It’s been a tumultuous week in Halas Hall this week; both defensive coordinator Alan Williams and starting guard Nate Davis will not join the team in Tampa Bay due to personal reasons, and several players admitted that last week’s embarrassing loss to Green Bay was a humbling experience.
It’s all culminated in what’s generally perceived as a “must-win” game in only the second week of the NFL season. The dire circumstances are not an over-exaggeration; several jobs, both players and coaches, could be on the line if Chicago’s fails in the same spectacular fashion as they did last week.
From a pure football perspective, the Bears’ game against the Bucs is certainly winnable. Tampa Bay has talent, particularly at receiver and at the defensive line, but Chicago has talent too. The two squads are more evenly matched than many anticipated, and it should make for an interesting game, to say the least.
As the Bears’ soap opera of a week reaches its climactic conclusion, let’s go over the five biggest storylines heading into this Week 2 against the Buccaneers.
Will the Bears' coaches improve their overall gameplan?
The biggest reason for Chicago’s collapse in Week 1 was by far the implementation of an inadequate offensive and defensive gameplan. Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s scheme featured one-dimensional quick passing concepts that routinely failed, and defensive coordinator Alan Williams unleashed the brave new concept of… Cover 2, a coverage the Packers were expecting and promptly tore into.
Head coach Matt Eberflus will be assuming defensive play calling duties with defensive coordinator Alan Williams not traveling with the team to Tampa due to personal reasons. So it can be expected the concepts drawn up for the defense will be a bit more successful. Getsy still has much to prove; his performance as the offense’s play caller has not inspired confidence up to this point. Getsy will need to do a better job of catering the offense to the strengths of its star players, and not call predictable plays.
It’s important to note that Getsy will most likely return to his polarizing short passing scheme. The Bucs’ defensive line is among the best in football and the Bears’ offensive line just doesn’t have the talent to keep up. Getting the ball out of Fields’ hands and to the team’s dynamic players will be crucial in getting the win. Wrinkles in that worn passing scheme would only benefit the team, however. More use of quarterback rollouts that move the pocket with Fields and designed quarterback runs would help the Bears move the ball much easier.
The play calling of Eberflus and Getsy needs to be leagues better than it was in Week 1 if Chicago is to get the win tomorrow.
Will Fields bounce back in Week 2?
Another season, another social media firestorm that has people warring over who’s to blame for the Bears’ latest loss. Some say it was Getsy, some say it was the offensive line, but the most contentious answer to the age-old question is that it’s quarterback Justin Fields’ fault. This only sloshes more gasoline on the inferno, as some people say he’s a bust while others say he’s the only one playing well, and everyone else is to blame.
Allow me to quell the tension and definitely say the answer is both. Fields was not the sole reason for Chicago’s Week 1 loss, but he was a reason. While Getsy’s scheme was bad and the offensive line was dominated on nearly every play, Fields was at fault, as well. All of that is in the past now, and there’s only one question that matters regarding Fields: Can he bounce back in Week 2?
The star passer was uncharacteristically reluctant to turn the ball loose downfield last week, turning down open receivers on deeper routes in favor of a short checkdown. It should be said the coaching staff made it a point of emphasis to practice reading the defense and settling for a safety blanket during training camp, but QB1 was too reliant on it in Week 1. Fields vowed to change his philosophy and trust his reliable receivers to make plays down the field in this week’s game. He’ll need to uphold that promise when it’s time to buckle the chinstraps.
Fields will need to continue to read the defense, but also throw with anticipation and rhythm. As his receiver is coming out of his break on a deep dig route, Fields should already be releasing the ball so it’ll be right on the pass catcher as he turns toward the line of scrimmage. The same will need to happen on a deep vertical route; Fields will need to sit in the pocket and potentially take a hit in order to launch a catchable ball for the receiver. His special running ability should not take a backseat, however, and it should be used to compliment his passing talent.
Fields taking a big step forward in the passing department would give Chicago a good chance of winning tomorrow.
Can the offensive line hold their own against an elite Bucs' defensive line?
