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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bears-Buccaneers: Top Storylines & Key Matchups in Week Two

Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. could be critical in the efforts to slow down Justin Fields, and the Buccaneers' offense will be looking to maintain the balance it achieved last Sunday


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will open their 2023 home schedule on Sunday, September 17 with a game against their former NFC Central foe, the Chicago Bears. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET at Raymond James Stadium, and the game will be broadcast locally by FOX.

The Buccaneers bring a 1-0 record into the matchup while the Bears are 0-1. Both teams started their season against teams from the NFC North, but while Chicago fell at home to its arch-nemesis, the Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay was able to get out of Minnesota with a 20-17 upset win over the Minnesota Vikings. The Bears were only down 10-6 at halftime but Jordan Love poured it on in the second half and the Packers ran away to a 38-20 victory.

Chicago's defense, with new starters up the middle in rookie defensive tackle Gervon Dexter and imported off-ball linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards, were able to hold the Packers' rushing attack to 2.9 yards per carry but gave up a whopping 16.3 yards per reception, including 86 yards on two catches by running back Aaron Jones. Third-year quarterback Justin Fields, who ran for more than 1,100 yards last season, led the Bears' rushing attack with 59 yards against Green Bay but was sacked four times and committed two turnovers.

Here are four major storylines and four head-to-head player battles to keep an eye on as the Bucs try to run their 2023 record to 2-0.


Fields Vision – As noted, Fields was a terror when he left the pocket last season, rushing for 1,143 yards in 15 games, averaging 7.1 yards per tote and finding the end zone eight times. That was the second-highest rushing total by a quarterback in NFL history, ahead of Michael Vick's best season and just behind the 1,206 Lamar Jackson collected in his MVP season. The Bears only called two designed runs for him in their season opener but he also scrambled multiple times and averaged 6.6 yads per carry. The Bucs have had some success against running quarterbacks under Todd Bowles, such as holding the Eagles' Jalen Hurts to 83 combined rushing yards in two meetings in 2021, but Fields is incredibly fast and talented. Fields reached 20 miles per hour on nine different runs last season, only one fewer than the league leader in that category, Tyreek Hill. Given the fact that Fields is still developing as an NFL passer, the Buccaneers are likely to challenge him aggressively, which is a calling card of a Bowles defense as it is. The Packers sacked Fields four times last Sunday, and while the Bucs will try to do something similar, they'll also need to be controlled with their rushes so they don't provide the fleet passer with lanes to escape down the field.

A Balanced Life – Bowles called the Buccaneers' new-look running game "tough" following last Sunday's win in Minnesota, and while it didn't produce big numbers – 73 yards and no touchdowns – it did provide an offensive balance that kept the Vikings' pass rush honest and helped the Bucs allow just one sack and commit no turnovers. The Buccaneers ran the ball 33 times in all, against 35 dropbacks (34 passes and one sack), fulfilling an offseason commitment to stick to the ground game and achieve that aforementioned balance. The Bucs are likely to stick with that philosophy against a Chicago defense that ranked 31st in the league in stopping the run in 2022, allowing 157.3 yards per game. However, the Bears' defense may be more equipped to handle opposing rushing attacks after using free agency to land Edmunds, Edwards and defensive tackle Andrew Billings and spending Day Two draft picks on Dexter and defensive tackle Zacch Pickens.

30's the Goal – During training camp, several Buccaneer defensive backs repeated a goal the defense had set for the 2023 season: 30 takeaways. That would be a vast improvement from 2022, when a usually turnover-happy squad had a power outage in the middle of the season and finished with just 20 takeaways, including only 10 interceptions. Tampa Bay's defense certainly set a good pace towards achieving that goal in Week One, securing three takeaways – a Christian Izien goal-line interception and fumble recoveries by Antoine Winfield Jr. and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. At the same time, the Bucs' offense didn't give it away once, creating an ideal plus-three turnover ratio. Tell me the Buccaneers won without telling me the Buccaneers won? Just tell me they had a plus-three turnover differential or better. That's happened 14 times in the last 10 seasons and the Buccaneers have won all 14 of those games. While a mistake-free offense would be welcome, the key to getting that kind of edge is to continue to capitalize on turnover opportunities.

Punt, Kick and Win – When a team wins a game by just three points and gets stellar performances from its kickers and cover men, it's fair to say that special teams proved to be a winning edge. In the Bucs' case, in Week One, kicker Chase McLaughlin literally provided the winning edge with a 57-yard fourth-quarter field goal that proved to be the game's final points. In the meantime, punter Jake Camarda had another eye-opening outing, averaging 54.5 yards on six punts, with an outstanding net average of 48.2. The only punter in Bucs history who has averaged more yards per punt in a game with at least five punts is, well, Jake Camarda, who put up a 59.5-yard average last season against the Rams. While Camarda was hanging them high, young defensive backs Zyon McCollum, Josh Hayes and Kaevon Merriweather were routinely beating their blockers and getting to the return men about the same time as the ball did. The three combined for four kick-coverage stops and helped Tampa Bay win the field position battle. If the Buccaneers engage in another tight game, Tampa Bay's apparently improved special teams could once again tilt the outcome in favor of the home team.


