CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 23: Wide receiver Mike Evans #13 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrates after scoring on a 19 yd pass against the Chicago Bears in the second quarter at Soldier Field on November 23, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
The 6-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a chance to finish 8-8 this year, but need a win over 5-9 Chicago. What are the six things PewterReport.com’s Scott Reynolds is looking for in Tampa Bay’s upcoming game? Find out right here in SR’s Pick 6.
Who: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Chicago Bears
Where: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
When: 1:00 p.m. ET – FOX
Last meeting: 21-13 loss at Chicago in 2014
Series notes: Bears have a 37-18 advantage over Bucs all-time
1. GET MARTIN THE RUSHING TITLE
Tampa Bay wants to get Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin the league’s rushing title this year and can make some serious
Bucs RB Doug Martin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
progress towards that endeavor against Chicago’s 26th-ranked run defense that could be without linebacker Shea McClellin and rookie safety Adrian Amos. McClellin leads the Bears in tackles with 81, and Amos is the third-leading tackler with 61 stops. McClellin is in the concussion protocol and has missed practice all week. It would be a big blow to the Bears defense to not have him available on Sunday. The same is true with Amos, who has a shoulder injury.
The Bucs offensive line is highly motivated to get Martin the rushing title and featuring him against the Bears this week was the worst-kept secret at One Buccaneer Place. Martin has 1,305 rushing yards with two games left in the 2014 season, and tails Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (1,314) by nine yards. With Tampa Bay facing Carolina on the road to end the season next week, Martin needs to have a big day of 150 yards or more in order to boost his chances of winning the title – and Sunday’s game against Chicago.
2. SWIPE SOME MORE PRESENTS
The old saying is that it is better to give than to receive. But not on defense in the game of football where teams like Tampa Bay need takeaways to help get wins. The Bucs have been naughty when it comes to listening to head coach and defensive play-caller Lovie Smith preach about getting takeaways and following through on game day. The Bucs defense has recorded just one takeaway in the last four games and it’s no wonder Tampa Bay is 1-3 in that span and has just a minus-one turnover margin this year.
Chicago has a minus-four turnover margin, so there are some opportunities for the Buccaneers to win this important statistical battle. However, a closer look at the stats shows that the Bears don’t have a lot of turnovers as one might expect. Quarterback Jay Cutler has only thrown eight interceptions, and the Bears skill position players have only fumbled just times and only lost two. It’s Chicago’s defense that is terrible in the takeaway department with only seven interceptions this year and seven fumble recoveries. If the Bucs can play keep-away with the ball on offense and get a few takeaways on defense they should be able to easily beat the Bears.
3. CUT DOWN CUTLER
Tampa Bay’s defense provides the greatest chance for victory when it pressures opposing quarterbacks. Cutler is the kind of QB that historically hasn’t responded well to pressure. In his four years with Smith in Chicago, Cutler had a passer rating of 82.5. But under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who came from Denver with John Fox and worked with Peyton Manning, Cutler has stayed away from the interceptions that have plagued him in the past and has a QB rating of 92.3. Smith’s defense needs to turn back the clock and blitz Cutler into throwing some picks – and the Bucs defenders need to catch the ball when it comes their way and not drop golden opportunities like linebacker Danny Lansanah did last week in St. Louis.
Cutler could be without wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who is doubtful with a hamstring injury and missed practice all week. Jeffery is Chicago’s leading receiver with 54 catches for 807 yards and four touchdowns. Without Jeffery, Cutler will have to turn to Marquess Wilson (28 catches, 464 yards and a TD), tight ends Martellus Bennett (53 catches, 439 yards and three TDs) and Zach Miller (27 catches, 370 yards and five TDs), and running back Matt Forte (38 catches, 332 yards and 2 TDs) in the passing game. Look for Cutler to be patient and dink and dunk the Bucs’ Cover 2 and Cover 3 defenses with underneath throws. The Bucs have to get sacks and bring pressure to get Cutler and the offense off schedule and into third-and-long situations.
4. FIND EVANS AND ASJ IN THE RED ZONE
Tampa Bay’s offense has been helter-skelter in the red zone this year. When the Bucs have found success they’ve scored touchdowns and won games. When they haven’t, they’ve settled for field goals and lost. That was the case last week in St. Louis when Tampa Bay kicked two field goals inside the red zone in a game the Bucs lost by eight points. Those eight points in the field goal-for-touchdown exchange would have made all the difference.
While Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston has performed admirably in the red zone this year for a rookie through the air and on the ground – scoring five rushing touchdowns – he needs to finish the 2015 campaign strong in this area. While the likes of running backs Charles Sims and Martin, tight ends Cameron Brate and Luke Stocker and receivers Adam Humphries and Russell Shepard have all caught red zone touchdowns passes, Winston needs to look for his two top targets – Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins on Sunday against the Bears. Those two players will be Winston’s primary targets in the years ahead and Winston must continue to develop chemistry with his two 6-foot-5 targets in the area of the field that matters most – inside the opponents’ 20.
5. FOCUS ON FOOTBALL, NOT THE FLAGS
The Bucs continue to be an undisciplined team when it comes to penalties under Smith. Tampa Bay leads the NFL in penalties with 134 for 1,083 yards and has the chance to break dubious franchise and league records if it continues to average nearly 10 infractions per game, including this Sunday against Chicago at Raymond James Stadium. The Bears are a much more disciplined team, committing only 95 penalties for 869 yards and not showing the propensity to beat themselves the way the Bucs do with flags.
