TAMPA – To say the Buccaneers are ready for some football might be an understatement. After the threat of Hurricane Irma forced the postponement of the projected season opener against the Dolphins last week, the Bucs may be over-ready for some football.
That’s not necessarily a good thing. As they head into what is now their season opener today against the Bears, there is some real concern within the organization that the Bucs may be so eager to finally get on the field and hit somebody that their technique and fundamentals may suffer.
Of course, there is also concern that in the wake of what has been a 22-day layoff for most of their starters and regulars, their technique and fundamentals will suffer anyway and that the day will be spent knocking off a lot of rust. Either way, football is finally back in Tampa and with that in mind, here’s a closer look at what this game means for the Bucs and what they need to do to win it.
Why it’s worth watching
Long before Irma came around and forced the NFL to hit the pause button on their season, the Bucs were fast becoming one of the darling teams of the NFL. Their vast array of offensive weapons has many believing they could be one of the top scoring teams in the league and that alone has made them one of the chic picks to make the playoffs. Thanks in part to the exposure they received on HBO’s Hard Knocks this year, there’s a cool factor to the Bucs that they haven’t had since they were Super Bowl champions. None of that has changed in the last week, but the Bucs have definitely been thrown for a loop as a result of the hurricane and the postponement of their game. Their ability to overcome that and win a winnable game against a beatable team will say a lot about whether all that pre-season hype was valid.
Key on: The Bears running game
A lot of the pre-game hype has centered around the return to Tampa of former Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon, and rightfully so. Glennon, though, is not the Bucs biggest concern, because in order to win this game the Bucs will first have to stop the Bears running game. Glennon is a very competent quarterback, capable of doing a lot of good things, but he’s also the type who needs a lot of things around him to go well. More than anything he needs the running game to work well and with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen in the lineup it can. It’s imperative that the Bucs play the run strong on early downs and force the Bears into third-and-long situations in which Glennon’s skill set is put to the test.
The Bucs 36-10 victory over the Bears in Week 10 last year sparked a dramatic turnaround for the Tampa Bay defense. A unit that allowed 29 points per game the first eight games of the season suddenly found its rhythm and proceeded to allow an average of just 17.1 points per game across the season’s final eight games. Along the way, the Bucs picked off a league-best 13 passes, allowed a league-low six touchdowns and limited opposing quarterbacks to a 72.9 passer, the second-lowest in the NFL. They also recorded 21 sacks those final eight games, the fifth most in the league over that span. Obvioulsy, the Bucs are hoping to pick up right where they left off.