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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Scouting Report: Chicago Bears

Jay Cutler is back at the helm of the Bears' offense and he's got a red-hot rookie running back to keep Tampa Bay's pass-rush honest.

Pictures of the Top 10 Bears in Week 8, according to their Pro Football Focus player grade.

On Sunday, the 3-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the 2-6 Chicago Bears at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.  It will be the 57th meeting between the two teams in the regular season and a chance for the Buccaneers to secure their first home win of the season (more on that series history). Tampa Bay is also trying to break a three-game losing streak in the head-to-head battle with the Bears.

To get back within a game of .500, the Buccaneers will need to keep rookie running back Jordan Howard from building on the momentum that has carried him to 505 rushing yards at the season's midway point. When the Bucs have the ball, they'll face a formidable front seven that is among the league's best at pressuring the quarterback. Here's a closer look at the challenges the Buccaneers will face on Sunday when their former NFC Central rivals come to town.



John Fox is in just his second season at the Bears' helm, but he's been walking the sidelines as an NFL head coach every year since 2002. Fox, who spent nine years with the Carolina Panthers and another four with Denver before joining the Bears in 2015, has an overall record of 127-105 as a head coach. Among active head coaches, only the Patriots' Bill Belichick, the Rams' Jeff Fisher and the Chiefs Andy Reid have more career regular-season victories. So far, the Bears are just 8-16 under Fox, but if they finish with fewer than seven wins this year it will be the first time one of his teams have posted consecutive sub-.500 records.

Fox's teams made the playoffs in seven of his first 14 years at the helm, and two of those advanced all the way to the Super Bowl. He took Carolina to the big game in just his second year on the sideline in 2003 (ending in a close loss to New England) and then guided the Broncos to the Super Bowl in 2013 (ending in a blowout loss to Seattle). He has an 8-7 record overall in postseason play.

The Bears jumped on Fox as their new team leader just days after he had left the Broncos in January of 2015. While it was fair to point out that Fox's 38-10 regular-season record in Denver from 2012-14 coincided with the arrival of veteran quarterback Peyton Manning, it's also worth noting that he developed Jake Delhomme from a former undrafted player to a Super Bowl quarterback in Carolina. In Chicago, he inherited the somewhat star-crossed Jay Cutler, who led the NFL with 18 interceptions the year before. Cutler quietly enjoyed a fine season under Fox in 2015, with a 92.3 passer rating and an 21-11 TD-INT ratio, but has been limited by injuries to three games this year.

A look back at all of the match-ups between the Buccaneers and the Bears.

Of course, Fox's history before he advanced up the ladder to head coach came on the defensive side of the ball, and his teams have usually fared very well on that side of the ball. He began coaching on the collegiate level in 1978, focusing on defensive backs through a number of stops, including Utah, Kansas and Iowa State. Fox's first professional coaching job actually came in the USFL, when he tutored the DBs for the Los Angeles Express in 1985, the last year of existence for that league. He first broke into the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1989. Fox became the defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Raiders in 1994, spending two years in that post. It was a strong run as the DC for the New York Giants from 1997-2001, including a trip to the Super Bowl in 2000, that led to the Panthers calling in 2002. As a head coach, Fox has seen seven of his teams finish with a top-10 defensive ranking. The Bears ranked 14th in yards allowed and 24th in points allowed last year after Fox's arrival.



The Bears' offensive numbers at the midway point of 2016 are misleading in a couple different ways. In terms of yards, Chicago's right in the middle of the league pack, ranked 15th, and they are 12th in passing yards. However, the Bears' offense has produced the fewest points in the league, and in terms of overall scoring (including defense and special teams), Chicago ranks 31st with 131 points, 16.4 per game.

On the other hand, the Bears' offensive lineup over the last two months hasn't often been what was intended at the start of the season. Quarterback Jay Cutler just returned from a thumb injury that had kept him out of five games, though the team did get good reserve work from Brian Hoyer (98.0 passer rating) before Hoyer suffered a broken arm in Week Seven. Other key offensive players who have missed time due to injury include guard Josh Sitton and Kyle Long, wide receivers Eddie Royal and Kevin White, running back Jeremy Langford and center Hroniss Grasu. White and Grasu are out for the year but the Bears' just-completed bye week has the rest of the offensive cast much closer to full health.

Cutler, of course, has been slinging it for the Bears for a long time, particularly considering the history of that position in Chicago. The Bears have had up-and-down results in the win column in the eight years since Cutler arrived in a trade with Denver (he's 51-49 as a starter for the Bears), but he's also thrown for more than 23,000 yards and 150 touchdowns in that span. In his limited action this season, Cutler has completed 62.3% of his passes, with a 2-2 TD-INT ratio and am 85.7 passer rating.

