Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Chicago Bears: A Jolly Good Time in Grand Ole England

2011 International Series

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears head over the pond to renew an old NFC Central rivalry. SB Nation Tampa Bay takes an indepth look at 2011 NFL International Series game.

Hello there, ole chap. We have one amazing match for London's onlookers as the swashbuckling pirates from Tampa Bay take on the Ursidae Mammals from the colonies' second city, Chicago.

Now - as we break for a spot of tea - let's review this American Footy and offer our insights before we say pip pip and cherio!

Okay...okay...I'll stop with the British slang - not that I'm any good at it anyway.

The Bucs and Bears rekindle their old NFC Central rivalry in London as the NFL once again ships another Buccaneer home game overseas in hopes of seeding more interest in the sport.

Some Bucs fans will be happy to have a "home" game on television, while others still lament a loss of one of the precious 10 Sunday's of the fall.

And of course, there's Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio continuing to spread the bollocks that the Bucs may turn London into a permanent home.

Still, the Bucs do have an advantage in that they've done this trip before, they've learned from their mistakes and have planned appropriately. The Bears are treating this game like a normal road trip - something you don't really want to do. Plus, they bring the baggage of Lance Briggs' comments.

The veteran Chicago linebacker told reporters, "I think there's a big transition going on right now - The players and the management, they're not seeing eye-to-eye on a lot of different issues and a lot of player situations. I don't know where it's going to go or how it's going to pan out.

"I think it takes away from wanting to just go out on the football field and just play."

Ruh roh.

So let's take a look at the numbers for this showdown between former rivals.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Passing Game vs. Chicago Bears Pass Defense

Finally Josh Freeman and the Bucs' passing game showed signs of life after five weeks of subpar play. Freeman was accurate, made good decisions, protected the football and kept the Bucs moving, tossing two touchdown passes in the Buccaneers upset of the New Orleans Saints. The good day for the passing game moved the Bucs up to 14th in the league passing. Regus Benn continues to improve and has become Tampa Bay's most dangerous threat in the secondary, averaging 16.2 yards a reception. Kellen Winslow, Jr. is the team's leading pass catcher while youngster Preston Parker has surprised as the team's leader in receiving yardage and touchdown catches. Freeman is also among the least sacked quarterbacks in the NFL and is 4th in the NFL in rushing yards by a quarterback.

Julius Peppers will try to apply heat on Freeman. He leads the 25th ranked pass defense in the National Football League in sacks with 4 while battling through some injuries. He's joined by DE Israel Idonije, who has 3 sacks as well. Chicago hasn't been very opportunistic in the secondary, picking off just 4 passes this season (2 by middle linebacker Brian Urlacher).

Advantage: Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay Rushing Attack vs. Chicago Run Defense

The Buccaneers will likely again be without the services of battering ram LeGarrette Blount once again as he continues to nurse his MCL tear undisclosed knee injury. The Bucs didn't need him against New Orleans as the Gray Gator Earnest Graham provided balance to the Bucs' passing attack by pounding out 109 yards on 17 carries. Tampa Bay comes in with the 15th ranked running game in the NFL.

They'll be facing a Bears team that has been disappointing in stopping the run in 2011. Chicago is 22nd in the league against the run, surrendering 121.8 yards a game. The aforementioned Briggs leads the team with 49 tackles (35 solo) and 4 tackles for loss while DB Charles Tillman ranks second with 42 tackles (36 solo).

Advantage: Tampa Bay

Chicago Bears Passing Game vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pass Defense

Jay Cutler may not be the most inspiring quarterback in the NFL, but he certainly has a cannon for an arm. Cutler has passed for 1,476 yards and 8 touchdowns this season despite his offensive line surrendering the third most sacks in the league. It's those sacks that have stunted the progress of the Bears offense, causing them to be ranked 21st in the league in passing. 

Most of Cutler's passes are sent to dual threat Matt Forte, who is deadly in the open field. Forte has 36 receptions for 381 yards and a touchdown. Johnny Knox and Devin Hester can score in a heart beat while Dane Sanzenbacher has found the end zone 3 times.

The Bucs' secondary got instantly better with the return of safety Tarnard Jackson.  Tampa Bay forced three interceptions of super QB Drew Brees after recording just 2 in their first five games. The Bucs' pass rush didn't record a sack but harassed Brees into poor decisions throughout the contest. 

