Bears-Buccaneers Ultimate Game Preview

We break down in detail Sunday’s matchup between the Chicago Bears (4-6) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-8), including critical statistics, matchups, keys to the game and much more.

SERIES HISTORY

The Chicago Bears (4-6) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-8) will square off on Sunday at noon for the 55th time. The Bears hold a 36-18 series advantage over their former NFC Central foe.

For 25 years, the Bears and Bucs played twice annually as members of the NFC Central. During that time, Chicago went 33-15 against Tampa Bay. Since division realignment moved the Bucs to the NFC South, the series is tied at 3-3. The Bears won the most recent contest 24-18 at Wembley Stadium in London, England in 2011.

Six of the last nine meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less, with the Bears victorious in five of the six. Chicago owns a 20-6 advantage over Tama Bay at Soldier Field, although the Bucs won the last meeting 27-24 in overtime in 2008.

INJURIES

For the Bears, DE Trevor Scott (knee), LB Darryl Sharpton (hamstring) and WR Chris Williams (hamstring) will not play.

Recently signed Marc Mariani will replace Williams as the club’s punt and kick returner.

“I’ve had some time off, but I’m real excited about this opportunity,” Mariani said this week. “I feel very confident that I can go out there and help this team win.”

Questionable are OL Eben Britton (illness), CB Demontre Hurst (knee) and T Jordan Mills (ribs). If Mills misses his second straight game, Michael Ola will again start at right tackle, with Brian de la Puente at left guard.

Probable are DT Ego Ferguson (illness), WR Alshon Jeffery (hamstring), WR Brandon Marshall (ankle) and WR Josh Morgan (shoulder).

For the Buccaneers, the following players are questionable: LB Lavonte David (hamstring), RB Doug Martin (ankle), RB Charles Sims (ankle) and CB Alterraun Verner (hamstring). All four are game-time decisions.

David is Tampa Bay’s leading tackler and did not practice Thursday or Friday. Losing him would be a big blow to the Bucs’ defense.

THE CUTLER REPORT

Against the Minnesota Vikings last week, Jay Cutler completed 31 of 43 passes for 330 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Chicago’s 21-13 victory was their first win of the season when Cutler turned the ball over.

Overall, it was a solid game, yet the turnovers were both head-scratching back-foot throws into coverage. We’re heading into Week 12 and things aren’t going to suddenly change, so it appears the Bears will be forced to overcome untimely Cutler turnovers in every game going forward.

Marc Trestman did a very good job of moving the pocket against the Vikings. On rollouts and bootlegs, Cutler was very effective.

“I think every quarterback likes to move and change the passing spot and not be sitting in the same spot,” Trestman said. “We came out of the bye week and we looked at it and have done some things to allow him to do that.

“The running game certainly helps. When you can run the football it helps complement things to help you get outside the pocket and certainly it has a residual effect on the pass rush to be able to move the quarterback around, and it seems to extend plays as well. It's something we looked into, we got a little bit of it done last week and we'll continue to move forward that way.”

Cutler has always been an accurate passer on the run, so it’s surprising it took Trestman so long to utilize his quarterback’s mobility. Move the pocket also kept Cutler out of the teeth of Minnesota’s pass rush, which resulted in zero sacks. Expect to see more of that this week to counteract a penetrating Buccaneers defensive line.

“It was great,” Cutler said. “We’ve got to keep doing it. We’ve got to keep doing it in different ways, showing different looks, get off the spot as much as we possibly can because it helps with everything. It helps the pass rush, get some easy balls out to the flat, out on the outside and lets the guys run. It’s got to be something in our offense that we do more of.”

Cutlers’ 2014 Statistics

GP/GSAtt.Comp.YardsTDINTRating
Jay Cutler10-Oct3732502695211293.4

Cutler on Sunday will square off against the defense of Lovie Smith, his former head coach. Both are very familiar with each other, with Cutler practicing against Smith’s defense for four years between 2009-2012. The chess match between player and coach will be exciting to watch. Most likely, Smith will deploy plenty of his famous Cover 2, forcing Cutler to play mistake-free football on long drives.

“They’re going to keep the ball in front of them,” said Cutler. “They’re going to zone you out – not a ton of man. They’re going to rely on that front four to get the pressure, bring some pressure from time to time. So we’re just going to have to control the ball, run the ball. We’re going to be throwing into zone coverages, so find your check downs and just try and keep the chains moving.”

Smith’s Chicago defenses thrived on turnovers, yet the Bucs only have eight interceptions this season (19th in the NFL). If Cutler has a clean game, he should have success against Tampa Bay’s 30th-ranked pass defense, which could be without its best cornerback, Alterraun Verner.

Cutler’s Career Stats vs. Tampa Bay

GP/GSAtt.Comp.YardsTDINTRating
Jay Cutler2-Feb66444532278.7

HEAD-TO-HEAD MATCHUP

BEARS (NFL Rank) BUCCANEERS (NFL Rank)
21.5 (19th)Points Scored19.4 (25th)
360.8 (13th)Total Offense313.3 (28th)
101.3 (19th)Rushing Offense85.8 (28th)
259.5 (10th)Passing Offense227.5 (19th)
29.0 (32nd)Points Allowed27.9 (30th)
367.3 (19th)Total Defense384.3 (27th)
110.9 (15th)Rushing Defense118.2 (22nd)
256.4 (25th)Passing Defense266.1 (30th)
6 (26th)Turnover Ratio5 (25th)

BEARS ON OFFENSE

Matchups to Watch

G Kyle Long vs. DT Gerald McCoy

McCoy is an absolute beast. His 6.5 sacks this year are second in the NFL amongst defensive tackles, while he’s tied for the most QB hits and has the third most QB hurries by a defensive tackle, per Pro Football Focus (PFF). McCoy led all DTs in pressures last year, while his 21.0 sacks since 2012 are second most at the position.

