The Bears will look to improve to 4-1 when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Thursday night at Soldier Field. Here are four storylines to watch in the game:
(1) Will Nick Foles perform more like he did in relief two weeks ago against the Falcons than he did in his first start last Sunday versus the Colts?
After Foles threw three fourth-quarter touchdown passes to lead the Bears to a dramatic 30-26 comeback win in Atlanta, expectations were high heading into the veteran quarterback's first start of the season a week later versus Indianapolis. But the Bears offense lacked rhythm and timing in a 19-11 loss to the Colts, mustering only one field goal on 10 possessions before Foles threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Allen Robinson II with 1:35 remaining.
With all offseason practices and the entire preseason cancelled due to COVID-19, Foles didn't begin to work with his new Bears teammates until training camp and didn't play in a game with them until the Week 3 contest in Atlanta. Unfortunately, those circumstances have pushed back the timeline for the quarterback to develop timing with his receivers—something that may have been a factor in a pivotal play against the Colts.
Trailing 19-3 early in the fourth quarter, the Bears faced third-and-10 from the Colts' 26 when Foles' pass over the middle went through the outstretched hands of receiver Anthony Miller and was intercepted by safety Julian Blackmon. Foles accepted the blame for the turnover, saying: "I've got to be more accurate. I've got to help [Miller] out. I was trying to lead him out of the break to have him split the safeties and it was probably about six inches too far. That's on me, and that's something that is an easy fix for me."
The Bears are confident that the timing between Foles and his receivers will become crisper as they gain more playing time experience together.
(2) After getting stuffed by the Colts, will the Bears' run game revert to the form it displayed in the first three games of the season?
It appeared that the Bears were creating an identity on offense that they lacked last season when they rushed for 149, 135 and 130 yards the first three weeks of the season in wins over the Lions, Giants and Falcons, respectively.
But the ground game was limited to 28 yards on 16 carries with a long rush of six yards by a Colts defense that entered Week 4 ranked fourth in the NFL against the run. That lack of success made the offense become one-dimensional and created unfavorable second-and-long and third-and-long situations. Through the first three quarters of the game, the Bears generated only 67 yards on 30 plays while converting 2-of-9 third-down opportunities.
The Bears know they must run the ball more effectively Thursday night, but it won't be easy against a Buccaneers defense that ranks second in the NFL versus the run, allowing an average of just 64.3 yards per game. Tampa Bay's defense is led by tackle Ndamukong Suh and linebackers Lavonte David, Devin White, Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul.
David Montgomery looks to get back on track after being limited to 27 yards on 10 carries by the Colts. The second-year pro leads the Bears in rushing this season with 218 yards on 53 carries.
(3) How will the Bears fare against superstar quarterback Tom Brady?
The future first-ballot Hall of Famer is 5-0 all-time against the Bears, completing 70.4 percent of his passes for 1,595 yards with 14 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 109.2 passer rating.
All five of those contests, of course, came during Brady's 20 seasons with the Patriots. Little has seemingly changed, however, now that the 43-year-old is in his first year with the Buccaneers. Last Sunday, Brady passed for 369 yards and five touchdowns—to five different players for the first time in his career—to overcome a 24-7 deficit in a 38-31 win over the Chargers.
"What you see is a guy who knows the game inside out," said head coach Matt Nagy. "He attacks you downfield. There's never any panic. I mean, he gets behind 17 points or 20 points, [but] it doesn't matter. You're always in the game with him. It's hard to rattle him. It's hard to get to him, just because the game is extremely slow to him right now. I just have ultimate respect for him. He's one of the best, if not the best, to play the game at that position. I think Tampa is certainly feeling that right now and understanding how great of a player and person that he is."
Against Brady, the Bears will need all 11 of their defenders to play as one.
"Everybody's got to be on the same page," said defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. "We've got to be coordinated. We've got to do a great job of disguising [coverages]. We've got to do a great job pre-snap and post-snap. There's nothing that he has not seen. We've got to stop the run. We've got to get pressure on him somehow, someway. They've done a great job protecting him this year. They've only given up five sacks, so it's hard, and the ball's coming out [quickly] and he knows where to go with it. Again, it's always a huge challenge anytime you face him."
(4) How will a rash of injuries affect the Buccaneers offense?
Tampa Bay will be shorthanded on offense Thursday night. Tight end O.J. Howard will miss the rest of the season after rupturing his Achilles tendon in last Sunday's win over the Chargers. Plus, receivers Chris Godwin (hamstring) and Justin Watson (chest) and running back LeSean McCoy (ankle) have all been ruled out of the game at Soldier Field.
In addition, running back Leonard Fournette (ankle) is doubtful, while receivers Mike Evans (ankle) and Scotty Miller (hip/groin) are questionable. Of the six players listed on the Buccaneers injury report, only Miller was able to practice Wednesday, and he was limited.