An inconsistent offensive line group faces another tough opponent two weeks in a row, this time against the powerful Buccaneers defensive front. The unit is well-rounded group that is spearheaded by the likes of defensive tackle Vita Vea and outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett. The offensive line’s chances of restraining such an imposing force is frankly low, which is why Getsy’s priority is to get the ball out of Fields’ hands shortly after the snap. With that being said, the offense will call some more complicated passing plays that will take time to develop, which is where the line needs to punch above their weight.
The interior offensive line will be the X-factor is tomorrow’s contest, as Tampa Bay is built to get an interior push and not allow quarterbacks to step up in the pocket. The blocking scheme must be recalibrated to make Vea the primary target that needs to be eliminated from any given play. Right gruard Nate Davis will not travel with the team to Tampa Bay because of personal reasons, and it’s expected Ja’Tyre Carter or recently acquired Dan Feeney will fill his slot. Left guard Cody Whitehair, center Lucas Patrick and either Carter or Feeney will have the responsibility of battling Vea.
Tackles Braxton Jones and Darnell Wright will more often than not be on an island against the likes of Barrett and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, another talented edge rusher. While Wright was one of the few bright spots in last week’s game, the two tackles will have their hands full blocking them all afternoon. Chicago should utilize an extra lineman or tight end in certain formations to help the tackles in run and pass blocking.
Chicago will live or die by their offensive line. If the line is respectable most of the game, the Bears can win.
Can the Bears' secondary contain Mike Evans and Chris Godwin?
Chicago’s secondary is expected to come into their own and become one of the best defensive backfields in the league, but Week 1 proved that having the talent on paper rather than showing it on the field are too different things. Safety Jaquan Brisker spoke on the wake-up call they suffered in Week 1, saying that the unit is ready to go for Sunday’s game. The secondary will face a much greater challenge in Tampa, as they’ll have to contend with Pro Bowl wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
The secondary are coming into Week 2 well under 100 percent. Second-year cornerback Kyler Gordon broke his hand in last week’s game and he was placed on injured reserve, and Josh Blackwell (his replacement) has been ruled out with a hamstring injury. Promising rookie corner Tyrique Stevenson will experience his “Welcome to the NFL” moment as he tries to stay with the stellar receiver duo.
Stevenson and veteran corner Jaylon Johnson will be the first line of defense against the pair, with Bears safeties Eddie Jackson and Jaquan Brisker providing support. The secondary will need to make Evans and Godwin the focal point of their coverage and thwart any potential big plays. The one advantage Chicago has is Baker Mayfield is under center for the Bucs this season, and he’s garnered a reputation with being reckless with the football. There’s a good chance Mayfield with throw an errant pass to one of the two, and the Bears may be rewarded for efforts in covering Evans and Godwin with a turnover.
As I’ve said in previous articles, it’s almost impossible to stop the greats from being great; the duo is bound to make a couple great plays. The key will be not giving up any free plays because of a lapse of coverage and limiting how much impact they’ll have towards winning the game.
Can the Bears' defensive line get to Mayfield?
This question will be regurgitated until the end of the year, I’d expect. To win a professional football game, a few things absolutely must happen. The quarterback, offensive line and pass rush all must be serviceable. Chicago only has one of these key elements (and some would debate even that), as the offensive line and defensive front are both left barren. The Bears’ front four had not given any indication of a heartbeat in Week 1, so there isn’t much hope the group will spring to life in Week 2.
If the Bears want to win, however, the defensive front four will need to do the impossible and make an impact. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue was the only player in the group to show some fight, so it can be expected he will make some contributions in stopping the pass and run. The X-factor here will be DeMarcus Walker, who was regarded as Chicago’s other solid pass rusher but was a no-show last week. Walker will need to embrace the challenge of a solid Buccaneers’ offensive line and make Mayfield uncomfortable. Even if Walker and Ngakoue’s efforts to don’t culminate in a sack, a QB hit, pressure or hurry can be almost as effective.
On the interior defensive line, veteran Justin Jones and rookies Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens need to do all they can to collapse heart of the offensive line. Dexter and Pickens showed flashes of that ability in Week 1; it wasn’t even clear that Jones was playing with how little impact he made. All three need to clog running lanes and push the pocket to get Mayfield off his throwing platform.