NFL Game Scripts Week 5: Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Chicago Bears

After a misstep in Week 1, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been resurgent since, winning three straight games as they continue to figure out their offense. Chicago has different questions on offense due to their QB struggles, and although their defense is playing at a high level, they need to get things right as soon as possible. Both teams have set themselves up for a playoff run, but a loss on Thursday Night Football would drastically slow that momentum heading into the middle of the season.

Tampa Bay Buccaners Offense vs. Chicago Bears Defense

The Run Game

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Chicago Bears
Image Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Since Week 1, Tampa Bay have had their top three RBs each have inconsistent successes and struggles. Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette have been the main ball carriers, while LeSean McCoy had a vintage performance as a receiver in Week 3. 

Although Fournette can be a receiver out of the backfield, he is mostly used as a power runner between the Tackles. Instead, Jones II provides a zone-run scheme with more versatility as a receiver, while McCoy is rarely used to rush the ball, but is the best at picking up defenders as a pass blocker and as a short yardage receiver. The Buccaneers will mix all three together at times to create different looks for defenses, disguising their pass plays especially.

For much of the first half, Tampa Bay will alternate between Jones and Fournette (assuming he is active), using both on runs inside and outside of the Tackles. The TEs will sometimes be used as extra blockers, but instead Tampa will rely on their OL getting a push upfield. Jones will see more runs to the outside, but running them both in the same way allows for greater deception and fake handoffs in the second half. 

With McCoy already ruled out it will be interesting to see how the passing down work is shared, and we could see rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn picking up some of that work. Assuming Fournette is active, the Buccaneers could choose to use 2 RB formations after their first few drives, giving them the option to fake handoff to one and run the other in the opposite direction.

Alternatively, they could use counters with the lead back while the second RB is being faked a toss to the outside, trying to create space through the middle by leading defenders to the edge. In the second half, whoever has had the better day will see slightly more snaps, and if it’s even, they will continue to split them, especially if the Buccaneers have the lead. If Tampa Bay is behind in the second half, Fournette could see a reduction in snaps as he offers less in the passing game. If Fournette is out, look for a heavy dose of Jones with a sprinkling of Vaughn to spell him.

Chicago have a dominant defensive front, although they’ve been average against the run. LBs Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan will both track the RBs, and have the speed to get to the outside quickly if Jones or Fournette don’t stay inside. Fellow LB Khalil Mack will also be used to close down one edge, allowing the Bears to have Smith, Trevathan and DL Akiem Hicks focus on closing down the interior of the OL. 

To cover the other side, the Bears will occasionally alternate between an extra LB and Safety, but will mostly rely on Smith and Trevathan shutting down RBs that get to the second level, so that they can play tighter man coverage against the pass.

The Passing Game

Tampa Bay have experienced a few injuries at the skill positions on offense, but have sufficient depth to overcome them. Mostly using two and three WR sets, the Buccaneers will have WR Mike Evans on the outside, using moves to create separation, while rarely running routes over the middle. TEs Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate will line up alongside the OL and sometimes be moved out to the slot to give a size advantage as they work back inside. 

The second and third WRs will sometimes be based in the slot or on the outside, and with Chris Godwin ruled out, will alternate between Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson and Justin Watson, who each run different routes. Meanwhile the RBs will occasionally be split to the outside. However, they usually stay in the backfield for protection or a late release a few yards downfield.

At all times, the Buccaneers have four receiving options for Brady. With Evans handling one sideline, Brady will take a few deep shots throughout the game, but they will sometimes have Evans on a comeback or a move late in the route so that the CB is caught unexpectedly and there is a cushion provided. From the first quarter onwards, Brate, Gronkowski, Miller, and the third WR will use routes at different levels to stretch the defense, while also giving Brady an underneath passing option at all times if there are no open receivers downfield. 

After their first few drives, especially if they have struggled to pass the ball, the Buccaneers will use more TE and WR screens, getting their OL or TEs downfield as blockers. The Buccaneers will also use more slants in the second half, Evans and a second receiver stacked up on one side, forcing the LB to stay short and defend the underneath receiver or drop back, leaving the outside or inside option open depending on what they do.

The Bears will counter all of this with man coverage and have CB Kyle Fuller shadow Evans wherever he goes. That will leave Jaylon Johnson to take out the second biggest threat, although his length might make him a better coverage option on Evans as the game progresses. That would give Fuller a decent opportunity to shut down the second receiver in one on one, allowing the ret of the secondary to focus on assisting Johnson as well as neutralising the threat from the backs and receivers.

Safety Eddie Jackson will play over the top and be asked to prevent deep plays for most of the game, with the LBs bracketing the slot receiver, where Brady prefers to throw. The TEs will be covered by Safeties, although if Gronkowski doesn’t run downfield routes, this could become a LB instead to free up a more versatile DB to defend against one of the WRs. With Mack and a three-man front, the Bears should be able to get pressure on Brady, but will sometimes have a Safety blitzing from the outside, or a LB through the middle. 

