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Keys to the Game

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Keys to the Game: 3 things that will help Bears beat Bucs

Bears quarterback Justin Fields
Bears quarterback Justin Fields

The Bears (0-1) will visit the Buccaneers (1-0) Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Here are three things that should increase their chances of winning the game:

(1) Not only withstand but exploit Tampa Bay's blitzes.

Under coach Todd Bowles, the Buccaneers love to blitz. If history is any indication, they'll send extra pass rushers after Bears quarterback Justin Fields early and often.

"Any time you play coach Bowles, that's what you have to prepare for," said Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. "He's as good as anybody in the league at attacking you on offense; being aggressive. They did that to Minnesota last week, 70-some percent of the snaps, right? That's who they are. That's their makeup. It's always been that way. [Preparing for blitzes] is a huge part of our plan."

The Buccaneers' 21 blitzes in last Sunday's 20-17 season-opening win over the Vikings in Minnesota were the most by any NFL team in Week 1. On one well-timed blitz, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. registered a strip sack of quarterback Kirk Cousins and recovered the fumble himself at the Minnesota 18, setting up a field goal. The Bears must avoid those types of miscues against a Tampa Bay defense that generated three takeaways last weekend versus the Vikings. 

If the Bears can pick up the Buccaneers blitzes Sunday, they should have some chances to make plays down the field. In Week 1, Minnesota's Kirk Cousins completed 33 of 44 passes for 344 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and a 102.8 passer rating. It will be up to Fields to find favorable 1-on-1 matchups in the secondary. Fields told reporters Wednesday that he didn't throw the ball down the field as much as he probably should have in last Sunday's season-opening loss to the Packers, saying: "I felt like I was a little bit too conservative at times during the game."

(2) Get the ball to No. 1 receiver DJ Moore.

The Bears targeted their prized offseason acquisition only twice versus the Packers, something that Getsy called "definitely a disappointment." Moore caught both passes thrown his way for 11 and 14 yards on back-to-back plays to set up a field goal.

Coach Matt Eberflus acknowledged Monday that the Bears need to get Moore more involved, saying: "It's important for us to be able to get the ball to our best skill. We need to do that. We need to do that as an offense. We have to do a better job there. Were the plays designed for him to go there sometimes? Yep. And they had some different coverages rolled up to him at times and different things that they were doing, which some teams are going to do, but we certainly have to find ways to feed DJ and feed our skill."

The Bears acquired Moore in March from the Panthers via a blockbuster trade along with four draft picks in exchange for the No. 1 selection in the draft. Moore arrived in Chicago after catching 364 passes for 5,201 yards and 21 touchdowns in five seasons with Carolina. Known for his ability to gain yards after the catch, he showed his explosive game-breaking ability in the Bears' preseason opener against the Titans when he turned a short screen pass into a 62-yard TD.

The Bears were back on the practice fields at Halas Hall Wednesday afternoon to continue their preparation for Sunday's Week 2 road game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

(3) Defensively, generate pressure on quarterback Baker Mayfield and get off the field on third down.

The aspect of the defense's performance against the Packers that disappointed Eberflus most was allowing Green Bay to convert 9 of 16 third-down opportunities (56.3%). One contributing factor was the inability to pressure inexperienced quarterback Jordan Love; the Bears recorded just one sack (by Yannick Ngakoue) and were credited with only three quarterback hits.

"It is about the rush, no question, but it's also about the coverage," Eberflus said. "It's us having precision and detail there to be able to get off the field on those third downs. For example, the first drive, we ended up having three of them, didn't get off the field. We have to do that at a better rate."

Asked what one area the defense must improve from Week 1 to 2, defensive end DeMarcus Walker said: "Third. Down. Third down. We've got to get off the field on third down, get some takeaways. Continue to get better stopping the run and we've got to get to the quarterback."

Under the radar

One "X" factor Sunday will be the heat and humidity in Tampa, where the temperature at kickoff is expected to be about 90 degrees, with a 50% chance of rain.

The Bears played in similar conditions in Miami Oct. 14, 2018, when the game-time temperature was 89 degrees with 67% humidity and a heat index of 101.2. 

The Bears led 21-7 late in the third quarter, but the Dolphins rallied for a 31-28 overtime win, scoring on five of their final seven possessions.

"That one was hot, I'm not going to lie to you," said safety Eddie Jackson, who played in that game. "Being in Chicago in this type of weather and then you're going down there, it was humid and the heat index was 100-and-something. It was definitely one of my hottest games."

Jackson said that the Bears' head trainer and nutritionist addressed the team Monday about the importance of staying hydrated and consuming carbs and salt. 

"The performance staff did an outstanding job with that." Eberflus said. "If the guys did it right, we should be all set, ready to go. We really use the whole building to educate the guys on that."

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