With temperatures in the mid-80's, the defense that Top Dawg Pernell McPhee says has been lacking the "dawg" attitude during this three-game losing streak will be further challenged. It'd be wise to find ways not to linger on the field too long. That'll involve finding ways to stifle the NFL's fourth-ranked rushing offense that's hit the century mark in 11 of 14 games. And when the league's second-leading rusher, Doug Martin, takes a breather, it's not necessarily one for opposing defenses. Charles Sims steps in and has run for 469 yards and caught 39 passes for 415. It'll help that Vincent Jackson won't play a second straight game, but Jameis Winston still managed to find Mike Evans nine times for 157 of his career-best 363 yards two Thursday's ago against a St. Louis Rams defense that has several more pieces than the Bears currently possess. Perhaps Vic Fangio will dial up a few disguises and blitzes that the rookie hasn't seen yet. The Bears have gotten off the field just 16 times in 38 third-down chances by opponents the last three weeks, and the Bucs offense ranks 10th in that category.
[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]
Lovie Smith's run defense allows just 3.3 yards a rush, second-best in the NFL, and ranks ninth overall versus the run after holding Todd Gurley to just 48 yards on 21 carries. The Bears offensive line has been regressing during this slide, and unless they find a way to turn that around, combined with the likely absence of Alshon Jeffery, the one area Jay Cutler might be able to pick on is safety. Chris Conte's doubtful with a knee injury (we know what you're thinking, so just STOP it...) so Zach Miller should be targeted early and often. The Bears actually rank ninth in third down percentage, while Tampa's defense is 27th in that situation.
The Florida Heat. A season that's faded fast. All the excuses are there for the Bears to be mentally "out of it." And that's the last thing Ryan Pace, John Fox and the talent evaluators want to see in 2016 roster evaluations and priorities. With 33 penalties in the last four games, can they find a way to tighten up those mistakes, in both numbers and timing? The holding penalty on the first play from scrimmage last week definitely set a tone. If you think the Bears have had penalty issues, the Buccaneers have a league-high 134 penalties, 39 more than the Bears.
** Get set for Sunday's noon kickoff at 11 a.m. with Jim Miller, Lance Briggs, Dan Jiggetts and Chris on "Bears Pregame Live" on Comcast SportsNet. Then as soon as the second quarter ends, log on here on CSNChicago.com as Jim and Chris break down the opening 30 minutes and go over intermission adjustments on "Bears Halftime Live." Finally, once the clock hits zero from Tampa on Fox, flip back to CSN where the three ex-Bears and. Chris bring you 90 minutes of live press conferences, locker room interviews, analysis and reaction on "Bears Postgame Live." **