LONDON, U.K. — The Buccaneers are a team I haven’t figured out yet. They play a dominating game against the Falcons and Saints and nose dive against the Lions and 49ers.
But the NFL is a league where you can’t live in the previous game, case in point being the Niners game versus the Saints game right after it. The Bucs have moved on and across the pond for a matchup against the Chicago Bears. It’s the second time the Bucs are heading to London but this time they head over there in first place and with a winning team.
An interesting fact is the Bucs previous four games have all started after 1pm Tampa time and even though the game airs in the States at that time, the London time will be in the late evening meaning the Bucs will be playing a five consecutive week at a later time slot. It will be the last time they Bucs do so until a Thursday Night matchup against the Cowboys Week 15 but with NBC’s Flex Scheduling Tampa’s Week 11 game in Green Bay and their Week 17 matchup in Atlanta could easily be flexed to night games.
But back to London: the Bucs are 4-2 but face a Bears team that is drowning in the NFC North. The Lions and Packers both seem pretty unstoppable and the Bears, much like the Bucs, are a team in flux. They dominate one week then flounder the next and repeat the cycle. They have the weapons to overpower the Bucs on both sides of the ball but
the question is whether or not they’ll be able to make things click.
Josh Freeman rebounded nicely last week from an otherwise atrocious day in the California Bay area. He was able to put up his best numbers of the year to date and did it despite another slow start. That slow start will be key against the Bears in that it can’t happen. Matt Ryan had a slow start against the Bears and look how that turned out.
But then again Drew Brees had a slow start against the bears and that worked out pretty nice,
Tampa will be without Legarrette Blount for a second straight week which mean the duty is Earnest Graham‘s. Last week that worked out pretty good but the Bears have a weaker defense. They currently rank 22nd against the run and have allowed two backs to get over 100 yards on them and another almost got there too. Jahvid Best went 163 on Monday Night Football against the Bears and Micheal Turner racked up 100. Graham may not repeat his performance from last week but if he can try as hard as he did, he’ll come close.
As far as receivers go, we’re still waiting on that breakout game from Mike Williams. He has yet to go over 80 yards and has only a few touchdowns. Not ways you want to describe your No. 1 receiver’s stats so far. The Bears have allowed an average of 275 yards through the air and in the games where ther run defense was up to snuff, their secondary got shredded.
When the defense held DeAngelo Williams under 100 yards, Steve Smith went 181 through the air. When the Bears held Ryan Grant and Mark Ingram under 100 yards, Greg Jennings and Devery Henderson both went 100-plus. When faced against a team that can run and throw, they got double torched (See: Bears-Lions boxscore).
Basically the morale of the story is if you can’t beat the Bears one way, do it another way because it is possible. If Carolina doesn’t make stupid mistakes, they win that game in Chicago. Same goes for the Falcons game. The bears could easily be 1-5 right now (because there is no way they loose to the Vikings). If Freeman can get the run game going and put the Bears on their heels, the passing attack to Preston Parker, Arrelious Benn, Dezmon Briscoe, Kellen Winslow and (hopefully) Mike Williams should explode. When that starts getting defended, switch it up.
This Bears defense is not what i once was and is very beatable.
Defensively the Bucs really pulled one out against the Saints last week. They put pressure on Brees but he still did what he wanted to when he wanted to. If Brees looks to his left at the end of that game, the Saints win, it’s as simple as that. Tampa shouldn’t hang their hats on that win last week from a defensive stand point, but they also shouldn’t apologize for it. The fact of the matter is, Brees didn’t look left at the end of the game because he was under pressure. That needs to be built upon for this next week.
The Bears are not the Saints or even the Falcons in the offensive department. They rank in the low twenties in both passing and rushing and can only get a leg up on you if you kick it to Devin Hester.
Which scares me because Raheem Morris isn’t afraid of anything and may kick it to Hester just to prove he can stop him. A lot of people do that and get burned. I hope that isn’t the case on Sunday.
But in terms of stopping the Bears when it’s not Hester, Jay Cutler just needs to be pressured. When the pressure is applied, Cutler turns into the high school cheerleader of the Bears. He whines, grabs at his face mask and does his best Philip Rivers impression. Cutler has been prone to over throwing his receivers and playing color blind and throwing the ball to the wrong jersey colors. If he is hit a few times, he will get rattled and if the bears get down a few scores (or even if they don’t) he will air it out deep and that’s typically when interceptions happen for Cutler.
The running game is another story. The Bucs haven’t faced a speed back like Matt Forte since they played Frank Gore in San Francisco. Gore is barely a speed back and he burned the Bucs bad. Forte has had five solid games and three in which he has gone over 100 yards. Against Carolina Forte doubled that and went over 200. Tampa will only allow this kind of game if they completely break down and the only reason they did that two weeks ago was because of the cross country trip on a short week. Tampa has been in London since Sunday night/Monday morning so jet lag shouldn’t be an issue. The Bears arrived in London today which should give Tampa an advantage.
Cutler doesn’t have many target either. There is Johnny Knox and Hester who are deep threats ad that’s it. Chicago doesn’t have a real solid slot man and they traded away their ace tight end Greg Olsen this offseason making defending the pass easier.
But Mike Martz killed the Bucs in 1999 in the NFC Championship game with a guy named Marshall Faulk and ended up having a pretty good stint in St. Louis building his offense around him. He’s doing the same with Forte in Chicago with lots of blocking receivers who will either block at the line or take defenders down field opening up lanes. Tampa runs a pretty intense zone scheme which will make taking guys down field hard and will keep guys like Mason Foster and Ronde Barber withing 10 yards of the line.
Forte is the x-factor for the Bears on Sunday and the Bucs need to stop him. But just because the Bears only have deep threats isn’t a reason to sleep on them, otherwise they wouldn’t be called threats.
Green Bay was able to hold Forte to 2 yards in their matchup and the Bucs need to take a page from that. Blitz the linebackers and keep the safeties close. Tanard Jackson had a pick last week but you know he’s hungry to stuff the run. Force Chicago to beat you deep becuase when that has been the case, the bears lose.
The Bucs can win this game as easily as they can lose it. They have a massive advantage over the Bears in that Tampa has been in London since early Monday morning and the bears landed their early THIS morning. The Bucs can defend the deep pass because Cutler isn’t a good quarterback and the bears have deep threats that aren’t top receivers, they’re return guys.
If the Bucs just play smart football there is no way they get out smarted and out coached by the Bears. I love Lovie Smith, but he’s timid and doesn’t go for the gut punch the way Raheem Morris does. Morris’s weak spot is his confidence which may trick him into kicking to Devin Hester to show off how he can stop him. Just like throwing away the tapes of the Niners game then winning the Saints game, this is a gamble that will seem brilliant if it gets pulled off but will look stupid and will get ridiculed if it fails and Hester goes to the house.
Freeman beats Cutler. Forte beats Graham but the Bucs defense beats Cutler and the offense to a bloody pulp and that’s the difference in this one. Adrian Clayborn rips it up, Da’Quan Bowers kills it and the secondary with Aqib Talib and Ronde Barber shut down the Bears. It will be low scoring because both offenses will get ahead of themselves but the Bucs come out on top if they play flawless football. If they can’t come off a solid win against a really good team and beat a mediocre team like Chicago, then this team hasn’t matured that much from the hot/cold team from last year.
Prediction: Bucs 17, Bears 13