Matchups to Watch: Bears Offense vs. Buccaneers Defense
Barrett Ruud is growing into one of the best middle linebackers in football, and he doesn't miss many tackles. SLB Cato June is great in coverage and has become a solid run defender, even though he's more suited to the weak side. WLB Derrick Brooks is banged up but started last week, making three tackles. The Bears could try and run at Brooks this Sunday in an attempt to take advantage of the fact that the 14-year veteran is less than 100 percent.
WR Brandon Lloyd vs. CB Ronde Barber: Lloyd has quickly established himself as Kyle Orton's go-to receiver, although that's not saying very much and only proves how destitute the Bears are at the position – he caught a grand total of two balls this past season in Washington. But Lloyd did come through with five catches in Week 2 and also produced the only big play down the field in the passing game, but he'll have his hands full Sunday. Barber is one of the best in the business and has been for a very long time, and he certainly has the ability to make just about any wideout disappear.
There could be even more pressure on Lloyd to stretch the field vertically since Devin Hester will likely be in street clothes, which may be a tall order since he's not known for his speed.
Matchups to Watch: Buccaneers Offense vs. Bears Defense
Penn (6-5, 305 pounds) was an undrafted first-year player when the Bucs signed him in 2006. Last year, when Luke Petitgout went down for the season with a knee injury, it was Penn who stepped in at left tackle. Penn improved gradually each week last season and proved to be a capable left tackle. In training camp this year, he opened camp with the starting job and never gave it up. The Bucs released the still-rehabbing Petitgout and cast their lot with Penn. So far, so good. He possesses great upper body strength, solid lateral quickness, good hands and doesn't get tied up in traffic. He'll probably never be a Pro Bowl-level player, but the Bucs have few complaints. Can Penn handle Brown's speed off the edge? Well, he did give up a sack to John Abraham last week, but Abraham is one of the league's quickest ends. Otherwise, Penn held the line well. Brown would be well served to use some outside-inside moves on Penn to knock the tackle off balance.
WR Ike Hilliard vs. S Danieal Manning: Losing reserve safety Brandon McGowan may not look like a significant injury for the Bears, but keep in mind that he has been lining up as the fifth defensive back in the nickel package so far this season. In Lovie Smith's version of the Cover 2, the nickelback qualifies as a starter since he's on the field every time the opposing team goes to three receivers – strong-side linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer then takes a breather. Manning has all the athletic ability in the world, but he's yet to develop into a sound football player and lost his job as the nickel man to McGowan just before Week 1.
If Manning can't get the job done on Hilliard, who has already caught 10 passes and a TD so far in 2008, don't be surprised if second-year corner Corey Graham gets a few snaps at this all-important position.
The Buccaneers will win this game if ...
The Buccaneers will lose this game if ...
The Bears will win this game if ...
The Bears will lose this game if ...
John Crist: The Bears were forced to open the season with two games on the road against a pair of tough opponents, so they'll be very happy to be back in the friendly confines of Soldier Field. While the Cover 2 has been one of the more effective schemes in the NFL the last decade or so, the system tends to require smaller and quicker players along the defensive line – in other words, you can run on it. Both teams will feature a heavy dose of the running game in order to move the chains and control the clock, but Chicago looks to be better at stopping the run thus far in the campaign. ... Bears 20, Buccaneers 13.
Behind Enemy Lines: Part III
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