Written by Cody Manning, @CodyTalksNFL
The Bucs are coming off a comeback win against the Los Angeles Chargers. Down 24-7 heading into halftime, Ndamukong Suh made a game-changing play by forcing a fumble which led to the offense getting into the endzone right before heading to the locker room. Tom Brady had his best game in the first quarter of the season by tossing for 369 yards and 5 touchdowns. The team is now at a 3-1 record and is sitting on top of the NFC South as we head towards the halfway point of the year. The offense is dealing with injuries heading into their Thursday night matchup with the Chicago Bears so they will need players to step up and get as much help from the defense that they can. Here are the Top 5 things I want to see from Tampa:
1. Can Ronald Jones and KeShawn Vaughn get the job done out of the backfield?
Jones is coming off his best game of 2020 by rushing for 111 yards and grabbed 6 receptions for 17 yards as well. Vaughn made his debut as a Buc on Sunday, only got 3 rushes for 4 yards, but he did get a couple of receptions for 22 yards and got his first touchdown in the NFL. Tampa will be playing without Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy so it will be on the two backs to get the job done. The Bears have allowed 115 YPG on the ground, but have a strong front seven that includes Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Robert Quinn, and Roquan Smith. With the injuries to the wide receiver and tight end group, the tandem will need to give their fair share of help to the offensive unit.
2. Will the defense force Nick Foles to beat them through the air?
It will be interesting to see how Todd Bowels wants to attack the Chicago offense after seeing what the Indianapolis Colts defensive unit did on Sunday. Indy bottled up the run game by only allowing a total of 28 rushing yards. Foles finished his first full game as a Bear going 26/42 for 249 yards, 1 touchdown, and an interception. He’s a quarterback that can win when everything around him is going right but can struggle if there isn’t any resemblance of a running game. If Tampa can replicate that success on Thursday night then I like their chances of pulling out a win on the road.
3. How will the passing attack look with the injuries on a short week?
The Bucs are dealing with a lot of injuries to the skill position players as they travel up to the Windy City. I already mentioned the running backs that are out, O.J. Howard is done for the season, Justin Watson has been ruled out, plus Mike Evans and Scotty Miller are listed as questionable on the final injury report. After coming off their best game through the air, it might look different if Evans and Miller have to miss or are playing pretty banged up. Does a role increase happen for a Rob Gronkowski or Cameron Brate? Will Tyler Johnson make an impact? Regardless, Bruce Arians and Bryon Leftwich will have to be creative to move the ball against a solid Bears defense.
4. Does the offensive line keep up the good job of protecting Tom Brady?
The offensive line was one of the bigger question marks that surrounded the team heading into the season and after the Week 1 performance against the New Orleans Saints, most wondered if it would hinder their chances at a deep postseason run. Since then the unit has played very well, they have not allowed a sack in 2 of the last 3 games and only a total of 5 sacks on the season, which is the 5th-lowest in the NFL. As I alluded to earlier, Chicago has a great defensive front that can get after the quarterback so the unit will be tested once again this week. With the injuries to the offense, they will need to give Brady as much time as possible to scan the field to make a play.
5. Should we consider the Buccaneers as the best team in the NFC?
Tampa is currently sitting on top of their division, but so are the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers with an undefeated record. If the Buccaneers offense can consistently perform as it did on Sunday, then they can make a case as the best offensive unit between the 3 teams. One thing that they can hang their hat on is that in my opinion, the Bucs defense is better right now then the Seahawks or Packers. They are the most well-rounded team in the NFC, but that will be dependent on players getting and staying healthy for the rest of the season. The Bears are also 3-1, so if they want to make a case that they should be taken as a threat to the conference then the team needs to handle business on Thursday night.