Larry Mayer and Simon Kaufman of ChicagoBears.com discuss the Bears players they'll be watching on both sides of the ball in Sunday's home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Offense: Tight end Trey Burton
Burton and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky began developing a rapport in the preseason when the tight end accounted for five of Trubisky's 11 completions. In the first three regular-season games, Burton has registered nine receptions for 90 yards and one touchdown on a shovel pass from Trubisky in a Week 2 win over the Seahawks at Soldier Field. With the Bears focused on improving their red-zone efficiency—they scored just one touchdown in three trips inside the 20 last Sunday in Arizona—this could be the week that Burton gets back into the end zone.
It won't be easy, however, because the Buccaneers boast two of the NFL's most complete linebackers in Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander. But there still should be opportunities in the passing game against a Tampa Bay defense that ranks 31st in the league in total yards allowed (433.3 per game) and is tied for 31st against the pass (362.7 yards per game). Burton has the skill and ability to line up all over the field to create favorable matchups and showed in last season's Super Bowl that his background as a college quarterback makes him a double threat on offense.
Defense: Outside linebacker Khalil Mack
Mack has proven that his remarkable performance in the season opener against the Packers wasn't a fluke by replicating it in the next two games. As a result, national analysts are labeling the All-Pro outside linebacker as the very early favorite for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award. Three games into his Bears career, Mack is tied for the league lead with four sacks and tops the NFL with three forced fumbles. He has a sack and forced fumble in all three games this year and will look to continue to wreak havoc Sunday against the NFL's No. 1-ranked offense.
Mack has elevated the play of the entire Bears defense and will need teammates such as Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith, Eddie Goldman, Kyle Fuller, Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos Jr. to be at their best to contain a surprisingly explosive Tampa Bay offense. The Buccaneers are led by Ryan Fitzpatrick, a 14-year NFL veteran who has passed for a league-high 1,230 yards in three games and ranks second in the NFL with a 124.8 passer rating. A fourth straight All Pro-caliber outing from Mack would certainly improve the Bears' chances of winning their third consecutive game and improving to 3-1 entering their bye week.
Offense: Receiver Allen Robinson II
Last Sunday, the Bears got a peek of what could be a staple for their offense this year. In the third quarter, trailing the Cardinals 14-3, Trubisky hit Robinson on a deep route down the right side of the field for a gain of 39 yards. The connection was the longest Bears passing play this season and hopefully a sign of more to come.
Robinson should have plenty of opportunities to net big gains in Week 4 against a Buccaneers defense that's last in the league in passing yards and completions allowed. Tampa Bay gave up 353 yards in the air last week to the Steelers. If Trubisky is able to find Robinson downfield on Sunday, the duo could combine for a big day. One area where they'd like to connect more is in the red zone. Robinson has 17 catches this year, but only one in the red zone. Despite some struggles in their opponents' territory, both Robinson and Trubisky said that they think the offense is nearing a breakthrough point.
"I think we've gotten better each and every week," Robinson said this week. "We have to just put it all together. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you see the resilience of the offense."
Defense: Safety Eddie Jackson
Jackson and the rest of the Bears' secondary will have their hands full Sunday against the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay's offense has been explosive in its first three weeks, tallying at least 400 passing yards in each game and recording a league-best 102 receptions this year.
The Buccaneers' heavy pass offense will give Jackson a chance to pick up another interception after picking off Cardinals quarterback Sam Bradford last week. The Buccaneers have a host of offensive weapons and boast three receivers who each have three touchdown receptions this year. Along with keeping Tampa Bay out of the end zone, Jackson will also be called on to help make tackles in the open field. The former Alabama standout has seven tackles and a sack on the season and has impressed Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio with his ability to do it all.
"Your safeties have to be able to play a lot in space and cover a lot of ground, cover receivers, whether it be within a man [defense] or within a zone," Fangio said. "Also, you have to be able to come up and help with the run game, and Eddie's been doing a great job for us in all those areas."