Tampa Bay needs to spend more time focusing on football and not on the penalties. The young Bucs got caught up in doing that too much in St. Louis last week and lost their poise. Defensive end Will Gholston kicked a Rams player and drew a 15-yard penalty. Seferian-Jenkins got a delay of game penalty after failing to get into the end zone at the 1-yard line and that cost the Bucs five yards on a drive that ended in a field goal rather than a touchdown. Winston spent too much time complaining to the refs and not listening to the play calls from offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. It’s time for this football team to grow up, man up and be accountable to avoid situations where self-inflicted wounds can harm Tampa Bay’s chances of winning.
6. SHOW THAT YOU LOVE LOVIE
Despite a disappointing 8-22 record as Tampa Bay’s head coach, Smith has not lost the locker room, nor has he lost the respect of the players. Yet, his message about avoiding penalties, especially controllable ones, such as personal fouls and pre-snap infractions, has been tuned out all year by the Buccaneers. And the fact that Tampa Bay came out relatively flat at home against New Orleans in the biggest game of the year with a potential playoff berth on the line was quite concerning.
It’s not likely that Smith is the kind of coach the players would run through a wall for. You don’t hear that kind of love from them in the locker room. It’s more about the fact that the Bucs players respect Smith. Now it’s time for them to show Smith that they love him – if they in fact do. Finishing the 2016 season with a 7-9 or 8-8 record is a big difference from 6-10. The Bucs need to come out and play for pride – and Smith – by winning their home finale in front of a sold out crowd and make a statement.
SR’s Prediction: Buccaneers 26, Bears 24
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Very true about the penalties but it’s time for Lovie to step up and assure his team he has their backs when it comes to bad calls which the Bucs have had plenty of.
No doubt the team would love it if he stepped up and gave a refs a chewing out like the ones deserved last week when they gave Winston a bad spot and then allowed Donalds to push Winston around.
If he did that in Ray Jay the place would erupt and never shut up.
Bucs win big! Put pressure on The Snake and all will be good. Goes Bucs!
I agree with you Horse, I think the Bucs win big. Now I’ve got to kid you a little bit, because Gruden did put pressure on The Snake, Jake Plummer, that is, but he never showed up. We should put pressure on Jake Cutler as he is an accurate passer and and cause trouble if given time to throw. I knew who you meant and just having a little fun with it.
Have a happy holiday and hope we get that DE next year you’ve been waiting for!
Mac, I have great respect for you. I could be wrong about the DE. It all depends on where we draft as to whether we go DE, CB, Safety in the 1st round.
And I have great respect for you Horse as well as the opinions of most of our fellow PR posters. You and I have a lot in common and one day we’ll have that conversation. As for as the DE is concerned, there is no doubt that we need one and it may be as you suggest exactly what the Bucs will do. I would have no problem with that at all.
PewterReportScott; I really would like to have an answer to this question. There are 310 players on other teams PS; there has to be atleast one of those players who could make our Roster? We only have one week left of practices; surely by now we have decided to put V. Jackson, A Spence on IR, or we could release M. Jenkins, G. Johnson, D. Bowers.
I’ll answer you Horse as best I can. We have players who’ve been in this scheme for two years now, and they don’t all seem to get it. Lovie brought in F.A.’s who’ve been in this system, and played for him before, who still seem lost on the field at times. So picking up a P.S. player who has no idea what Lovie runs, doesn’t seem like it would be worth doing with one week to go.
Yes i agree; my thinking was to have them available on our Roster for Post Season. They would have plenty of time then to learn the system.
Horse, they need Bowers and Johnson for the defensive line where they are woefully thin.
You just got your wish on Spence. I thought they should have cut Jenkins right along with Jennings.
Surferdude, your disdain for all things Lovie is well known but I am sure you know the Panthers run a very similar defense as ours and do quite well with it.
Once David started to trust Alexander, his play has gotten noticeably better. As far as ex Bears playing for us, Chris Conte has been the most steady defensive back to play for us. The only other ex-Bears I believe are Major Wright and Henry Melton. Not exactly enough for a basketball team.
Why not admit the defense wasn’t very good when Lovie got here after wasting a number of high draft picks on DL who aren’t even in the league now or producing well anywhere else.
Mason Foster, Daquan Bowers, Dashon Goldson, Mark Barron, Adrian Clayborn, Daniel Tes Nashan were all starters the year Lovie got here who are now laboring in relative obscurity elsewhere or not even playing.
Smith really only had three quality starters on defense when he got here.
Wax on, Wax off. Wax on, Wax off.
to add on Ron Rivera was Lovie’s DC in Chicago
drdneast; I believe every player you mentioned are still in the NFL. I do agree that we wasted a lot of picks these past several years, but so have other teams.
Good Coaches adapt and adjust if they don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle. We aren’t the only team that has injuries which require back ups to play and perform. If we can’t beat the Bears; then how are we going to beat the Panthers?
Different teams match up better against other teams. That’s not to say I don’t agree with you about not being able to beat the Panthers if we can’t beat the Bears.
Most games hinge on two to three plays and depending on who makes them is usually the reason for the win.
How else do you explain the Eagles beating the Patriots; Two special teams plays and a pick 6 on a Brady INT was the difference in the game. Three plays.
Yes every player is still in the NFL but most of them are just average players at best. The ones who are starting should really be backups but they aren’t on very good teams either. I forgot to add the SLB who was starting for us who is now with the Giants and is a backup. Same with Foster who actually signed with the Bears after getting cut by us, was waived and signed by the Redskins due to injuries.
I only make note of these players to reinforce my argument that a number of our starters who were here when Lovie got here couldn’t even start for half of the NFL teams.’
Licht and he have pretty much been putting the DL and DB’s together with bubble gun and bailing wire.
To further my point about bad drafting by previous regimes, why would you draft a Luke Kuckley when you can get a Mark Barron.
Why draft a healthy Cam Jordan when you can snatch a handicapped Adrian Clayborn.
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