The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a short week as they travel to Chicago to take on the Bears. After a shootout against Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers, the Buccaneers are badly banged up. Mike Evans pushed through an ankle injury, O.J. Howard is gone for the season with a torn achilles, and Scotty Miller is dealing with a shoulder.
That doesn’t even include the already injured Leonard Fournette.
Traveling on a short week is going to be tough, but the Buccaneers should win this game against an inferior opponent. Here are three keys to the game Tampa Bay should exploit in order to come out on top.
Red Zone Offense
The Bears have been incredibly stout in the red zone so far this season. They have allowed only 37.5% of trips to result in a touchdown, the best in the NFL. Just for reference, the median team is the Jacksonville Jaguars at 61.1%.
On the other hand, the Buccaneers score a touchdown on 80% of their red zone trips. Which one is going to give?
I don’t think an 80% touchdown rate in the red zone is sustainable, but neither is stopping your opponents like the Bears have so far in 2020. I can’t believe I’m saying this but if Tampa Bay can come away with field goals, it’s a success. The Bears offense is below average at best and when they are down, Nick Foles is prone to mistakes.
This game may rely on the leg of Ryan Succop, which is fine by me, as his only miss this season was a 44-yard field goal last week against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Slow Down Khalil Mack
I’ll admit, I was wrong about Tristan Wirfs. I had him as the last elite tackle in the draft, with major questions about his consistency and vertical passing sets. So far, he has looked like the best rookie offensive lineman in the NFL, and it isn’t particularly close.
It’s not like Wirfs has gone up against a mediocre pass rusher either. Cameron Jordan and Joey Bosa are elite talents, and they were invisible against the Buccaneers.
This week will provide another test for Wirfs however, as all-pro Khalil Mack will look to give the rookie his “welcome to the NFL” moment.
The thing is, Mack hasn’t been particularly good through four games. He has registered only one and a half sacks and three quarterback hits. Even in 2019, he failed to record double digit sacks for the first time in four years.
Rob Gronkowski has been an absolute stud when blocking. For all of the criticism he gets in the receiving game, he has been an all-pro player at shutting down opposing pass rushers. I expect him to double team Mack with Tristan Wirfs often on Thursday, as the Bears really don’t have another consistent pass rusher.
You slow down Mack, you slow down the Bears defense.
Don’t Get Cute on Defense
Todd Bowles is an incredibly talented defensive mind. But on Sunday, I thought he got a little too cute with his play calling, especially in the first half.
He attempted to confuse rookie Justin Herbert with exotic blitz packages that hadn’t been used before, but the Chargers simply audibled to max protect, and lit up the Buccaneers secondary.
I’m absolutely fine with Bowles blitzing, he does it more than anyone else in the league. But when it’s not working, you have to make the adjustment before halftime.
We saw what happened when Herbert was forced to go through his reads, he hung on to the ball way too long, and made some costly errors.
Nick Foles’ Super Bowl mystic has long worn off. In fact, he has yet to win as a starter after leaving the Philadelphia Eagles.
Unlike Mitch Trubisky, Foles isn’t a threat to run, which plays into Todd Bowles hand. He no longer has to put Devin White on a spy and take him out of coverage.
If the Buccaneers play to their strengths, they should shut down a Bears offense that is average at best.
I see this as a lower scoring game, as both defenses have been solid thus far. Ultimately, the Bucs will pull it out in a 24-20 victory heading into the mini bye week.