It feels like an eternity since the Chicago Bears opened up their season with a disastrous 38-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers. With all of the paralysis by analysis and outrage throughout every corner on social media, it felt as if we would never get to Week 2. But we’re finally here and the Bears have a chance to even up their schedule with a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Chicago travels down to Tampa to take on the 1-0 Buccaneers, hoping to stave off the dreaded 0-2 start, something they haven’t done since 2017. They’ll need to come with a better gameplan and better effort all around to accomplish that, though. Will we see another flat performance on Sunday? Or are the Bears finally ready to begin the 2023 season? Here are five bold predictions for this week’s game.
1. Justin Fields airs it out
We know quarterback Justin Fields played it safe last weekend with short passes, in part due to game plan design and his desire to get the ball out quick. It wasn’t the most inspired performance, though, and Fields has let it be known the Bears will take more shots downfield. I believe the offense will overcorrect with many deep shots against a suspect Tampa secondary, giving the Bears opportunities for big plays.
Though it hasn’t been as apparent lately, Fields still throws a beautiful deep ball, and it would be surprising to see offensive coordinator Luke Getsy keep him bottled up again. Make no mistake, the short passing game will still be a key component of moving the ball downfield, but this time it will lead to bigger plays. Perhaps they cut the field in half with rollouts to help avoid the extra pressure from Todd Bowles’ defense. Maybe they find their one-on-one matchups and have time to exploit them from the pocket. No matter how it happens, Fields is going to be hunting for big gains this weekend.
2. D.J. Moore gets double-digit targets
Want to talk about another overcorrection? The fact that wide receiver D.J. Moore only received two targets in the last game is criminal. The Bears zeroed in on getting their new No. 1 wideout from the Carolina Panthers this offseason, and despite all of the praise coming out of organized team activities and camp, Moore was barely involved when the snaps started to count.
This isn’t an indictment on Moore, but rather on the play designs and Fields’ decision-making. Everyone knows that getting Moore involved gives this group more opportunities to make splash plays. Fields will target Moore early and often this weekend to re-instill fate in everyone. It’s also worth noting that Moore has more career receiving yards against the Buccaneers than any other franchise, with 58 receptions for 766 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games. He’ll keep that strong pace up this weekend, especially now that top Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis is out with an injury.
3. Cole Kmet gets his first TD of the season
What’s an effective way to combat blitzing defenders? Having your in-line tight end slip off the line after blocking the extra pressure to get open for a touchdown. Cole Kmet isn’t the most physically imposing tight end in the league, but he has enough strength and speed to block guys off the line and eek out into the end zone for an easy score.
Fields and Kmet had incredible chemistry last season, with the latter totaling a career year with 50 receptions for 589 yards and seven scores, which turned into a four-year contract extension. Kmet is a trusted weapon for Fields, and I can picture the two connecting on a short red zone pass for a touchdown after he helps keep the quarterback clean. If or when the Bears are threatening, keep an eye out for No. 85.
4. Jaquan Brisker sees quite a few snaps at nickel cornerback
Let’s have some fun with the lineup, shall we? The Bears are in a bit of a pickle heading into this game with starting nickel cornerback Kyler Gordon on injured reserve with a broken hand and backup nickel Josh Blackwell doubtful with a hamstring injury. With the Bears likely keeping Jaylon Johnson and Tyrique Stevenson on the boundary, they need someone else to step in. Perhaps Jaquan Brisker can step up in the role.
Brisker is a versatile player at safety. He’s someone who can play inside and outside the box and could be the best answer for nickel guarding a player like Chris Godwin. Brisker has played the position before, but only in specific scenarios. It’s possible we’ll see him line up more often given the lack of trusted options this early in the season. The Bears could move him up and bring in Elijah Hicks to play alongside Eddie Jackson. It’s not the worst idea given the circumstances, especially considering they’re facing a formidable receiver in the slot with Godwin.
5. The Bears choke away a big lead after halftime
Credit goes to Joey Christopolous of the BLEAV IN BEARS podcast for this prediction because it makes too much sense not to include. The Bears will be fighting more than one opponent on Sunday thanks to the scorching heat and humidity that will persist for much of the game. That has to be on everyone’s mind, meaning the Bears will look to strike early so they can build a cushion as the game progresses.
Chicago will have a solid script in place, leading to early scoring drives that build a lead. But as the heat and humidity set in, the players would have issues later in the day. That will lead to the Buccaneers coming back and tightening up the game. But the Bears will do just enough to hang on and get their first victory of the season.