The Chicago Bears had an ugly start to the 2023-2024 NFL season, losing 38-20 to the Green Bay Packers. Chicago hopes to bounce back against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers that projects to finish as a bottom-ten team in the NFL. But do not let the Buccaneers’ lack of a star quarterback fool you because Tampa Bay still has a very talented roster. This game will be much more challenging than most Bears fans initially thought. Here are six key factors that will determine if the Bears pick up their first win of the season.
Protect Justin Fields
These are the grades from Pro Football Focus for the Bears’ five starting offensive linemen during week one:
Braxton Jones – 62.0
Cody Whitehair – 47.2
Lucas Patrick – 43.2
Nate Davis – 48.6
Darnell Wright – 72.1
Lucas Patrick clearly played the worst. As I watched the game, I could see Patrick standing in no man’s land multiple times, not helping the guards block at all. If he doesn’t up his game this week, I would put newly acquired Dan Feeney in at center. As a unit, the Bears let Fields get sacked four times. In week one, only five teams gave up more sacks than the Bears.
Tampa Bay’s head coach, Todd Bowles, loves to blitz. So, the Bears should play Roschon Johnson as much as possible because he is Chicago’s best pass-blocking running back. Additionally, the interior of the Bears’ offensive line will go head-to-head with Vita Vea. The Buccaneers’ star defensive tackle is a run-stuffing machine.
Get DJ Moore involved
Give DJ Moore the ball! Please!
Moore has faced the Buccaneers ten times in his career. In those games, Moore hauled in 58 catches for 729 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran the ball six times for 76 yards. Luke Getsy and Justin Fields must find a way to put the football in Moore’s hands.
In his first game as a Bear, Moore had two catches for 25 yards. Both catches took place on back-to-back plays in the second quarter and went for first downs. But for some reason, he didn’t get the ball the rest of the game. Something needs to change because Moore is the Bears’ best player.
Get the tight ends on the field
In week one, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave up the second most fantasy points to tight ends. Minnesota’s tight end tandem of T.J. Hockenson and Josh Oliver combined for 11 catches and 67 yards. Hockenson and Oliver were targeted by Kirk Cousins twelve times.
On the flip side, Cole Kmet was the only tight end on the Bears to record a catch in week one. He hauled in five catches for 44 yards on 72 total snaps. Luke Getsy needs to call plays that scheme Kmet open in the end zone. Mercedes Lewis played five snaps, and Robert Tonyan only played four. The Bears specifically brought in Lewis to block. So, why wasn’t he on the field more? That’s terrible game planning by Luke Getsy. Ryan Poles brought Tonyan to the Windy City to help Justin Fields develop as a passer and alleviate some of the burden off Kmet. So get him involved.
Stop the run
This will probably be here all season long because the Bears’ defense allowed the second-most rushing yards in the NFL last season. Good news this week: the Buccaneers averaged 2.2 yards per carry on 33 rushes against the Minnesota Vikings last week.
Last year, Tampa Bay’s lead running back, Rashad White, averaged 3.7 yards per carry. Last Sunday, White ran the ball 17 times for a mere 39 yards and no touchdowns. But don’t be fooled; White can take over games. Last November, the Buccaneers played the Seattle Seahawks in Germany, where White ran 22 times for 105 yards.
Chicago’s run defense was a mixed bag last week. They were able to contain AJ Dillion (1.5 yards per carry) but were unable to slow down Aaron Jones (4.6 yards per carry) and Patrick Taylor (4.4 yards per carry). The interior of the Bears’ defensive line was awful against the Packers. How do I know? Because Justin Jones didn’t even appear on the stat sheet. That’s right! He failed to record a single tackle. The same goes for Zacch Pickens and Gervon Dexter. Those three have to play better!
Be disciplined in the secondary
Jordan Love had a very good start to the season when he threw for 245 yards and three touchdowns against the Bears. But when you dive deeper into the stats, Love was pedestrian at best. He only completed 55.55% of his passes and missed several easy deep balls. But he took advantage of many breakdowns in coverage by the Bears’ secondary.
The Bears defense will face off against Buccaneers’ wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Evans has never failed to crack 1,000 receiver yards in an NFL season, and Godwin is one of the best slot receivers in the league. To make matters worse, the Bears recently placed Kyler Gordon on injured reserve (IR), and Josh Blackwell is dealing with a hamstring injury. The Bears will likely start Greg Stroman Jr. in place of the injured Gordon. To have success on Sunday, I would have Jaylon Johnson shadow Evans whenever he lines up as the X or Z receiver. As for Godwin, he will likely have a field day against the young and inexperienced Stroman Jr.
Get off the field on third down
The Green Bay Packers were very effective on third down. On Sunday, the Packers’ offense punted five times and converted 56.25% (9 for 16) of their third downs. Jordan Love’s first touchdown pass occurred on third and goal, and his second touchdown pass happened on fourth down. Additionally, Aaron Jones had a rushing touchdown on third and goal.
Baker Mayfield and company were much less effective than the Packers were in week one. Tampa Bay’s offense punted six times and converted 35.29% (6 for 17) of their third downs.
I expect this game to be a defensive battle that the Buccaneers could win. That said, I have the Bears winning this game 20-17.