The Tampa Bay Buccaneers failed to exploit two of the five areas I identified last week leading into their Monday Night match-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and didn’t fully challenge one until later in the game when they were in full-blown catch-up mode.
Had the Bucs been able to keep Juju Smith-Schuster from turning short catches into big gains, and had Vance McDonald not come up with his one big play of the night, it’s safe to say the Steelers would not have grabbed the early momentum they did.
A lack of creativity in the offense allowed the Steelers to diagnose and react to the Tampa Bay offense all night, leading to many hits on Ryan Fitzpatrick which contributed to his poor night securing the football.
Finally, the Bucs struggled to exploit Pittsburgh’s soft secondary for most of the night while struggling in pass protection as mentioned before. In the second half, Fitzpatrick and his receivers had better success as the pass rush was less effective and the Bucs were able to come back to within one score before running out of clock and opportunities.
Had Tampa Bay been able to accomplish even one of these, they likely would have come away with a win.
So, what have the Bears shown can be used against them? Here’s how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will beat the Chicago Bears in Week 4 of the NFL regular season.
1. Meet at the quarterback.
Similar to my call for the Bucs defense to play more man and press coverage last week, this is similar.
Trubisky doesn’t respond well to pressure. He commits to running the ball early when faced with pressure up the middle which has led to two fumbles in the pocket this year as he collided with his own linemen or penetrating defenders.
When he does run, linebackers like Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David need to make him feel it. Trubisky isn’t as risky while running as someone like Robert Griffin III was, but he doesn’t give himself up unless he absolutely feels like he's done for.
One-on-one tackle opportunities for Alexander and David will also present the opportunity to make the young quarterback regret his decisions. This could lead to more business decisions by Trubisky as the game moves on, and present other situations the Bucs defense can capitalize on (more on that in a minute).
When facing soft coverage, Trubisky has no problem dumping the ball short and letting his playmakers get his stats for him. He struggles throwing into tight windows, so he’ll take anything open underneath if he can.
In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, the second-year quarterback has only faced pressure on 25.4% of his drop backs, 27th fewest in the league.
Compare this to the number of times Ryan Fitzpatrick has been under pressure (45/35.4%) against 2017 playoff defenses.
If the Bucs want to be a playoff team, then pressure must be applied to the quarterback.
Deny the easy short pass, put pressure in his face, and punish him for leaving the pocket.
2. Learn from Pittsburgh’s pass rush.
In the first half of Tampa Bay’s Week 3 game, it looked like the offensive line had just simply never seen a blitz before.
Miscommunications, failed shifts and missed blocks altogether plagued the offensive line and contributed to the big halftime deficit they faced against the Steelers.
If we think Chicago didn’t see it, then it’ll happen all over again.
The Bears like to get pressure on the quarterback as much as anyone. Problem is, they really don’t do it with any consistency when rushing with just their defensive line.
Blitzes are needed for Chicago to get to the quarterback. In one exceptionally bad series for the Seattle Seahawks, they allowed Khalil Mack to go unblocked on a bootleg designed to lure him into over pursuing the play and giving Russell Wilson room to operate - yeah, good plan. The entire game, Germain Ifedi got run out of the building by Mack. Seattle seemed to think Ifedi would simply get better as the game went on. They were wrong.
Control Mack and you control the Bears pass rush. Outside of the play which injured Aaron Rodgers and while Deshone Kizer was playing, the Packers did a pretty solid job by helping against Mack and shifting protection to his side often.
Arizona didn’t do a terrible job, the Cardinals quarterbacks just didn’t want to win that game though.
In the second half against Pittsburgh the Buccaneers handled the blitz and pass rush better than they had in the first. They’ll need to replicate and hopefully even get better this week in order to keep Khalil Mack from becoming a menace and freeing his teammates to do the same.
3. Penetrate the middle, contain the edge.
Ok, so this is football 101, right? But it’s going to be crucial this weekend.
