Bears vs. Buccaneers — What to Watch 4
Even with Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown out with injuries, outsmarting Tom Brady will be a challenge for the Bears’ defense. The Bears’ new-look run game faces a huge challenge vs. the Bucs’ No. 1-ranked run defense.
When the Bears beat the Buccaneers 20-19 last year at Soldier Field, Tom Brady was in his fifth game with the Bucs. Now he’s a full year into the offense and has an array of offensive weapons at his disposal — even with Antonio Brown (ankle) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (ribs) out: wide receivers Mike Evans (31-420, 13.5 avg., 4 touchdowns), Chris Godwin (34-409, 12.0 avg., 2 touchdowns) and Tyler Johnson (7-110, 15.7, no touchdowns) and tight end O.J. Howard (10-100, 10.0, one touchdown) among them.
The Bears’ secondary has a rising star in second-year cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who contained Packers standout Davante Adams last week. But the rest of their secondary has been less dependable, from second-year cornerback Kindle Vildor to a variety of nickelbacks and even veteran safeties Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson.
As was the case last week, Johnson on the No. 1 receiver can keep you in the game and give you a chance, even if he doesn’t shut him down completely. But with Brady having so many weapons, it could become problematic very quickly.
The Bears have rushed for 188, 143 and 140 yards in three games with Bill Lazor calling the plays — their 117.8 average ranks fourth in the NFL in that span.
But the Buccaneers are the No.1 rushing defense in the NFL (54.8 yards per game) and second in yards per carry (3.4). The Bears have five rushing touchdowns in the past three games. The Buccaneers have allowed three rushing touchdowns all season.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields has been a work-in-progress in four NFL starts, with barely discernable incremental progress after being sacked nine times against the Browns. Fields passed for 111 yards against the Raiders and 174 against the Packers. Now he faces a Buccaneers defense that ranks 27th in passing yards (though 14th in yards per play).
Patriots rookie Mac Jones wasn’t fazed against the Bucs in Week 4. The No. 15 overall pick completed 31-of-40 passes for 275 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for a 101.6 passer rating. And he was better in the second half (113.5) than the first (87.5). That seems like a reasonable place to set the bar.
Like Aaron Rodgers, Brady has a good memory and it’s unlikely he has forgotten not only the loss to the 20-19 Bears last season at Soldier Field, but the ignominy of losing track of the downs in the final minute of the game — or losing to Nick Foles again for that matter.
This time the Buccaneers are on long rest after playing on Thursday night in Week 6, playing at home and Brady figures to be laser-focused to atone for last year’s loss. It was only one game and it didn’t prevent them from winning the Super Bowl. But it’s Tom Brady. He doesn’t forget anything.