is, most of what was bad is correctable. The pocket presence and athleticism aside, Glennon can be better than what he showed last week. First things first, he needs to trust his lineman and his pocket. It was evident that he was pre-determining his reads because he didn’t trust the pocket. There were several missed opportunities and negative plays because if this. If the Bears want to be a team that can score more than 17 points (without help from the defense or special teams) then Glennon is going to have to trust more. There were receivers open, his pockets were mostly clean, now he needs to deliver the ball on-time and on-target.
Jordan Howard: Somehow, the NFL’s second leading rusher from 2016 was the forgotten man on the offense. Howard is going to need to be more of a focal point of the offense, as is the running game in general, if this team is going to win. 13 carries is not enough. Howard needs the ball more, plain and simple. His size and running style can wear down any defense and that will only create more opportunities on the outside for the receivers and Tarik Cohen. Now that there is tape on Cohen, he is going to be a target. Howard is the best protection you can give this offense.
Leonard Floyd: This is the straw that stirs the drink for the defense. Floyd NEEDS to be a wrecking ball this season and there is no better time to start than against
the reigning MVP Jameis Winston. The rest of the defensive front is very important, but Floyd is absolutely crucial to the success of this team. Watch to see how Fangio moves him around and plays games up-front to try and get Floyd some free looks at Ryan Winston. Nothing really needed to change here. This is imperative for this game.
Nick Kwiatkoski: This will be Kwiatkoski’s first star of the season and his first opportunity to make all of the defensive calls. In his second season, he should have a full grasp of the defense and be able to make the necessary adjustments at the line of scrimmage. Jerrell Freeman is a heck of a football player but I am excited to see if Kwiatkoski can bring more playmaking ability to the middle linebacker position. This could be our first glimpse into the future of the position.
Keys to the Game
The Running Game: The running game will likely be one of the keys for most of the season. Until this team is capable of being a “passing offense,” the Bears will need to set everything up off of the run. Look for a bit more from Jordan Howard as the lead running back and Tarik Cohen to continue to be the bigger passing threat. The Bears rarely used play-action against the Falcons but when they did, there were receivers open. Hopefully we see more of both on Sunday.
The Pass Rush: Jameis Winston cannot get comfortable in the pocket. Frankly, the Bears front needs to be in his face consistently. I don’t believe that the Bucs are going to try and run the ball against the Bears, so stopping a potentially potent, big-play passing attack is crucial. That starts up-front with pressuring the turnover-prone Winston into making mistakes, and he will make them in bunches if pressured.
The X-Factor: The secondary needs to step up. It has been 2 full season plus one game of turnover futility. That needs to end this week. With a ballhawking free safety over the top and a potent pass-rush, the cornerbacks should play aggressively. I would trade a few big plays given up for a few big plays going back the other direction. I am looking for Quintin Demps to bounce back and Bryce Callahan to rip a ball out on Sunday. If the secondary can take the ball away, the Bears will win this game.