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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2023 Opponent Preview: Chicago Bears, Week 2

Chicago lost a franchise-record 14 games in 2022 but seem to have done an impressive job of offseason roster shaping, which included committing to QB Justin Fields and giving him more to work with


As the NFL enters its fallow period between the end the teams' offseason programs and the start of training camp, we are taking a closer look at each of the opponents the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face during the 2023 regular season. From how those teams fared last year to what they've done with the roster since to some as-yet-unanswered questions, we want to get a better feel for what the Buccaneers will be up against this fall. Today we look at the visitor for Tampa Bay's home opener in Week Two, the Chicago Bears.

2022 Results

The Bears turned over team management in 2022, replacing General Manager Ryan Pace and Head Coach Matt Nagy with Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus, respectively, and the subsequent moves seemed to point towards a pretty extensive reboot. That included two trades made eight months that sent away ostensibly Chicago's two best defensive players, Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith. At separate times the Bears also released linebacker Danny Trevathan, defensive lineman, Eddie Goldman, running back Tarik Cohen and quarterback Nick Foles and traded defensive end Robert Quinn.

As such, it wasn't completely shocking when the Bears lost more games in 2022 than they had in any other season in their 103-season existence, finishing 3-14 (the 17th game helped make that possible). The upside is that record delivered them an invaluable asset when the Houston Texans engineered a shocking comeback win over Indianapolis in Week 18 to slip out of the top spot in the 2023 draft, behind Chicago. The Bears turned that asset into a lot more draft capital in order to jump start their rebuild (more on that below).

Despite the low victory total, the Bears did seem to take one very important step forward, as they now appear fully committed to developing around third-year quarterback Justin Fields. A first-round pick in 2011, Fields still needs improvement as a passer and the Bears had the NFL's last-ranked aerial attack, but he also ran for 1,143 yards, the second-highest total ever by a quarterback. Chicago can hope for the same development track that has worked for the Eagles and Jalen Hurts, with a leap forward in the passing game turning Fields into one of the game's most dangerous two-way threats.

The Bears did not have a single wideout with more than 40 catches or 493 yards in 2022 (those numbers belonging to Darnell Mooney), and tight end Cole Kmet was the team's leading receiver with 50 receptions for 544 yards. Lead back David Montgomery topped out at 801 yards and averaged 4.0 yards per carry. Chicago's efforts to improve what had become a porous offensive line also took a step forward when fifth-round pick Braxton Jones proved capable of handling the left tackle job.

The deliberate talent drain on defense was reflected in Chicago's 29th-place ranking in that category and the league-high 27.2 points the Bears surrendered. Rookie safety Jaquan Brisker actually led the team in sacks, with 4.0, and as a team Chicago produced a league-low 20 sacks. Veteran safety Eddie Jackson led the secondary with four interceptions, two forced fumbles and 80 tackles.

2023 Arrivals

After trading Smith to the Ravens, the Bears turned back to free agency to restock the middle of their defense, signing both Buffalo's Tremaine Edmunds and Philadelphia's T.J. Edwards to lucrative multi-year deals. Edmunds is expected to start at middle linebacker with Edwards on the weak side. Chicago also tried to spice up its pass rush a little bit by signing former Titans defensive end DeMarcus Walker, who turned in a career-high 7.0 sacks last year.

The Bears gave the clearest signal that they were committing to Fields when they traded the first-overall pick to the Panthers, moving down eight spots and picking up a second-round pick this year, a first-rounder next year and another second-rounder in 2025. That trade also brought in some much-needed help for Fields, as it included standout Panthers receiver D.J. Moore. Chicago's pass-catching corps could be much improved in 2023 with the arrival of Moore along with last year's deadline deal for Chase Claypool and the selection of Cincinnati wideout Tyler Scott in the fourth round.

After their initial trade with Carolina, the Bears also moved down one more spot to 10th in a draft-night trade with Philadelphia and eventually nabbed Tennessee's Darnell Wright, who is likely to be a Day One starter at right tackle. The right side of the Bears line has been remade with that pick and the signing of another former Titan, guard Nate Davis, in free agency. Chicago also brought in a number of depth pieces on offense, including running backs Travis Homer and D'Onta Foreman, tight end Robert Tonyan and quarterback P.J. Walker.

In addition to the Wright and Scott picks, the Bears also used the draft to restock their defensive front with second and third-round picks on defensive tackles Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens. They will join free agent pickup Andrew Billings, the former Raider, in a recast front line. They also likely found an immediate starter in second-round cornerback Tyrique Stevenson out of Miami, and fourth-round running back Roschon Johnson should battle for a starting job as well.

