CB Alterraun Verner vs. WR Alshon Jeffery
Alterraun Verner finally returns to action. Not a moment too soon (and actually a few too late), because Brandon Dixon and Crezdon Butler turned out to be major liabilities as starting cornerbacks. Please, everyone, try to act a little surprised at that statement. It's polite.
Of course, Verner is not about to have an easy first game after returning from injury. Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall are on his slate, and he'll mostly be matched up with Jeffery, given where each of those players generally lines up. Jeffery leads the Bears in receiving with 55 catches for 761 yards. He's their main weapon, and his ability to make contested catches and use his size to win down the field is his biggest asset.
That's a problem for Verner, who's a little undersized, prone to biting on double moves, and not the most physically stout of players -- though not for a lack of physicality in his play. Verner's at his best when he can drive down and jump balls, but against Jeffery he'll mostly have to defend jump balls -- and that is not his best asset.
DE Jacquies Smith vs. RT Jordan Mills
Jacquies Smith has been a very pleasant surprise the past few weeks. The journeyman pass-rusher has turned into a competent speed-rusher, and arguably the Bucs' biggest threat off the edge. With Michael Johnson's disappointing season, Smith has filled in the gaps and has three sacks this season despite very limited playing time -- but that playing time has been on the rise in recent weeks.
Smith has primarily played left defensive end, though he's gotten a decent number of snaps on the opposite side, too. He'll mostly be matched up with right tackle Jordan Mills, who's recovering from a rib injury which caused him to miss last game. Mills has actually only played one game this season due to injury, and is set to make his second start on Sunday. He should be a little rusty, but he's not incompetent -- he started all of last season for the Bears as a rookie.
Mills looks a little unwieldy in his pass sets, but he has huge arms and uses his size to his advantage. But he's a very good matchup for a speed-rusher like Smith, who can take advantage of his slow kick-step to beat Mills around the edge.
Weakside LB vs RB Matt Forte
Lavonte David missed the final two practices this week with a hamstring injury, and his participation is in doubt for Sunday. We don't know who will replace him if he can't go -- that might be any one of Dane Fletcher, Brandon Magee, Orie Lemon or Danny Lansanah -- but whoever it is, he's going to have to fill some big-but-physically-small shoes.
David has been the vacuum cleaner who covers for all the mistakes made by other players this season. The run defense has been solid, though not dominant, and David's play is a main reason for the fact that at least that part of playing football is going okay for the Bucs. But if his range and instincts disappear from the field, the Bucs are going to have some issues stopping Matt Forte.
Forte, meanwhile, is still the workhorse he's always been. He has 733 rushing yards on 173 carries this season, plus a whopping 575 receiving yards on 67 catches -- another aspect of the game where Lavonte David is usually a crucial defender. Stopping him would go a long way toward limiting the Bears offense, but that's a lot easier said than done without Lavonte David.