If McCoy is able to collapse the pocket in Cutler’s face, the Bears will have a hard time moving the ball through the air.

“The 3-technique can kind of wreck your day,” said Cutler. “Pressure from the outside, you can kind of step up, chip those guys. A 3-technique or 1-technique starts getting up the middle, they can get you off your spot. That can get really difficult.

“And that’s what they do. They do a great job of getting off the ball quickly. They’ve had a few offsides penalties but for the most part they’re good about jumping the cadence, getting off the ball and forcing you off the spot. We’re going to have to be pretty firm up front with those guys.”

Kyle Long, Roberto Garza and Brian de la Puente must be stout against McCoy. It makes sense to double-team him on every play, as he devours one-on-one matchups. If Chicago’s three interior blockers struggle to contain McCoy, it’s going to be a long afternoon for Cutler.

WR Brandon Marshall vs. CB Johnthan Banks

In the past two games, Brandon Marshall has caught 15 passes for 202 yards and three touchdowns. He practiced Thursday and Friday and should be fine on an injured ankle that did not slow him down last week.

Second-year cornerback Johnthan Banks has good size (6-2, 185) to matchup with Marshall. Banks has played well this season, picking up three interceptions compared to one touchdown allowed. Opposing QBs have just a 69.5 rating when throwing at Banks, so he presents a tough challenge for Marshall.

Keys on Offense

-The Bucs have struggled to generate consistent pressure this season. Their 20 total sacks rank 20th in the NFL, yet the Bears are banged up along the offensive line. Matt Sluson is on injured reserve and Jordan Mills may also sit this one out, along with sixth man Eben Britton.

At right tackle, Michael Ola will get a heavy dose of Michael Johnson, who has 3.0 sacks this year. Ola didn’t give up a sack last week but did allow four pressures, as did Jermon Bushrod at left tackle. Chicago’s edge blockers must play better this week.

Consider this: the Bucs have 11 sacks in their two wins this season, with just nine total sacks in their eight losses. If Tampa Bay is disruptive in the backfield tomorrow, it could easily lead to a Buccaneers victory.

-The Bears last week gave running back Matt Forte a season-high 26 carries. That resulted in Chicago winning the time of possession battle by 17 minutes, giving the Bears an edge in a one-score game.

That’s a recipe Trestman needs to follow this week. Despite Cutler’s numbers against Minnesota, he did throw two bad interceptions. Keeping the ball out of his hands as much as possible will help get Forte in a rhythm and wear down Tampa Bay’s front seven.

-Lavonte David did not practice the past two days and may not play. That could lead to a big game for TE Martellus Bennett, who has just six catches for 74 yards the past two games combined.

The Bears will have to rely heavily on short and intermediate routes against Smith’s Cover 2, so Bennett’s ability to gain yards after the catch will be key. Expect Cutler to use Bennett heavily as one of his primary check down targets.

BEARS ON DEFENSE

Matchups to Watch

CB Kyle Fuller vs. WR Mike Evans

Mike Evans, Tampa’s first-round rookie out of Texas A&M, is on fire. He has three straight 100-yard receiving contests, including a seven-reception, 209-yard outing last week against the Washington Redskins. Evans is big (6-5, 231), fast and deadly on deep balls. Through nine games played, he’s emerged as one of the top downfield targets in the league (17.3 yards per catch).

Kyle Fuller is still recovering from a hip pointer and dealing with a broken hand. The injuries have slowed down the rookie the past month and he hasn’t picked up an interception since Week 3. Fuller needs a bounce-back performance on Sunday, otherwise Evans is going to go hog wild against Chicago’s secondary.

DE Jared Allen vs. LT Anthony Collins

At left tackle, Anthony Collins has struggled mightily for the Bucs this season, allowing 12 QB hurries and a team-high 10 QB hits this year, according to PFF.

Conversely, Allen is coming off his best game of the year, a five-tackle, 1.0-sack performance against the Vikings. Allen showed good burst last week and looked like his old, Pro Bowl self. If he’s actually turned the corner, he should be able to collapse the pocket against Collins.

Keys on Defense

-The Bucs are ranked 28th in rushing and their running backs are banged up. The Bears were stout against Minnesota’s run game last week and will need to do the same against Tampa Bay. The best way to beat a career journeyman quarterback like Josh McCown, who has a 6/6 TD/INT ratio this year, is to make the offense one-dimensional.

-Tim Jennings is only 5-8. Both Evans and Vincent Jackson are 6-5, meaning Jennings will be giving up nine inches in man coverage against Tampa Bay’s big wide receivers. That could cause problems in the red zone.

Expect the Bears to use a lot of zone coverage tomorrow, so as to not put Jennings on an island against the Bucs’ redwood trees. Jump balls in man coverage against one of the shortest cornerbacks in the league will not turn out in Chicago’s favor.

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.

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