By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) Lovie Smith’s return to Soldier Field to face the team he coached for nine seasons is the biggest storyline heading into Sunday’s tilt between the Buccaneers and Bears. As poorly as the season has gone for the 2-8 Bucs, they’re only two games out of first place in the miserable NFC South. Both teams need a win in the worst way possible.READ MORE: Video From Police Shooting That Killed Adam Toledo To Be Released On Thursday, COPA Says
Here are five matchups to focus on during Sunday’s action.
Bears right guard Kyle Long vs. Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy — When I asked Jay Cutler whether interior or edge rushers are more difficult to deal with, he replied, “a three-technique can wreck your day.” McCoy is one of the premier three-techniques in the league and poses a huge challenge for Long, who has been stout in pass protection this season. Both are elite athletes at their position, set apart from the rest by their smooth footwork. McCoy is adept at setting up rushers outside only to beat them back across their face, so Long must stay balanced with his lower-body framework.
Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery vs. Bucs cornerback Johnthan Banks — This is a matchup of two long-armed, lanky and angular athletes on the perimeter. Banks uses his press technique from an outside leverage position off the snap to re-route receivers and disrupt the timing of their release. Jeffery was the focal point of the Bears’ passing attack last week and won many encounters by hand fighting at the line of scrimmage, which he’ll have to do again this week when matched up against the 6-foot-2 Banks.READ MORE: COVID-19 In Illinois: More Than 3 Million Residents Fully Vaccinated, But Cases And Hospitalizations Still Up Significantly Over Past Month
Bears tight end Martellus Bennett vs. Bucs strong safety Major Wright — Keep a close eye on who the Bears line up as their Nos. 2 and 3 receivers this week in their trips sets, as they will likely draw Wright in coverage, who has given up three touchdowns this season. When the Bucs go to their shell (split-safety) looks, Bennett will press the vertical seam and run “choice” routes based on where the coverage is lined up over the top. Given Bennett’s size to out-leverage safeties and linebackers, this matchup is an advantage for the Bears.
Bears cornerback Tim Jennings vs. Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans — Over his past three games, Evans is on a tear, racking up 458 receiving yards (including a 209-yard game last week) and five touchdowns. The rookie has really blossomed and is consistently getting deep to stack on top of defensive backs. Seeing that the Bears typically don’t match up their corners, look for the Bucs to try and isolate Evans on Jennings, against whom they have a decided physical advantage to win 50/50 balls. The Packers isolated Jordy Nelson on Jennings a few weeks ago, and the results were positive for the Packers.
Bears right defensive end Jared Allen vs. Bucs left tackle Anthony Collins — For one week at least, Allen found that elusive half-step last Sunday and had his best game of the season against Minnesota’s Matt Kalil. At this point in his career, Allen wins with technique more than speed, and Collins has struggled to protect the blindside, giving up 23 combined hits, hurries and sacks this season. The Bucs use a lot of two-tight end personnel, so if Allen gets the best of Collins, he could force tight ends to stay in an chip, which gives the Bears an extra defender in the secondary to bracket the Bucs’ tall receivers.MORE NEWS: Preparation Work Begins In Jackson Park Ahead Of Fall Groundbreaking For Obama Presidential Center
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.