And the Bears have been a passing team this season, throwing the ball on 65.7% of their snaps, the seventh-highest percentage in the league. That can be a function of second-half deficits (and in fact they've thrown 66.3% of the time in the second half, third-highest in the NFL) but Chicago has actually had a fourth-quarter lead in three of its six losses. The Bears throw on 45.9% of their first downs, and it's easy to see why: The team's average of 6.87 yards on first-down plays is second in the entire league, and mostly due to the aerial attack. Chicago is the best team in the league in succeeding on first-down passes, getting four or more yards 62.8% of the time, but they rank 18th in terms of getting four-plus yards on first-down runs.

The most dangerous weapon at Cutler's disposal is fifth-year wideout Alshon Jeffery, a 6-4, 230-pound deep threat with a career 15.0-yard per catch average. Jeffery has worked through some hamstring troubles to start all eight games so far, but his per-game catch numbers are the lowest since his rookie season. Cutler's return seems to have helped; Jeffery had his two best yardage outings in Weeks One and Two before Cutler was hurt, and he scored his first touchdown of the season in Week Eight when the quarterback returned to action in an upset win over Minnesota.

After Jeffery, the most targeted Bears pass-catcher is tight end Zach Miller, who emerged as a threat last year with a string of highlight-reel catches Miller has a team-high 40 receptions and three touchdown catches so far. Royal, a steady veteran, has also scored twice and will likely return to action this week, and 2015 undrafted free agent Cameron Meredith (28-331-1) has turned into a valuable weapon.

Though Jeffery could change this in a hurry, the Bears have not had much success throwing downfield so far this year. They rank 24th in the league with 23 completions of 20 or more yards, and their quarterbacks have a combined 75.1 passer rating on balls thrown more than 20 yards in the air, 24th in the league as well. And, counterintuitively, given how good they've been on first down, the Bears have struggled to convert third downs, ranking 27th in the league at 35.1%. This has particularly been a problem in the red zone, where the Bears have converted only 20.0% of their third downs, second-to-last in the NFL.

The rushing attack is without Matt Forte, now a New York Jet, for the first time since 2008. Jeremy Langford was expected to step into the lead role, but he's played in only four games and has averaged 29.0 rushing yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry. Langford has not been the threat that Forte was in the passing game, either, with only six catches so far this year. Into that void has stepped rookie Jordan Howard, a fifth-round pick out of Indiana with 505 yards on 99 carries. His 5.1-yard per-carry average ranks third in the NFL among all qualifiers, behind only Jay Ajayi and LeSean McCoy. With 682 total yards from scrimmage, Howard is second among all NFL rookies to instant Dallas star Ezekiel Elliott. Before the team's break, Howard had 153 yards on 26 carries against a good Vikings' defense, which means he's likely to remain the workhorse in Chicago's backfield.

As mentioned, Howard will probably be running behind a healthier line in Week 10. Sitton, a last-minute addition this season after he was surprisingly released by Green Bay, has missed the last two games with an ankle injury, while Long, the recipient of a big new contract before the season, was out against Minnesota due to an arm injury. The return of those two would help a front wall that has already afforded Chicago passers good protection this year. The Bears have given up 14 sacks through eight games and rank eighth in the NFL in sacks allowed per pass play (4.6%). Football Outsiders ranks Chicago's line as sixth-best in pass protection and 16th-best in run blocking. The Bears signed Bobby Massie away from Arizona in the offseason to play right tackle, allowing Long to move to his better position of guard. Charles Leno, a seventh-round pick in 2014, mans Cutler's blind side as the left tackle.

As noted above, the Bears have had some struggles in the red zone. They are 23rd in the NFL in TD efficiency on drives inside the 20. And their third-down troubles have allowed them to possess the ball an average of just over 28 minutes a game, eighth-worst in the league.



Chicago's defense has succeeded in some of the same areas that have been tough for the Bears' offense, such as in the red zone and on third downs. Overall, the Bears rank 12th in the NFL in yards allowed per game (338.9) and 14th in points allowed per game (22.4), and they're coming off a win over the first-place Vikings in which they allowed just 10 points.

The Bears' success on defense starts with a talented group of pass-rushers, many of them imported via free agency. The team's leading sacker is seventh-year man Willie Young, who had been labeled as a defensive end after arriving in Detroit in 2010 but now starts at outside linebacker in Fox's 3-4 defense. Young has 6.0 sacks this year and 22.5 in the two-and-a-half seasons he's been a Bear, after recording just six in four Detroit seasons. Chicago got Akiem Hicks this year as an unrestricted free agent from new England and he's starting at defensive end and is second with four sacks. Pernell McPhee, the team's biggest FA addition in 2015, has just one QB takedown so far this year but had 6.0 last year along with an interception and a forced fumble.

