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Lovie Smith Returneth: Tampa Bay Bucs at Chicago Bears Game Preview

| November 20th, 2014

They won a game. My lord of lords, they have won a game. Did they beat a rookie quarterback playing in frozen conditions for the first time in his entire existence? Maybe. Do the Buccaneers come to town with a head coach and quarterback desperate to show the Soldier Field faithful and Halas Hall hierarchy what they’re missing? Absolutely. So…

Why do I like the Chicago Bears this week?

I always like the Chicago Bears.

A SUNDAY TO LEGITIMIZE ANOTHER SUNDAY

The Bears victory over the Minnesota Vikings means nothing if they lose Sunday. These two games, the first destination on Marc Trestman’s road map to retain his job, are a package deal.

Winning both enables the Bears to play a game with at least some meaning on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit. You might argue the stench of back-to-back embarrassments against arguably the league’s two best teams is too overwhelming to overcome no matter what happens against lower level competition. That’s a fair argument but I think a misguided one. The Bears returning to national television with an opportunity to even their record at 6-6 is a significant step for an organization left for dead two weeks ago. From 6-6, with 3 of their final 4 at home, Trestman and company can begin selling a run of the table to the locker room. Whether they achieve that goal or not is relatively unimportant. Believing there is a goal to be achieved means the players will be severely motivated in December.

Losing Sunday to the Bucs, one of the league’s worst teams, will hurt Trestman terribly in Chicago. If this offense can not find motivation against their former coach they will never find motivation. And if they can’t beat the two-win Bucs at home there will be nothing the coaching staff can say in the locker room to convince players this season has any possible reward.

How Will Lovie Approach Jay?

APP-GALLERY--CUTLER-LOVIE

Tampa’s defense isn’t particularly good. They take the ball away only slightly more (+1) than the Bears and give it away at the same clip. They are bottom third of the league in sacks and live down near the bottom (with the Bears) in opposing passer rating.

So maybe asking the headline, “How will Lovie approach Jay?” is a bit like asking how a blind man will approach the Brown line train at Diversey. What options does he have? He sticks out his cane and hand and feels his way on board. Lovie will stick out his Gerald McCoy and Michael Johnson and hope they make life difficult for Cutler.

But there is some reason for optimism after the Bucs win in Washington, which is being described with optimism in the Tampa media:

If nothing else, it’s a sneak preview of the type of team Smith wants the Bucs to be.

Against Washington, the defense had six sacks, 11 hits on the quarterback, seven tackles for losses, three takeaways and a score on cornerback Johnthan Banks interception return for a touchdown.

Are there other schematic options? Does he know blitzes that will make life specifically uncomfortable for Cutler? Does he know coverages Jay hates seeing? Does he know ways of disguising coverages that had consistently confused Cutler during their time together? Not only what Lovie chooses to call but also what he chooses not to call may tell us a lot about where he views the weaknesses in Cutler’s game.

THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH

#1 Mike Evans

Will the Bears defend Evans with the toughness they displayed against Julio Jones or the fatuousness exhibited against Jordy Nelson? The Bears have two solid cover men. They need to let those men cover. If I see Fuller or Jennings let Evans run by them a single time, hoping one of these awful Bears safeties will – for the first time this season – understand their assignment in the coverage, I may very well scream.

#2 Jared Allen

Was Allen’s performance against Minnesota a burst of energy against a former employer or the beginning of a highly-paid defensive end putting together a season in Chicago?  Bucs left tackle Anthony Collins has battled a foot injury for the last month or so and neither he nor right tackle Demar Dotson have played particularly well in pass protection. (Last week against Washington Dotson was a penalty machine.) If Allen plays with the same energy this Sunday he could mount a multi-sack performance.

#3 Major Wright

Isn’t it always fun to watch Major Wright?

Marc Mariani, Come on Down!

Is the Chris Williams experiment over? Can it be? A note for Mariani: If you catch the ball more than a yard deep in the end zone, stay there.

PERTINENT NUMBERS OF MEANINGFUL RELEVANCE

  • In the Bucs last five games they have scored 17 points three times and lost all three games. They have only scored more than 17 and lost once all season long – at New Orleans in Week Five. So if the Bears score 18 points there is a good chance they’ll win.
  • Bucs are in the bottom six rushing attacks in the NFL…but does that matter? Denver, Detroit and Arizona are also in the bottom six. What is surprising is that Lovie “Get off the bus running” Smith’s Bucs are 31st in the league in rushing attempts. Expect them to abandon run early and attack the vulnerability of the Bears defense: secondary.

A NOTE ON BUCS V. REDSKINS

This is one of the most difficult game tapes to watch all season. The Redskins were unwatchable. The Bucs weren’t all that better. But I wanted to see what upset DeSean Jackson enough to take out his frustrations on Instagram:

epic

The reason why? I counted six times on tape where Jackson was wide open, including two deep balls where he’d cleared the defensive backs by 3-4 yards. Wide receivers have been the league’s prima donnas for years but think about their role in an offense. They can execute their job to absolute perfection and go completely unrewarded because they are reliant on a single guy getting them the ball. Robert Griffin’s teammates don’t believe in him. And if you don’t think this is residue from his self-serving entrance into the sport, you’re not paying attention.

What does this have to do with the Bucs? The Bears are going to have open receivers. And they should have a lot of them.

FINAL SCORE PREDICTION

Chicago Bears 27, Tampa Bay Bucs 17

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