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Good morning, Bears fans.
Well, we made it to Friday during what feels like the longest Week 2 ever. Can you believe it’s been 22 years since the Buccaneers were in the NFC Central? This trip to Tampa Bay is obviously crucial for a Bears team that needs to turn things around in a hurry.
With that in mind, here are the biggest Bears Things I am focused on this weekend:
Who will be the Bears’ new nickel back? With Kyler Gordon headed to injured reserve until at least Week 6, the defense is already missing a key piece of the puzzle. And the depth has taken a hit too. Backup Josh Blackwell would be the next man up, but he suffered a hamstring injury this week and did not practice Thursday. If he can’t play, Greg Stroman Jr., who was elevated from the practice squad Thursday, could be the likely option. Jaylon Johnson said Thursday that Stroman has received practice reps with the starters.
Another possible option is rookie Terrell Smith. The problem with Smith is that he was primarily an outside corner at Minnesota and has limited experience in the slot. On the flip side, he might be the best defensive back available to get on the field.
One option I would not consider? Moving Tyrique Stevenson inside. That could be a possibility if they determine that Smith should be on the field, but only on the outside. The Bears tried the inside-outside thing with Gordon last year and it proved to be too much for the then-rookie. Perhaps Stevenson can handle it better, but personally, I would leave him on the outside so he can continue to play fast.
Easy special teams fix. In the aftermath of the Bears allowing a 35-yard punt return to Packers returner Jayden Reed last week, special teams coordinator Richard Hightower detailed four factors that can go wrong to allow a long return:
1. Gunners not being a factor.
2. Bad hang-to-distance ratio on the kick.
3. Guys stacked in coverage (not spread out in their lanes).
4. Missed tackles.
If any one of those factors is a problem, a long return can happen. In this case, three things went wrong, as Hightower said the hang-to-distance ratio on Trenton Gill’s punt was fine. Unfortunately, both gunners (Jaylon Jones and Josh Blackwell) were doubled and unable to get downfield fast enough (Blackwell ended up being blocked by a third blocker). Multiple players were stacked, while Travis Homer failed to force the ball back inside and Khari Blasingame failed to keep contain. Both players missed opportunities to make the tackle, too.
Somewhat of a worst-case scenario on that play (besides allowing a touchdown), but it also shouldn’t be too hard to correct. All of those players mentioned are good special teamers.
X-factor against the Bucs: DJ Moore. Typically I wouldn’t put this designation on a player as obvious as Moore, but given that he only received two targets in Week 1, Moore’s involvement in the offense could literally decide this game. His chemistry with Fields was what led to excitement about this offense in the preseason. So, naturally, his lack of involvement led to disastrous results against the Packers. This is a week to force Moore the football.
Prediction: Bears 24, Bucs 21. I’m giving this team one more week before full panic sets in. This game has Week 1 overreaction/Week 2 correction written all over it. The Bucs are not as good as they showed in Minnesota last week (although the defense probably is) and the Bears are not as bad as they showed against the Packers.
Up Next: The Bears close out the practice week today with a red/gold zone Friday before traveling to Tampa on Saturday. Will DeWitt and Nicholas Moreano will have you covered with a full preview episode of The CHGO Bears Podcast today at Noon CT. Sunday, our pregame coverage starts at 11 a.m. CT with postgame immediately following the game.
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