The homegrown talent in the front seven is Leonard Floyd, the ninth overall pick in this year's draft. Floyd has stepped right into the starting  lineup opposite Young, and in six games he has already posted 3.5 sacks, 18 tackles, two tackles for loss, four quarterback pressures, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Overall, good pressure on opposing quarterbacks has helped Chicago force a higher percentage of three-and-out drives than every team except Houston and Carolina.

Pictures of the Buccaneers' practice on Wednesday, November 9th.

The middle of that front seven is also a product of unrestricted free agency, with the team importing inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman (Indianapolis) and Danny Trevathan (Denver) this past offseason. Freeman is a very active player who leads the team in tackles by a large margin, with 73, and also has four tackles for loss, two quarterback pressures and a forced fumble. Over his four seasons with the Colts, he had 12 sacks, eight forced fumbles and four interceptions.

Chicago's run defense has been middle-of-the-pack, allowing 100.8 yards per game but only 3.9 per carry. It has given up six rushing scores, but big plays have been minimal on the ground. Chicago has allowed only three runs of 20 or more yards, which is tied for the fifth-fewest in the NFL. That has helped produce fewer easy third-down opportunities; the Bears' defense is eighth in the league in that category, allowing a conversion rate of 36.7%. They've been particularly good in third-and-medium situations (4-6 yards), ranking fifth with a 32.1% success rate allowed.

Chicago's secondary has only generated four interceptions so far, two by well-traveled veteran Tracy Porter, the one-time Super Bowl star in New Orleans. When healthy the Bears' starting CB duo is Porter and second-year man Bryce Callahan, an undrafted free agent in 2015. Beyond Porter, the Bears' cornerback crew is lacking in experience, with Callahan joined by fourth-round rookie Deiondre' Hall and another pair of 2015 undrafted rookies in Cre'Von LeBlanc and De'Vante Bausby.[

]( that inexperience – and likely because of a good pass rush – the Bears rank 12th in the NFL in pass defense. While opponents have completed almost exactly two-thirds of their passes, they haven't got as much out of those completions as one might expect. Bears opponents are averaging 10.4 yards per completion, which is third-best in the NFL behind Jacksonville and Dallas.

The starting safeties are Adrian Amos, a fifth-round pick in 2015, and Harold Jones-Quartey, a waiver claim from Arizona last year. Jones-Quartey, the first NFL player out of the University of Findlay in two decades, came into the league as an undrafted free agent. He got four starts last year and showed enough to hold a starting spot this season over fourth-round pick Deon Bush. Jones-Quartey is a willing hitter in run support and he ranks second on the team with 41 tackles.

As mentioned at the top, Chicago's defense has been good with its back against the wall. Opponents have recorded touchdowns on exactly half of their red-zone incursions, which is tied for the sixth-best defensive percentage in the league. The Bears are even better when it gets to a goal-to-go scenario, allowing touchdowns on 57.9% of drives to rank third in the league. That could be a key matchup if the Bucs can get close to the end zone, as Tampa Bay's offense has been the best goal-to-go unit in the league, scoring touchdowns on all 11 tries.



The Bears moved on from Robbie Gould after 11 seasons and ended up with a former Buccaneer as their new placekicker. That would be Connor Barth, who owns an 84.3% career field goal success rate and was Tampa Bay's kicker from 2009-12 and then again for most of last year. As a Bear, he has made 11 of his 14 three-pointers and all 14 of his extra point attempts. Barth was a reliable long-range kicker during his Buccaneer seasons, hitting on 15 of 23 tries from 50 yards and beyond, but he has had only one unsuccessful attempt from that range in 2016.

Pictures of Mike Evans during the Bucs' game against the Falcons.

Barth also improved his kickoff results last year, notching 32 touchbacks in 62 attempts after having recorded only 11 touchbacks in his career prior to that. However, at 46.9% this year, he is ranked 28th in the league in that regard in 2016. Fortunately for their Bears, their coverage team on kickoffs is doing well enough to keep them ranked seventh in the NFL in opponent average kickoff drive start (23.8-yard line). Given the lack of touchbacks and the fact that Chicago opponents are averaging 23.3 yards per return, it's evident that Barth has been dropping his kicks down near the goal line with good hang time.

The overall results on punts haven't been as good for the Bears. Third-year punter Pat O'Donnell, a sixth-round pick in 2014, had a fine year in 2015 but this season he ranks in gross punting average (43.3) and 30th in net average (37.5). That latter number has been hurt by the 14.7-yard punt return average recorded by Chicago opponents, the worst mark in the league. O'Donnell has been able to place 14 punts inside the 20 against only two touchbacks.

Veteran receiver Eddie Royal has taken over the punt return duties this year and his 11.2-yard average on 13 runbacks is above his fine career mark of 10.7. Royal also owns four return touchdowns in his career, three on punts.

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