The Talking Plank – Week 15

Published: December 16th, 2006
By Buccaneer Harbour
The Talking Plank - Week 15: At Chicago

Well, the Bucs are on cruise control to a top 5 pick and they get the "opportunity" to head north to face the Bears at frigid Soldier Field. During the game, however, it's expected to be 50 degrees with a slight wind of around 6mph. Not bad for Chicago in the middle of December. But will that mean anything?

On Offense, the Bucs will be facing the number 3 defense in the league and one that has kept a lot of teams off from scoring regularly. It will be a challenge to pass on this defense, especially with their pass rush, which has racked up 33 sacks this season. However, if there is one place they are vulnerable, it's in the running department. They are giving up 105.3 yards per game, and 4.1 yards per attempt (more per attempt than the Bucs' defense - 3.9). So the Bucs will really need to lean heavily on their run game and try to limit Bruce's throwing. This is the kind of game where Gruden really needs to just run 3 times and punt if needed, and let his defense do the job. The only way I envision the Bucs' offense moving the ball with any consistency is by pounding the Bears, who are small across the line. What may help is that Tommie Harris is out, He's there best DT and that may give the Bucs a little more time on passing attempts. Gruden has stated that he plans to involve Alstott and Pittman a little more in this game. I expect we'll see him use Alstott early, similar to the Washington game, to try and soften the Bears up front. If they don't do this, I can't see them getting any real offense going, save Bruce having the light bulb suddenly come on and he starts hitting receivers left and right. This is going to be like watching a sloth on offense. Let's just hope they stay away from the turnovers.

On Defense, the Bucs may not have to worry about Jones running the ball. He's listed as questionable, and may not play, especially since the Bears don't want to play injured guys in a game that has very little bearing on their playoff positioning (they have, via tiebreakers, a full 3 games on the Saints, so one more and they will likely lock up the NFC's top spot). That would be good. Of course, the Bucs will be facing an offense that isn't exactly lighting up the league. Many of their TD's have come off short fields. They've also had 9 of their 40 total TD's come off special teams and defense. Grossman has been suspect, and we all know the Bucs' defense would love nothing better than to get a shot at Griese and his penchant for throwing picks at the worst time. The defense has slowly been climbing back up the ranks and is now 16th overall. They've been making it very difficult on runners, and the safeties have been playing better in coverage the last couple of games. Buchannon has also had two excellent games in a row, including starting for Bolden last week, getting 2 defensed passes and a pick. Bolden should be back for this game, and that would give the Bucs a very solid set of corners for one of the few times this season. The defense will likely stop any long drives by the Bears' offense, but they need the defense to hold on to the ball and not give the Bears a short field. If that happens, we could be looking at a FG fest. If not, it could get ugly.

On Special Teams, the Bucs will have to deal with the sensational Hester, who has made 5 returns for TD's. Both teams have nearly identical stats on return coverage, but the Bucs returners are no where near Hester's league. The Kickers and Punters are roughly even, though the Bears' kicker hasn't attempted a field goal from 50+. Needless to say, it will be crucial for the Bucs to stop Hester. If he breaks one, that single score will likely doom any hope the Bucs have at winning this game, which isn't very high to begin with. Special Teams will be critical in this game.

Overall, when you look at this, the Bucs might have a shot simply because the Bears have already locked up their division and a first round bye. If they beat Detroit next week, they'll pretty much sew things up for the top spot. With Jones likely out, and Harris out for sure, the Bucs may have a shot at sneaking out of here with a win so long as the offense doesn't turn the ball over, and special teams holds Hester in check. If that happens, they might win a 9-6 FG shootout. The weather sure won't be nearly the problem it was expected to be. In the end, though, I think the Bucs will lose, just don't be shocked if they pull off the upset.

Bears 17 Bucs 9