2011 1st round pick Adrian Clayborn has been the just miss guy, recording 13 quarterback pressures but just 2 sacks, tied for the team lead with Michael Bennett and fellow rookie MLB Mason Foster.

Both Foster and 2010 1st round bust pick Gerald McCoy appear to be healthy and available to play against Chicago.

Tampa Bay is 26th in the NFL in stopping the pass.

Advantage: Chicago

Chicago Rushing Attack vs. Tampa Bay Run Defense

Matt Forte is a beast in both the passing and running game for the Chicago Bears. Adding to Forte's 381 yards receiving is his 527 yards rushing (7th in the NFL) and 1 touchdown. Forte is pretty much the entire Chicago running game with the exception of reverses or wildcats to Devin Hester, Johnny Knox and Dane Sanzenbacher. Despite Forte's success, Chicago is 20th in the league in rushing.

The Bucs' on again-off again run defense was on again for the mercurial Darren Sproles and the New Orleans Saints. Tampa Bay will need another big day from their defensive front to keep Forte in check. The Bucs are led by safety Sean Jones in tackles with 36. Geno Hayes and Brian Price are tied for the team lead in tackles for losses. The Bucs are 18th in the NFL against the run.

Advantage: Push

Special Teams

Say it with me, Bucs Fans: Coach Rah and punter/kickoff specialist Michael Koenen - whatever you do - DON'T KICK IT TO HESTER. Devin Hester continues to be one of the greatest returners in the history of the game. He's now up to 16 kickoff/punt returns for touchdowns (including 2 this season). Kick it out of bounds, kick it to the third row at the 40 yard line - but don't kick it to Hester.

The Bears battery of kickers is solid as well, as veteran Robbie Gould is a perfect 13-for-13 with a long of 51 on the season. Veteran punter Adam Podlesh is averaging 43.3 yards a punt with 8 pinned inside the opponents 20.

Tampa Bay counters with Connor Barth, who's 12 of 14 with a long of 49. Michael Koenen handles the kickoff and punting duties for the Bucs. As a punter, he has an impressive 46.0 yards a punt and has pinned 12 inside the 20.

Preston Parker is the Bucs leading returner, averaging 21.3 yards a kickoff and 9.7 yds a punt return.

Both Tampa Bay and Chicago rank among league leaders in kick and punt return defense.

Advantage: Chicago

Coaching

Tampa Bay is led by Raheem Morris, whose in his third season with the Buccaneers. Morris has a record of 16-21, 13-8 in his last 21 games.

Lovie Smith enters his 8th season with the Bears, sporting a record of 66-52. Smith has led the Bears to three division titles and the 2006 NFC Championship. He has a 3-3 record in post-season play.

Advantage: Chicago

By the Numbers

 

  • Chicago leads the all-time series 35-18.
  • Chicago's 35 victories is the most of any team in the NFL over Tampa Bay.
  • Since leaving for the NFC South, Tampa Bay is 3-2 against the Bears
  • Tampa Bay has won 9 of the last 14 meetings
  • Tampa Bay is 0-1 in London, Chicago has never played a regular season game overseas.
  • Tampa Bay is +3 in giveaway/takeaway ratio, Chicago is +2.
Outlook:
Two good football teams arrive in jolly ole England in different states of mind. Tampa Bay is coming of a huge victory over division rival New Orleans, tying them for first in the NFC South. The Bucs left for England on Monday and have been able to get acclimated to the climate and time difference, practicing their normal routine with little interruption.

Chicago also is coming off a big victory over a division rival but decided to leave on Thursday night and is dealing with the fallout from the Lance Briggs' commentary on the state of mind of the Bears' players, including the reference to the disagreements  are "(taking) away from wanting to just go out on the football field and just play."

It seems there's one team focused, ready to play football while the other team may have some internal issues that need to get worked out. It certainly didn't hurt the Bears last week, who pummeled the hapless Vikings, 39-10. 

Still, that game was at home in front of a national television audience. This game will have the pomp-and-circumstance of a big game, but for the Bears one has to wonder if they'll be ready for this football game.

The Bears also have issues protecting Jay Cutler, something that could feed into the Bucs' aggressive defensive line (which will be bolstered by the return of McCoy).

The Bears defense is hardly the dominant force it once was, which should allow Josh Freeman to continue his resurgence. As long as Freeman protects the football, the Bucs contain Forte and don't kick the ball to Hester, Tampa Bay should win this game.

 Prediction: Tampa Bay 23, Chicago 13

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