Joniak: Keys To Bears-Buccaneers

The Bears host the Buccaneers at noon Sunday at Soldier Field.

Jeff Joniak
September 28, 2018 - 5:25 pm
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(WBBM Newsradio) The Bears (2-1) host the Buccaneers (2-1) at noon Sunday at Soldier Field. Here are the keys to the game.

Offense

Time of possession as a weapon will be important for the Bears, who are second in the league in owning the clock. The critical component is scoring points at the end of the long drives. Ten plays to a field goal isn't going to get it done against the Buccaneers, and getting on Tampa Bay early will keep the revved-up Chicago crowd engaged.

Timing and tempo of is still a work in progress for the Bears offense, which is facing a Buccaneers defense loaded with impact players, from defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to linebacker Lavonte David to linebacker Kwon Alexander to pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul. Tampa Bay's weakness is its pass coverage. The Buccaneers are thin in the secondary due to injury, and the linebackers have given up pass completions and points. 

Bears running back Tarik Cohen had a quality day against the Buccaneers a year ago and could provide a matchup that Chicago can use to its advantage. Tampa Bay also has had a tough time handling tight ends this season, so look for Trey Burton to be an important target.

Defense

The Tampa Bay offense is percolating with veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, as he has a streak of three straight games with 400 or more yards passing. The Buccaneers are hitting defenses at every level. Cornerback will likely be their initial testing ground, given the absence of Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara and his backup Marcus Cooper. 

Last week, the Cardinals attacked Bears rookie cornerback Kevin Toliver in the fourth quarter of his NFL debut. Look for the Buccaneers to try him early Sunday. Bryce Callahan and Sherrick McManis will also take on some of the outside snaps for the Bears, and staying on the same page mentally will be a big key for the secondary. 

Emerging Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard is averaging more than 11 yards after the catch, while Naperville product Cameron Brate tore the Bears up in 2016, catching all seven of his targets for first downs. Bears safeties Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos as well as the inside linebackers need to limit the big play.

Special teams

The Bears would do well to create short fields for their offense and long fields for the Buccaneers.  Keeping the Tampa Bay return game in check means shutting down Adam Humphries and rookie Justin Watson. In the last three seasons, DeSean Jackson has had only six punt returns, but if he gets back there, the Bears must be on alert. Jackson’s electrifying touchdown return against the Steelers on Monday night was overturned by a holding call. He had four return touchdowns in his first three years in Philadelphia.

Intangibles

Tampa Bay is coming to Chicago on a short week, which should give the Bears a modest intangible edge. Back-to-back Bears wins have created a positive atmosphere around Halas Hall and a hunger for more winning. It's time to use that emotion to their advantage Sunday.

Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.