2023 Departures

Montgomery moved on to a division rival in Detroit after four seasons in Chicago, all of which saw him finish between 801 and 1,070 rushing yards and between five and eight touchdowns. Veteran tackle Riley Reiff, who started 10 games for Chicago last season, jumped to New England on a one-year deal. A couple of receivers the Bears picked up last year, Byron Pringle and N'Keal Harry, hit free agency and have not signed anywhere as of yet.

The Bears released former backup quarterback Trevor Siemian after signing Walker and also cut defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad after just one season in Chicago.

Other Noteworthy Developments

Eberflus made a handful of changes to his coaching staff going into Year Two, mostly promotions and new hires in the strength/wellness/mental skills arena. However, the most notable addition to the Bears' staff is that of Cornerbacks Coach/Passing Game Coordinator. Hoke, who coached three seasons with the Buccaneers under Dirk Koetter, is back for a second stint with the Bears. He also tutored Chicago DBs from 2009 to 2014, during which the Bears had the fourth highest interception total in the league. Hoke will be working with mostly young players, as Chicago has spent multiple Day Two draft picks on defensive backs in recent years, such as Stevenson, Brisker, Kyler Gordan and Jaylon Johnson.

The Bears continue to work toward getting a new stadium in the suburbs. They purchased a 326-acre parcel of land in Arlington Heights, about 40 minutes away from their current downtown location and are planning a massive "campus" that would include a domed stadium. Chicago currently plays in the NFL's oldest stadium, Soldier Field.

Pressing Questions

Are the Bears done adding pieces or will they dip into their league-high cap space a couple more times before the start of the season?

The Bears have a lot going for them when it comes to turning around a 3-14 team as quickly as possible. Their various trades have netted them plenty of extra draft capital, and while some of that was already spent on their 10-man 2023 class they still have six picks in the first two rounds in the next two drafts. They also have $32.7 million in remaining cap space at the moment, according to Spotrac, even after some of the good-value free agency signings noted above.

If Fields can take a big step forward with an improved supporting cast and the Bears' additions on defense make a difference, the team could be much more competitive in a division that doesn't really have a sure thing. The Vikings won the North last year with a negative scoring differential, the Packers are turning to the untested Jordan Love at quarterback and the Lions' defense gave up a lot of points last year. If the Bears do believe they can compete this year, accelerating their rebound, could they look to shore up a couple more spots on the depth chart from the pool of remaining veteran free agents.

For instance, the addition of Walker may not be enough to sufficiently rev up the NFL's least productive pass rush in 2022. There are a number of notable edge players still available including Justin Houston, Melvin Ingram, Yannick Ngakoue and Jadeveon Clowney. Maybe even Leonard Floyd would be interested in returning to the team that drafted him ninth overall in 2016. The Bears' offensive line seems to be on the rise, but Teven Jenkins, the former tackle now slated to play left guard, has had trouble staying healthy. Former Bronco Dalton Risner is available and could provide some quality depth and another starting option. If the Bears want to add some experience to a young secondary they could take a look at cornerback Marcus Peters or safeties Duron Harmon and John Johnson.

Will the decision to stick with and build around Justin Fields prove to be the right one for the Bears in the long run?

The Bears had two obvious paths they could take after landing at the top spot in this year's draft. They could start over at quarterback with a prime prospect like Bryce Young or they could use that pick to help build around Fields, who was their first-round pick just two years ago. They chose the latter course and are hoping they end up with a dynamic two-way player like Hurts, Lamar Jackson or Josh Allen.

It's an understandable decision. Fields was the 11th overall pick in the 2021 draft and pre-draft scouting reports described a quarterback with good size, a strong arm, a pretty deep ball, confidence and toughness. It's fair to wonder if his failure to deliver big numbers in the passing game through two seasons has had a lot to do with an underwhelming array of targets and a struggling offensive line. He was sacked a league-high 55 times last season and, as noted, did not have a single 50-catch wideout in his huddle.

There's no denying that Fields is a force on the ground, and the Bears know they can continue to develop that part of their offense while hoping to make their quarterback into more of a two-way threat. That approach has wrought big numbers in places such as Baltimore, Philadelphia and Buffalo. This is just Fields' second season with the current coaching staff, which surely believes it can succeed in getting more out of its talented young passer.

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