Bears offense vs. Buccaneers defense
We’ve seen this script before. The Bears enter a game against a physical opponent who likes to run the football and try to stop the run. To counter it, the Bears have to play equally physical and take control of the clock. Expect to see a heavy dose of Matt Forte and Kevin Jones as they try to pound the ball down the Buccaneers’ throats. Tampa Bay is 15th against the run and 23rd against the pass, which means, if the Bears run the ball effectively early in the game, that could open up playaction and a few big plays as the game progresses. Even minus Devin Hester, the Bears offense will play about the same as they have the last two games. I’d prefer to see them resemble the team we saw in the first six quarters of action rather than the latter two. The Buccaneers have three defensive players listed as questionable on the injury report: defensive end Gaines Adams, linebacker Derrick Brooks, and cornerback Aqib Talib.
Bears defense vs. Buccaneers offense
The Bears defense is 8th against the run and 11th against the pass, so, needless to say, they’re playing stout defense. The Bucs’ offense, meanwhile, loves to run the football and they’re pretty good at doing so, ranking 7th in the league in rushing. Earnest Graham has 207 yards on 25 carries for an 8.3 average. Warrick Dunn has amassed 103 yards on 21 carries for a 4.9 average. Expect both of those averages — particularly Graham’s — to plummet this week. Bucs’ guard Davin Joseph is listed as out for this game, meaning Tommie Harris will go up against rookie Jeremy Zuttah. The matchup doesn’t seem fair and I expect Harris — who has had an uncharacteristically slow start to his season — to break out with a big performance in this game. And for that matter, I expect the entire defensive line to give Brian Griese trouble all day. Griese will be without Joey Galloway, who is out for this game, limiting his receiving options to Ike Hilliard, Alex Smith, Antonio Bryant, and John Gilmore. Those names don’t exactly instill fear in a hungry defense playing in its home opener.
Tampa Bay has good special teams coverage, a steady kicker, and a savvy punter. Sound familiar? It’s much like the Bears. With or without Devin Hester, the Bears are a force on special teams thanks to the guru, Dave Toub. I was concerned about Brad Maynard’s short punts last week, so I hope to see the ball come off his foot a little better this week. I’m not concerned about kickoff returns, but I wonder what the punt returns will look like if Hester is not playing. Do the Bears activate rookie Earl Bennett, and if so, can he catch — and hold on to — the ball? In a physical, ball control game, the importance and value of special teams and field position shoots through the roof, and I like the Bears’ advantage in this one.
It’s Week 3 of the NFL season and every team has played at least one home game with the exception of the Bears. Predicted by many to lose both games — and look bad while doing so — the Bears have come out and played six solid quarters of football followed by two mediocre ones. The defense is still healthy and intact and the offense, while lacking playmakers outside Forte, can play steady enough to win a game as long as they protect the football. Inspired by the “fourth phase”, the Bears will come out and play more physical than the Buccaneers, make life hectic for Griese, and send the Buccaneers home with a loss.
Final Score: Chicago 20, Tampa Bay 17