Not giving Brady time to find a man downfield will help Chicago use their LBs in coverage more, and they will want the Buccaneers to avoid using the middle of the field too much.

What should we expect to see on Sunday?

The Buccaneers will pass the ball over the middle frequently, with a few deep attempts or to the sidelines. They will run the ball with multiple RBs inside and out, setting themselves up for a few play action attempts when they will hit the sidelines and deeper receivers. With spacing and levels concepts, the Buccaneers will stretch the Bears’ defenders downfield and and between the sidelines, creating holes in between them. Chicago will rely on their man defense to cover the receivers, hoping their pass rush is enough to disrupt Brady and restrict the offense finding a rhythm. Although they could be caught out against the run if they focus on the pass too much.

Chicago Bears Offense vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense

The Run Game

With RB Tarik Cohen out with injury, the Bears are leaning more heavily on David Montgomery, which has improved their rushing attack as they can now disguise his use more effectively.

Montgomery will mostly be run between the Tackles, but makes good cuts to get past would-be tacklers, and will sometimes be run to the outside with extra blocking from a TE. WR Cordarelle Patterson will sometimes be used out of the backfield, with Patterson and other WRs on reverse and end arounds, but it is mostly Montgomery in the ground game.

The Bears will run Montgomery often in the first half, gradually reducing his workload to become a more balanced attack. After a few drives where he mostly runs up the middle, the Bears will start to fake handoffs to him so they can throw quick passes and WR screens, as well as introduce more counters. Chicago should start to move a TE more before the snap to further help the run game, by either shifting the TE to block edge rushers, or to look like an extra blocker, allowing Montgomery to follow a pulling Guard the opposite side of the line. The second quarter will see the introduction of Patterson as a runner, who will predominantly run outside the Tackles and try to use his speed to get into space.

The Buccaneers are one of the best teams against the run, especially through the middle, which will allow them to take a few chances in reducing successful runs to the outside. DTs Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh will close up gaps through the middle with pinch plays and make tackles for a loss, allowing the ILBs Devin White and Lavonte David to head towards the Tackles more often. Tampa Bay shouldn’t need more than their front seven to defend against the run, giving them enough DBs to defend the pass.

The Passing Game

Chicago have had difficulty passing the ball for an entire game so far this season, partly because their OL has struggled to maintain a pocket for long enough. After WR Allen Robinson, they rotate through WRs to do different things, using Anthony Miller, Darnell Mooney, Javon Wims and Ted Ginn to run a combination of vertical, short and out routes, while Robinson works the middle of the field, sometimes venturing to the outside. 

TEs Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet often are asked to stay in as blockers, although will run slants to the sideline, and are threats in the red zone. Montgomery will see some work as a receiver, mostly as an underneath release and on swing routes, but will occasionally split out and run a crossing route.

For most of the first half, the Bears will send Robinson and another WR on combination routes, including scissors, slants and dagger concepts, mostly with Robinson cutting inside downfield, allowing the second receiver to either continue in a vertical or corner route, or stay underneath and become an open receiver if Robinson continues to draw coverage. A third WR or TE will then be running short in or out routes, with the fourth receiving option using the opposite sideline, running up the numbers on a comeback, curl or in route to stay in front of the CB. 

Into the second quarter and second half, the Bears will use a few WR screens with Kmet as a downfield blocker, as well as both outside receivers on “7” out routes to create space over the middle for the third WR. The Bears will on each drive send Robinson on a deep route, usually with another receiver also running downfield, hoping to test the Buccaneers CBs. If they find success, they will increase Miller’s use on slants and crossing routes over the middle into the second half.

The Buccaneers will generate pressure up the middle and on the edge with their DL and LBs, leaving Devin White and Lavonte David to cover Montgomery and the receiver who is running over the middle. CB Carlton Davis will mostly take the outside receiver, especially if it is Robinson, while fellow CB Sean Murphy-Bunting takes the other outside receiver, with Tampa Bay allowing for each to try and defend Miller and Robinson from the slot. Safeties Antoine Winfield Jr. and Jordan Whitehead will stay deep in Cover 2 and track the downfield receivers, if not used to double cover Robinson as the game progresses.

What should we expect to see on Sunday?

Chicago will run early in the game, but will quickly start passing more to the outside once they have little success on the ground. The Bears should continue running the ball at times, but need to use more deception with the RB on draw plays and WR screens after fake handoffs. The Bears will look to attack downfield frequently, but could be forced into check downs over the middle. 

Tampa Bay will feel comfortable with their DBs, as they can drop both Safeties into coverage to defend the deep pass, giving an extra defender against Robinson over the middle in Devin White, or downfield in Winfield or Whitehead. With their defensive front, Tampa Bay should feel confident they can heavily impact the Bears’ offense, but if Chicago’s OL can sustain blocks, the Buccaneers could be found out with a lack of depth in the secondary.

Owen Ravenna

NFL Analyst