Behind Enemy Lines: Part III

Our Scout.com experts, John Crist of Bear Report and Matthew Postins of BucsBlitz.com, go Behind Enemy Lines to take a closer look at Sunday's Week 3 matchup between the Bears and Buccaneers at Soldier Field. Let's finish this three-part series with some matchups to watch and final predictions.

Matchups to Watch: Bears Offense vs. Buccaneers Defense
RB Matt Forte vs. Tampa Bay linebackers:
The Buccaneers are back to limiting above-average backs to paltry rushing numbers, if their limiting Atlanta's Michael Turner to just 42 yards on 15 carries is any indication. In the Cover 2, the Bucs trust their defensive line to get the necessary penetration up front, opening up tackling lanes for the linebackers.

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
LT Donald Penn vs. DE Alex Brown:
Many will pay attention to the John St. Clair-Gaines Adams matchup, but don't ignore this one. It could decide whether Bucs QB Brian Griese stays upright or not. Brown (6-3, 260 pounds) has already produced two sacks on this young season, one in each of the first two games. For a guy that has produced at most seven sacks in a given season, it could be a sign that Brown is in line for a career year. Brown might also be motivated by the fact that he only started twice last year after serving as a Bears starter for five straight seasons. Either way, he's creating havoc early this season in many ways, including two passes defensed.


OT Donald Penn
Al Messerschmidt/Getty

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 ...
...they continue to run the football the way they have the past two weeks. Say what you want about the West Coast Offense's predisposition for the passing game. Head coach Jon Gruden wants to run the football and he's doing it with RBs Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn, who are growing into a new version of "Thunder and Lightning." The Bucs used the running game to fuel 17 points on their first four drives of the game last week. Their offensive line is built to move the line of scrimmage forward, and their wide receivers don't mind pitching in. Right now, the ground game is the biggest reason the Bucs will win Sunday.


RB Matt Forte
Rick Havner/AP Images

The Buccaneers will lose this game if ...
... they're unable to put a consistent pass rush on Orton and unable to contain Forte. Orton isn't a game-breaking quarterback, and he may be without Hester. But give him time to throw and he'll make things happen, as he did against Indianapolis. The Bucs must get a pass rush from their front four to limit Orton's options and force him into mistakes, much the way they did with Atlanta's Matt Ryan last week. The Bucs can also accomplish this by stacking the line on obvious running plays, tackling Forte for short gains and forcing Orton and the Bears into second-and-long and third-and-long situations.

The Bears will win this game if ...
... Orton rebounds from a tough second half in Week 2 and makes a few big plays through the air. The former Purdue Boilermaker was rather sharp the first six quarters of the season and made the coaching staff look brilliant for going with him over Rex Grossman, but he misfired on a few crucial throws and had a handful of poor decisions in the second half against Carolina. While Tampa Bay has featured one of the best pass defenses in all of football for quite some time, the Bears can't expect to win by simply pounding Forte between the tackles all day long.

The Bears will lose this game if ...
... the Buccaneers dominate time of possession with the combination of Graham and Dunn on the ground. The Monsters of the Midway completely shut down the Panthers offensively for 30 minutes in Week 2, but the offense's inability to sustain drives in the second half forced the defense to stay on the field too long – that allowed Jonathan Stewart to wear them out on the ground. The secondary should be able to take care of a below-average Tampa Bay receiving corps, but Orton and Co. can make life easier on their own front seven by putting together some 10- and 12-play drives and giving the D a chance to rest between series.

FINAL PREDICTIONS
Matthew Postins: I'm troubled by the Bucs' lack of injuries. Shouldn't six of their guys be on IR by now? Oh, wait, that was last year. WR Joey Galloway may be banged up, and that will hurt. The Bucs will have to run the football well on Sunday, and stopping the run is what the Bears do best, right? It'll be a close-to-the-vest game as both coaches go conservative. ... Bears 12, Bucs 9.

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.

To go back and read Part I, where Matthew answers five questions from John, Click Here. For Part II, where John answers five questions from Matthew, Click Here.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report. Matthew Postins is the Publisher of BucsBlitz.com.


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