Bears vs. Buccaneers: What to Watch 4

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Bears head coach Matt Nagy (left) and quarterback Mitch Trubisky talk during training camp in August. (Brian O’Mahoney/Chicago Sun-Times)

Key matchup

Quarterback Mitch Trubisky is off to a slow start in what the Bears hope will become a breakthrough season. In fact, his 77.9 passer rating through three games (72-of-104, 591 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions) is lower than his first three starts in Dowell Loggains’ offense as a rookie last season (79.2 — 24-of-48, 348 yards, two touchdowns, one interception).

Coach Matt Nagy seemed to acknowledge that the idea of force-feeding Trubisky with a complicated offense is not paying dividends, and the Bears are expected to simplify things this week. The timing might be right against a Buccaneers defense that ranks 31st in total defense, 29th in yards allowed per play, 31st in passing yards per play, 29th in interceptions per pass play, 24th in sacks per pass play and 29th in points allowed.

The Bears are 26th in total offense, 30th in yards per play, 28th in passing yards and 18th in points.

“We know right now offensively we’re not where we want to be,” Nagy said, “but we’re not in any type of panic mode because we understand that part of the process, but we’re going to do everything we can to try to get better.”

Trending

Through three games, the Buccaneers’ offense leads the NFL in total yards (473.3 per game), yards per play (7.5) and net passing yards (400.3). Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 417 yards against the Saints, 402 yards against the Eagles and 411 against the Steelers. He’s the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for 400 or more yards in three consecutive games.

“What gets lost in it a little bit is who they’ve put it up against,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “They’ve put it up against three teams that most people had in their bucket as Super Bowl contenders and they’ve played really, really well, set some records. They’re throwing it around and moving the ball on offense really, really good.”

Player to watch

Newly acquired outside linebacker Khalil Mack has had a devastating impact in his first three games.

But it’s his infectious, contagious, osmotic impact that is taking the defense to another level.

As teams attempt to neutralize Mack, it could create even greater opportunities for defensive end Akiem Hicks, linebackers Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan and Leonard Floyd and nose tackle Eddie Goldman among others.

X-factor

Running back Jordan Howard hasn’t been a big factor this season. He has rushed for 178 yards on 53 carries (3.4 average) with four carries of 10 yards or more (he had eight through three games last year) and 30 carries of three yards or less. Though all eyes are on Trubisky, more production from Howard figures to be part of any offensive surge.

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