A look at four keys for the Bears to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
1. Continue max protection
It took Mike Martz and the Bears coaching staff six weeks before finally realizing that they could not depend on their offensive line alone to protect Jay Cutler in the passing game. Instead of sending so many receivers out in patterns, the Bears kept more players in to block for Cutler against the Vikings and the result was a much more efficient passing attack. Cutler had more time to throw and it showed early in the game when he found Devin Hester down the middle of the field for a 48-yard touchdown reception. While the Buccaneers, ranked 23rd in sacks, don’t have nearly the pass rush that the Vikings do, it makes sense for the Bears to continue to keep extra help in the form of tight ends and backs in the backfield to keep Cutler upright.
2. Focus on stopping the run
Tampa Bay running back LeGarrette Blount suffered a knee injury a few weeks ago and was not active for the team’s victory over the Saints last week. His status is in question for this week’s game as well. Without him, Earnest Graham rushed for 109 yards on 17 carries and the Bucs have the No. 15 rushing attack in the league. The Bears should focus the same attention on whomever is taking handoffs on Sunday as they did last week against Adrian Peterson. It leaves their secondary a little vulnerable, but they should force Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman to beat them through the air before they adjust and back off.
3. Protect the football
The Buccaneers upset the Saints last week largely because they were able to run the football and their defense forced four turnovers, including 3 Drew Brees interceptions. The Bears have done well this season in protecting the football and are plus-2 in the turnover ratio, ranking them 12th in the league. Minnesota, at plus-4, is the only team ahead of the Bears with a worse record. If the Bears can limit their turnovers and take away the ball from the Bucs’ offense, it’ll neutralize the kind of effect that Tampa Bay’s offense had last week.
4. Get on the board early and play with a lead
Let’s face it, the Bears are not built to win games when trailing late in the second half. Their max protection against the Vikings last week worked because they have a strong running back in Matt Forte who kept the defense honest and they were able to jump out to an early lead, which enabled them to run a balanced attack for the duration of the game. If the Bears were to fall behind and had to resort to the passing game — like they did against the Saints, Packers, and Lions — then Tampa Bay can send an array of blitzes to pummel Cutler. And if the Bears keep guys in to protect against that pressure, they just won’t have enough options downfield.