As originally posted here.
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET, October 23, 2011
Location: Wembley Stadium, London, ENG
Weather: High 63 F/Low 59 F Clear
The Chicago Bears (3-3, 0-2 away) are looking to secure their first “road” victory over the “home” Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-2, 3- home) at Wembley Stadium in London needing to keep up their playoff hopes alive with the NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers (6-0) and the surprising Detroit Lions (5-1).
The Bucs are sitting (alone) on top of the NFC South tied with the New Orleans Saints (4-2) with crucial division victories over both the Saints and the Falcons. Both teams will need this game to stay competitive into their following bye weeks.
Keys to this matchup.
Matt Forte vs. Earnest Graham
There is no question who is the driving force in the Bears offense. It is running back Matt Forte. He is their leading rusher and receiver and if offensive coordinator Mike Martz knows what is good for his job, then he should continue utilizing him similarly to his own heydays with Marshall Faulk and the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams.
Jay Cutler had a near-perfect game against the Vikings throwing for 267 yards and two touchdowns, but the offense still revolves around Forte who has rushed for 527 yards and a touchdown for the season. He also caught 36 passes for 381 yards and a touchdown. He is well on his way to break 1000 yards in both rushing and passing.
While the Buccaneer offense relies on quarterback Josh Freeman to make plays, his success often rode on a complementary power running game. In spite of a maturing defense, Buccaneer head coach Raheem Morris relied on utilizing the running game to close out his division opponents in the Falcons and more recently, the Saints. With LeGarrette Blount out for another week, expect backup running back Earnest Graham to pick up where he left off from last week after rushing for 109 yards on 17 carries.
Both the Bears and the Bucs are not as dominating as they used to be. The key to the game will be who can better stop the opposing running back. While the Bears rank 22nd in rush defense giving up 121.8 yards a game, they held Minnesota Vikings running back and Pro Bowler Adrian Peterson to 39 yards on 12 carries.
The Bucs rank 18th overall in rushing defense holding opponents to 114.5 yards a game. They held the Saints’ rushers to 70 yards.
If the Bucs shut Forte down, expect Cutler to be harassed in pressure situations where the Bucs look to take advantage of potential turnovers. The Bucs may have an easier time doing that if defensive lineman Gerald McCoy returns from his ankle injury.
Likewise, if Graham does not get established, the Bucs are looking to play Russian Roulette with their own defense in frequent punting situations. Bucs should be familiar with former Carolina Panther, Julius Peppers who has 15 sacks against them, the most against any opponent. The more Freeman has to pass from 3rd and long, the more he will probably see of Peppers.
Bears kicker Robbie Gould has been perfect all year and in a game which is more likely to be low-scoring, it may come down to who has the best field positioning. Gould has been a perfect 13-for-13 in field goals with a long of 51 yards which means he’s the one consistent scoring force the Bears have.
The best strategy against Bears receiver Devin Hester on returns is to NOT TO KICK TO HIM. Vikings somehow forgot last week in giving up a 98-yard return for a touchdown so expect the Bucs to utilize directional kicking into the end zone or use squib kicks to make balls unreturnable. It as simple as this, if Bears get shortened fields all day, they WILL win.
Buc kicker Connor Barth made 12 out of 14 kicks with a long of 49 yards for the season. He’s been fairly consistent making 4 out of 5 field goals against the Saints.
While there is no comparing Hester and Buc receiver/returner Preston Parker, it will come down to field position where Bears punter Adam Podlesh averages 43.3 yards a punt with 8 balls within the 20 whereas Bucs punter Michael Koenen averages 46 yards a punt with 12 balls within the 20.
Bears 24 Bucs 20