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Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Chicago Bears: Key Matchups

Each week we’ll take a look at a few of the key matchups for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ upcoming game.

When the Bucs have the ball…

Warrick Dunn vs. Bears’ Defense

So far this season, the Chicago Bears have completely shut down their opponents’ starting running backs. In week 1, they held Joseph Addai of the Indianapolis Colts to 44 yards on 12 carries for an average of only 3.7 yards per carry. Against the Carolina Panthers in week 2, DeAngelo Williams only managed 2.8 yards per carry, running the ball 11 times for 31 yards. Since Earnest Graham has been so effective during the Bucs’ first two games, you have to think the Bears’ defense will key in on him. They have forced opponents to beat them through the air and if they can take away Tampa Bay’s run game, they stand a good chance to come out with the win.

The Bucs need to keep pounding away, but not necessarily with Graham. Against the Panthers, the Bears showed fatigue in the second half. Jonathan Stewart had 1 carry for 1 yard in the first half, but in the second he totaled 76 yards on 13 carries with 2 touchdowns. In the past, the Bucs have shied away from the running game if their primary ball carrier can’t get it going. Against the Bears, they can’t do that. This year, Tampa Bay is in a good situation where their backup can be just as effective. Although he’s a different type of player, Warrick Dunn has shown he still has something left in the tank. The Bucs know the Bears will be ready for Graham, so they need to mix it up early to keep them guessing. Get Dunn in the game right away and work the short passing game and the outside toss plays.

When the Bears have the ball…

Matt Forte vs. Barrett Ruud

Matt Forte has played very well in his first two NFL games, but can he keep it up? The Bucs’ defense has been good against the run for years now. The Bears appear confident that Forte can – and will – be their primary ball carrier. He had 23 carries in each of their first two games and they will continue to give him the ball as long as he performs. Chicago got what they needed at running back, but Forte won’t keep up his current pace. Raise your hand if you really think he’ll finish the year with his projected 1,700+ yards. I know I don’t. Not that Forte can’t be a good back in this league, but he’s still a rookie and will have a few stumbles along the way.

It’s key for the Bucs to be one of his roadblocks. Chicago has a shakier passing attack than Tampa Bay and against this defense Kyle Orton isn’t going to win this game with his arm. The Bears will have to rely on the running game and the Bucs will have to stop it. It all starts with middle linebacker Barrett Ruud. Hardy Nickerson was instrumental in turning around the Tampa Bay defense in the 90’s. Shelton Quarles performed at a much higher level than anyone ever expected. But Ruud has more talent than either one of them. He is a superstar in the making and games like this let him showcase what he can do. Ruud must make sure the defense knows where Forte is whenever he’s on the field. Sure tackling and keeping Forte from breaking a big one will keep the Bucs in this game.

Bears’ Offensive Line vs. Greg White

The Bears’ offensive line has only allowed Orton to be sacked three times in two games and has helped pave the way for a running game averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Anchored by Olin Kreutz and John Tait, Chicago has a solid offensive line that can neutralize most defensive front sevens. The last time these teams faced each other the Bucs sacked Bears’ quarterback Rex Grossman 4 times, but lost in the game in overtime. However, that was a much different Bears team who made it all the way to the Super Bowl.

The Bucs also didn’t have Greg White back then. White had 8 sacks last season – his first in the NFL – and already has 2.5 this year. He’s also just signed an incentive-laden contract this week and will be ready to show everyone the Bucs were smart in giving it to him. White creates a problem for offensive lines because they can’t focus just on him. They also have to key in on Gaines Adams, who continues to improve. If the Bears double one, the other will have a big day.

Special Teams…

Devin Hester vs. Bucs’ Special Teams

Devin Hester has a problem. He knows he’s possibly the greatest returner to ever play the game. He thinks he can take every kick to the house. Confidence isn’t a bad thing, but something similar happened to Dante Hall and he virtually disappeared. What made Hester so great was not thinking about it as much as just doing it. If he saw an opening, he took it. Now he wants to beat everyone to prove he can do it. Luckily for him and the Bears, it’s early enough in his career that this can be corrected and he has more than enough talent as a returner to overcome this. He just needs to realize when downing the ball might be the best option.

Regardless of Hester’s state of mind, Tampa Bay needs to treat him like he can score on every return. It’s true that the best kick returners have talent and speed, but it’s also true that most returns for touchdown occur because someone on the other team blew an assignment. So to the Bucs: STAY IN YOUR LANES! Tampa Bay has to stick to its plan regardless of who’s back there returning kicks. Stay in your lanes and make the tackle. Don’t go into every kick thinking you’re the one that’s going to stop the best returner in the NFL. Just make the smart play.

What was thought to be a serious injury earlier in the week, is now being labeled as just some bruising, so there’s a good chance Hester will be ready to go on Sunday.