Bears vs. Buccaneers preview: What do the numbers say?
The Bucs open the season agains the Bears tomorrow.
Due to hurricane Irma, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were forced to swap their week one game to week eleven, and play the Chicago Bears in week two as a season opener. So for this first By the Box Preview, I will use the Bucs’ 2016 stats. The Bucs are returning the same coaching staff, thus the philosophies should remain similar, and the production should as well.
The Bears took on the most prolific scoring offense from last year with the Atlanta Falcons in week 1, who scored 33.8 points per game. Chicago was two touchdown drops away from securing a win against the NFC champions. Limiting the Falcons to 23 points is an amazing feat. A prominent factor to this limited score was that the Bears thwarted two out of three attempts in the red zone. One other factor was subduing Atlanta’s running game. Last year, the Falcons ran for 120.5 yards per game. This year, they fell to 64 yards against the stingy Bears defense.
Hurricane Irma has delayed the Bucs’ debut an extra week, but also displaced the team to different cities. There are tales of long drives away Tampa such as right tackle Demar Dotson’s 18 hour endeavor with his wife and little girl. I would expect rust for this game. The first team offense has not seen any action since the third pre-season game, or three weeks.
Without suspended running back Doug Martin, the Bucs will have to rely on Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, and Peyton Barber. Sims is back healthy and will probably remain as the 3rd down running back. The Bucs offensive line has two changes in it as well with Ali Marpet moving to center and 2016 free agent JR Sweezy making his debut in 2017 as a right guard. Both of those players are known road graders, but they will be facing a Bears defense that virtually shut down the Falcons’ run game.
The Bucs should be able to throw the ball against the Bears’ defense. Chicago’s secondary had some lapses in covering tight ends. The Falcons’ Austin Hooper, earned 128 yards and 1 touchdown in the air from only two passes. From the chart, it follows that the Bears are willing to give up yards through the air.
In the off-season, the Bucs hauled in a slew of great receiving talent with WR DeSean Jackson, WR Chris Godwin, and TE OJ Howard. Howard is more athletic than Atlanta’s Hooper and the Bucs should be willing to expose the deficiency in the Bears’ secondary. Also, the Bears secondary has developed an ineptness to tackle.
What happened last year: The Bucs couldn’t run, but they were able to pass against the Bears for the win.
The Bears offense’s bread and butter comes from their run game. Last year, RB Jordan Howard finished the season second overall in total yards rushing. This year, the Bears added a lightning bolt of a 3rd down back in Tarik Cohen. The Bucs had that type of duo in their backfield in 2015, when both Doug Martin and Charles Sims had high productions.
In 2016, the Bucs’ Achilles heel was the inability to stop the run. This year, they hope to stifle the run game with the addition of DT Chris Baker, which means DT Clinton McDonald will be playing in a reserve and rotational role. Tampa did not replace a run stuffer, but rather added another one to the defensive line. The Bucs will need their defensive line to show up or the Bears will play the run game all game to victory.
Although the Bucs do give up a lot of yards through the air, the Bears will try not to get into a shootout with the Bucs and will avoid throwing into areas where a turnover is likely to occur. The Bears lost their top two receivers for the season, Cameron Meredith in the pre-season and Kevin White in the first game. Their most targeted receiver is running back Tarik Cohen. I expect the same game plan against the Bucs.
There will be some concern about covering Cohen for the Bucs as game day nears. Recently, middle linebacker Kwon Alexander has been reported with an illness and is questionable for the game. His backup will not possess the same athleticism nor speed of play and the Bucs will need to alter their game plan if he can’t go.
What happened last year: The Bucs produced four turnovers, two fumbles and two interceptions. One of those interceptions was returned for a touchdown. All four turnovers occurred in the first half of the game and kept the Bucs in the game as the Bucs offense also struggled. 14 points were scored off of turnovers by the Bucs’ defense in the first half.
Rust is the enemy for the Bucs in this game. I think they will probably struggle to find a rhythm in the first half of the game, but, fortunately, the Bears are lacking talent at receiver. The Bucs must also hope that MLB Alexander recovers before game time or stopping the run might become a little more difficult to accomplish.
Although Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith recalled QB Mike Glennon tearing up the defense during practice, Glennon does not have Koetter’s playcalling abilities. Glennon will be told to play a safe game and not get forced into a shootout because the Bears lack talent in receiving.
The antithesis of Glennon is Jameis Winston. With the Bears nearly pulling off a win against last year’s NFC Super Bowl representative, Chicago will try to implement the same process in Tampa. Atlanta’s QB Matt Ryan did not throw an interception, but Winston does have that propensity to throw interceptions despite becoming more accurate in passing.
I want to say the Bucs will win in a blow out fashion with its new receiving weapons, but the Bears stifled the Falcons, who are a more established offense than the Bucs. Also, the Bucs struggle in the Red Zone during pre-season is a concern. So this game might resemble the Falcons-Bears game, which means the Bucs will eke out a win.
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