1. Bears QB Justin Fields vs. Buccaneers S Antoine Winfield, Jr.

We've already noted Fields' rushing prowess, but here's one more note, courtesy of Next Gen Stats: In his first two seasons, Fields led the NFL in these categories when he scrambled out of a designed pass play: carries (122), yards (1,105) and yards over expected (+413). There's no doubt that his running ability keeps defensive coordinators up at night. Slowing him down will be a full-team effort, and the Bucs' defense was at its swarming best in Minnesota. However, Winfield is likely to be one of the most important players in containing Fields because he is a fantastic open-field tackler and, as the free safety, will have his eyes on the quarterback most of the time. Of course, Fields is probably going to be looking for Winfield, too, because the Bucs' wide-roaming safety is also one of the best defensive backs in the NFL when it comes to blitzing the quarterback. Winfield had a sack and two quarterback hits against the Vikings and forced a fumble by Kirk Cousins, while Fields also lost a fumble on a sack against the Packers.

2. Buccaneers TE Cade Otton vs. Bears LB Tremaine Edmunds

Otton had just two catches on three targets for 19 yards in Week One, but he showed in his rookie season that he could be a major factor in the Bucs' passing attack. The Bears gave up 50 yards on three catches to Packers rookie tight end Luke Musgrave last Sunday, so there could be some opportunity there for Otton, who ran 25 routes and was on the field for all but two of the team's offensive snaps in Minnesota. However, Chicago's defense added a very good weapon against pass-catching tight ends in free agency in Tremaine Edmunds, the former Buffalo Bills linebacker. Edmunds allowed just 4.4 yards per target as the nearest defender in 2022, the lowest mark among all NFL off-ball linebackers. He kicked off his Chicago career last weekend with eight stops and two tackles for loss. Otton may also have to contend with Edmunds in the run game, and the new Bear defender topped 100 tackles in each of his first five seasons while earning two Pro Bowl invitations.

3. Bears T Braxton Jones vs. Buccaneers OLB Anthony Nelson

Chicago used the 10th-overall pick in this year's draft on a new starting right tackle in Tennessee's massive Darnell Wright, but they found a gem much later in the 2022 draft in Braxton Jones, their starting left tackle out of Utah State. Jones stepped right into the starting lineup in Week One of his rookie year and played well enough to stay there for the entire season; in fact, he was the only Bear to play every single offensive snap. The 6-5, 310-pound Jones earned a spot on the PFWA's All-Rookie Team after earning positive grades as both a run blocker and a pass blocker from Pro Football Focus. Though Anthony Nelson was a starter down the stretch for Tampa Bay in 2022, the return from injured reserve by Shaquil Barrett has moved him into a reserve role. However, the Bucs appear to be using a deeper OLB rotation this year, meaning Nelson and rookie Yaya Diaby are getting a good share of snaps. Nelson got 25 of them in the season opener and turned that into one sack and a team-leading three quarterback hits. Bowles later said that 'Nelly' was "just doing Nelly things," and he has frequently complemented the fifth-year player for being a well-rounded defender who just does every part of his job well.

4. Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Bears CB Tyrique Stevenson

Mike Evans got his 10th season with the Buccaneers off to a good start in Week One, leading the team with six receptions for 66 yards and his 82nd career touchdown grab (he has also scored an 83rd time on a fumble recovery). He wasn't targeted frequently and didn't have his first catch until less than two minutes were left in the first half as Tampa Bay's offense struggled to find a groove, but it became more productive as Baker Mayfield started looking in Evans' direction. Evans has always been a contested-catch warrior and a red zone weapon, but his deceptive long-striding speed makes him perhaps the team's best deep threat, too. The Bears play their outside corners in field-boundary alignment, which means when the ball is on the left or right hash, one side of the playing area (field) is significantly wider than the other (boundary). Rookie corner Tyrique Stevenson, a second-round pick out of Miami, gets the boundary assignment in that alignment, which means he won't always draw Evans as his main assignment. When he does, he'll use his 4.45 speed and long wingspan and short-area quickness to try to keep the Bucs' top target in check. Stevenson is adept at playing press coverage, but that won't be easy against Evans, who has five inches and nine seasons of experience on him, plus the strength to fight off a block.

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