By Jeff Joniak–
(CBS) The Bears (2-6) are on the road to face the Buccaneers (3-5) on Sunday at noon. Here are my keys to the game.
Offense: Red zone
Red-zone production is the top area of concern for the Bears after the first half of the season. During the bye week, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains checked out nearly 400 touchdown plays scored from the 12-yard line in from around the league for insight. He found that most of the touchdowns were scored after a quarterback’s first progression was taken away in the passing game. So, the more mobile, creative and patient the quarterback, the better chance for a red-zone touchdown. The matchup is a good one for the Bears against a Bucs defense that’s weak in the red area, ranking 28th in touchdown efficiency and 30th overall for scoring inside its 30-yard line.
Defense: Pass rush
Ending the first half on a high note, the pass rush is coming together. Confidence-building plays by Leonard Floyd, the consistency of Willie Young, the power of Pernell McPhee and the inside push of Akeim Hicks and maybe the healthy return of Eddie Goldman will continue to elevate the performance of the front seven. Tampa Bay is a team that doesn’t make a lot of big plays and has been below average in protecting quarterback Jameis Winston. However, defending receiver Mike Evans will be the biggest challenge for the Bears defense given his size and wingspan. Chicago did in last season’s win in Tampa. Can the Bears do it again?
Special teams: Spark it
Keeping the Bucs out of the end zone and forcing field-goal attempts could result in a big day for the Bears. Rookie second-round Bucs kicker Roberto Aguayo has missed five of his 12 field goals, plus two extra points. He’s only made one field goal at home on two tries. The Bears’ coverage units are improving every week, and a big takeaway on the road leading to great field position and points off the turnover could spark a victory.
Will the Bears play with the same fire they did at home against the Vikings on Oct. 31? If they do, it would reinforce what has been brewing in the Bears locker room. It’s a room filled with players who like working with each other and have each other’s backs. The win over the Vikings was a feel-good win the Bears needed badly heading into the bye. It was inspired by Jay Cutler’s return at quarterback. That winning feeling seems to have made an impact with the locker room. Don’t let that feeling disintegrate.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.