7 Keys to Victory in Chicago Bears' Week 2 Matchup
Now the NFC South tour continues with a Week 2 road trip againt the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers head into their first game of the season as a relative unknown after Mother Nature stepped in and had their Week 1 game delayed.
Funnily enough, the Bears almost look like an unknown as well. The defense didn't struggle until late against the high-powered Falcons, but the offense was a mess outside of a rookie running back.
The injury bug has already arrived in full force, too, with key names missing from Week 1 and more lost over the course of the eventual 23-17 loss, headlined by wide receiver Kevin White.
With those points in mind, let's outline some keys to victory for the Bears as they look to avoid falling into a 0-2 hole before heading into dates against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers.
Jerrell Freeman's Replacement Playing Well
The Bears simply can't seem to escape the injury bug.
Too many examples exist already (such as losing Kevin White and Eric Kush for the year, with Prince Amukamara down for an unknown amount of time). Sunday provided another, with Jerrell Freeman suffering two different injuries, according to ESPN's Jeff Dickerson.
Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune later confirmed the Bears were sending Freeman to injured reserve. Right after the Bears finally got Danny Trevathan back inside next to him, of course.
Freeman is the heart and soul of the Chicago defense, so his replacments—a combination of Nick Kwiatkoski and Christian Jones—need a big performance.
The Buccaneers aren't the biggest threat running the ball right now, but the linebackers will need to help clean up short stuff to tight ends and contain flat-based throws.
If Freeman's backups can't do that, Jameis Winston will be free to lure the defense in before going up over the top.
Quintin Demps Rebounding
When Winston does try to go up over the top, the Bears need quite a bit more from new safety Quintin Demps.
The 32-year-old came up as one of the team's biggest losers after the loss to Atlanta because of his gaffe in coverage on an 88-yard touchdown late in the game. And whether it was an incorrect play call from another player or something else, Demps is the one who has to take the fall for the ugly play.
So goes the life of a safety at the back end of a defense.
Like many, Pro Football Focus didn't have kind words for Demps: "It started early and by the end of the game he'd missed three tackles, including a brutal stiff arm from Austin Hooper that let the tight end stroll into the end zone."
Again, regardless of reason, Demps can't make similar mistakes against a passing attack boasting DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans. As we'll touch on soon, the Bears haven't acted like they have the passing attack to match such a unit.
Better Involve Kendall Wright
The Bears need 2013 Kendall Wright to show up in a hurry.
Then, the 27-year-old had the best year of his career under the guidance of current Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains with the Tennessee Titans, registering the only 1,000-yard performance of his career to date and scoring twice.
On Sunday against the Falcons, Wright received four targets, catching three of them for 34 yards.
As PFF's Nathan Jahnke pointed out, the Bears didn't exactly work to get Wright involved before halftime: "Bears halftime WR snap count: Kevin White 24, Deonte Thompson 21, Kendall Wright 12. Out of 24"
Schematically, something has to give. Wright is arguably the best wideout on the Chicago roster right now, so moving him around to fit in two-tight-end sets and whatever else is a must.
Wright won't necessarily haul in as many scores as a tight end or running back, but making a team such as the Buccaneers respect him on every snap should make life easier on quarterback Mike Glennon.
Expanded Role for Tarik Cohen
While it isn't necessarily ideal to lean on a fourth-round rookie like Tarik Cohen for the bulk of the production offensively, the Bears aren't left with many other choices.
Against the Falcons, he led Chicago in rushing and receiving with five carries for 66 yards and eight catches for 47 yards and a score.
Disclaimer: Jordan Howard didn't have a bad day, rushing 13 times for 52 yards. What fans might remember most, though, is his dropping a critical pass with the game on the line. Keep in mind Howard led the NFL in dropped passes by backs last year with eight.
Meaning, the Bears need to go ahead and get Cohen more touches against the Buccaneers. Keeping him on the field in most scenarios will help keep defenders honest and perhaps open things up more for a depleted set of weapons.
If the Bears want to stay in the best possible position to win games, it makes sense to give Cohen perhaps as many as 20 touches.
Don't Forget O.J. Howard
It's easy to get overwhelmed looking at Winston's list of targets through the air.
Both Evans and Jackson are two of the most difficult assignments in the league and have regularly made 1,000-yard campaigns look easy. The Buccaneers only added to the equation with rookie wideout Chris Godwin. The team also has a talented tight end atop the depth chart with Cameron Brate.
Oh, and don't forget first-round rookie O.J. Howard.
Maybe Howard's rookie status means he stays in and chips as a blocker often while squaring off against the likes of Leonard Floyd. But it only takes his slipping off the line and getting down the field once to create a big play—just look at the Austin Hooper touchdown from Week 1.
If the Bears aren't disciplined all along the list of Tampa Bay weapons, the one at the perceived bottom could do the most damage.
Balance the Offensive Attack
A year ago, one of the biggest problems offensively for the Bears was an unbalanced attack.
Despite outstanding play from Howard, it never felt like the coaching staff went far enough to get him a higher touch count despite trotting out names such as Matt Barkley under center.
Now it seems the Bears overcompensated.
Against the Falcons, Howard received all of 13 carries. It's not like he was ineffective, ripping off a long of 11 while averaging a solid four yards per carry and scoring once.
For those keeping count, the Bears ran it 19 times in a 23-17 game—and Glennon attempted 40 passes. Granted, a chunk of those came late, but one would think leaning on the run more would keep an explosive offense such as Atlanta off the field.
With Glennon averaging all of 5.3 yards per attempt and going 26-of-40, Week 2 would be a good time to rediscover a run-first approach.
On paper, at least, the Buccaneers at home with plenty of motivation have the ability to put up points in a hurry, so winning time of possession could decide the game.
Force Glennon to Stretch the Field
Bears quarterbacks need to take some risks.
Part of fans thumping for the rookie Mitchell Trubisky is his random gunslinger mentality where he isn't afraid to push the ball down the field with his strong arm, sometimes even on the run.
Glennon, so far, seems like more of the same from a year ago.
This isn't suggesting Glennon was terrible against the Falcons. After all, he took four sacks and the weapons around him dropped several key passes or committed bad penalties.
But dumpoffs and averaging hardly five yards per completion is begging to score less than 20 points, close game or blowout regardless. Yes, the Bears are hurting around the 27-year-old, but a game-managing style only works when the weapons around the quarterback are elite.
The weapons around Glennon, mostly thanks to injuries and a lengthy rebuilding process, aren't. If the Bears are to keep pace on the road against Winston and his cast of weapons, they need to start taking risks and vertical shots.