1. Connect on deep passes. As it is every week, this is the easiest way to unlock things for Mitch Trubisky and the Bears’ offense. Tampa Bay’s defense allowed 7.9 yards per pass play (29th in the NFL) and, on average, three passing plays fo 25 or more yards in their first three games. On the flip side of that is the Bucs allowed 3.6 yards per rush attempt and only one rushing play of 25 or more yards against the Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers. The best way for Trubisky to get the Bucs’ defense to back off is to connect an early deep ball, and then let Jordan Howard take advantage of a defense that can’t cheat in the box.
2. Finish drives in the end zone. In lieu of hitting those deep shots, the Bears’ offense has focused this week on taking advantage of its trips to the red zone. The Bears rank second in average time of possession (34:42) but 27th in red zone touchdown percentage (40 percent). The Buccaneers, meanwhile, have allowed touchdowns on 88.9 percent of their opponents’ trips to the red zone. So if the Bears are able to manage some sustained drives that get inside the 20, getting those into the end zone instead of relying on Cody Parkey to hit a chip-shot field goal will be critical.
3. Keep the Bucs’ receivers in front of you. Without Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper, who are both out with hamstring injuries, undrafted rookie Kevin Toliver will be tested plenty on Sunday. Tampa Bay’s trio of Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin combined for 63 catches, 850 yards and nine touchdowns in their first three games, while Evans (51 yards) and Jackson (75 yards) both have explosive plays on their resumes. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio liked Toliver’s ability to keep receivers in front of him last week against Arizona, but he bit on a Christian Kirk double move that led to a 32-yard gain on third down. A good way to mitigate this potential issue, though: Put pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick (or Jameis Winston).
Prediction: Bears 20, Buccaneers 16. We’ll give the Bears a defensive touchdown here based on Khalil Mack/Akiem Hicks’ ability to pressure the quarterback, and that the Bears are a Mack offsides penalty away from three consecutive weeks with a defensive score. The Bears’ defense does a good job of bending but not breaking against a good Tampa Bay offense, which is sufficient enough to buoy an offense that still hasn’t found its footing yet.