If the Buccaneers’ edge defenders don’t keep things contained inside the tackles against Chicago, both Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen are going to feed on soft edges all day long.
The Bears will try to run inside and outside with both running backs. They do this to lure the defense into crashing hard on the edge, at which time they pull the rug out and get their two backs outside to exploit the aggressive adjustment.
Discipline will be important and the Bucs’ linebackers will have to diagnose these runs accurately to prevent their defensive line from feeling the need to overcommit one way or the other.
4. Physical receiver play and throwing for what you want.
One of the biggest threats DeSean Jackson provides for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is big play ability. After three weeks, the speed receiver is ninth in the league in receiving yards, and is the only player in the Top-10 who has run fewer than 100 receiver routes so far.
Jackson is averaging 26 yards per catch, and has 71-yards after the catch to his credit this year.
If the Bears defense maintains their secondary trends this week, Jackson will not be able to use his run after catch gift as much as he has in the past.
This doesn’t mean the Bucs can’t get explosive runs after their catches, it just makes it less likely.
So, from an offensive strategy standpoint, whoever the quarterback is this weekend in Chicago they need to throw for the yards they want.
3rd-and-8? Don’t throw a five yard slant trying to convert, throw it eight yards or more. Get it? Good.
However, this is more applicable to short and intermediate throwing. Deep passing is a whole other story.
Three Bears defenders are allowing quarterback ratings of over 110: Eddie Jackson, Kyle Fuller, and Kevin Tolliver II. Jackson and Fuller have combined to surrender three scoring plays and 68 of the 81 yards gained against Jackson have come after the catch.
Toliver is the youngest of the three and has only faced five targets this season after replacing Prince Amukamara after he was injured in Arizona.
However, in limited action he surrendered four catches for 54-yards, the biggest chunk coming against rookie Christian Kirk.
Kirk would be fifth on the depth chart in Tampa Bay.
Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard and Cam Brate all represent players who can body their defenders and have the strength to win fights for the ball.
Chicago’s secondary has shown the ability to be pushed around and they like man coverage
Which is most important for beating the Bears?
This poll is closed
Forcing Trubisky into throws he doesn’t like
Challenging Chicago’s man coverage
Setting the edge against Howard and Cohen
Protecting against the pass rush
Getting to Trubisky
. The Bucs just have to take advantage.
5. Force the action to where Trubisky struggles.
Here’s what the Bears’ young quarterback likes: Quick slants, screens and soft middles. Here’s what Trubisky specifically doesn’t like: Pressure, tight windows, and throws to the outer quarters of the field.
It’s kind of like his hot and cold zones in a baseball strike zone, and the Buccaneers need to force the ball into his cold ones.
One of the reasons Trubisky is so ineffective downfield is because he struggles with accuracy towards the sidelines and his receivers can’t get inside leverage once they cross the first-down marker against every defense they’ve faced this season.
If the Tampa Bay defense can force the Bears to live in those areas of the field, and secure the quick game, then opportunities will be there.
Players like Gerald McCoy and Jason Pierre-Paul will need to get their hands up early and often against Trubisky who has already had two passes tipped at the line turned into interceptions.
In fact, this is another area Trubisky struggles in: Making smart throws.
Simply put, he’s young. And young quarterbacks make bad decisions. The key is taking advantage of them.
With players like Justin Evans and Brent Grimes running around, the Bucs’ defense should be more than ready to pluck a tipped pass out of the air or to secure a deep duck aimed at the sideline which falls dangerously short.
It’ll happen, they just need to grab them.
BONUS: Don’t punt to Tarik Cohen.
Punters have allowed Cohen the opportunity to return punts far too many times this year already. At least a handful of those chances have been converted into great field position for his offense.
With such a young and unproven offense, the Buccaneers’ punt team needs to reinforce their reputation as one of the best in the league to force Trubisky into long drives.