Hub Arkush: Key matchups, players to watch and more for Bears vs. Buccaneers

The Bears will be without their best offensive player in running back David Montgomery, most likely his backup, Damien Williams, and tight end Jimmy Graham.

Defensively, safety Tashaun Gipson already has been ruled out. Linebacker Khalil Mack and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks are listed as questionable. Linebacker Robert Quinn’s status is up in the air after he, like Williams and Graham, was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Tampa Bay’s injury list also is scary, with linebacker Lavonte David, tight end Rob Gronkowski, wide receiver Antonio Brown and cornerback Richard Sherman already ruled out.

If you’re hoping the Bucs might get caught napping here, that ship sailed when the Bears beat them last season in Chicago and Tom Brady suffered some public embarrassment at the end forgetting what down it was.

The Bears are 12½-point underdogs, and the over/under is 47.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Bucs offensive line vs. Bears pass rush

You cannot beat Brady if you don’t pressure him and get him off schedule for 60 minutes. He never gets frustrated, makes dumb mistakes or quits, but with constant pressure you can disrupt the timing of the Bucs’ offense and limit their big plays.

If Quinn can’t go Trevis Gipson has been coming on, and you can expect the Bears to stick with a fair amount of him and Mack on the same side as they’ve been doing with Quinn. Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith is above average but nothing special, while right tackle Tristan Wirfs is a star in the making.

Center Ryan Jensen is tough and nasty. Watching him and Eddie Goldman should be fun.

COACHING DECISIONS TO WATCH

Will Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai help disrupt Bucs’ timing by playing more press, bump-and-run coverage?

It’s a dangerous game with Brady but very effective if you get early pressure up front.

If Williams is out, will head coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor lean more on Justin Fields and the passing game?

Is the best way to expand Fields’ options and growth trusting the five guys up front to protect him and give him four or five options to target and more designed runs? Can they win this one with the training wheels still on?

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Bucs RB Giovani Bernard, CBs Jamel Dean, Ross Cockrell, Pierre Desir; Bears TEs Jesse James, Jesper Horsted, WRs Marquise Goodwin, Damiere Byrd

Bernard is quickly becoming Brady’s new version of what he had in New Englad with James White.

With Carlton Davis on IR and Sherman out, the Bucs’ corners just haven’t been good enough. The Bears have to set up their shot plays and take them.

Fields can’t really expand the passing game without production from his MIA targets.

THE X-FACTORS

Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul; Bears OLB Khalil Mack, DT Akiem Hicks

If J.P.P., who didn’t practice all week but is listed as questionable, can’t go, or isn’t 100%, an already underachieving Bucs pass rush takes a big hit. Fields immediately gets more dangerous if you can’t pressure him.

If Mack and Hicks aren’t at least close to 100%, it’s hard to see the Bears beating Brady.

WILD-CARD PLAYERS WHO COULD SURPRISE

Bucs RB Ronald Jones, WR Tyler Johnson, ILB Kevin Minter, OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka; Bears TE Jesper Horsted, RB Chris Thompson, WR Breshad Perriman

Jones is just too talented to be as unproductive as he’s been to date, and Johnson, Minter and Tryon-Shoyinka are the next men up for Brown, David and J.P.P.

All Horsted does is catch TDs. It’s his time to shine with Graham now out.

It’s 50-50 Thompson and Perriman are even active, but if they are they’re the most likely suspects to add a boost to the offense.

THE FINAL WORD

Bucs 24, Bears 16

I’m not saying Fields can’t beat Brady, but I can’t predict it.

The Bucs do have key injuries, and their defense hasn’t been great at anything but stopping the run. They’re 16th in points allowed at 24 a game, but that’s gotten them to 5-1.

How many times have the Bears scored 24 this year?

That the Bucs have been below 28 only once, a 19-17 win over Bill Belichick, and the Bears only got to 24 vs. the Lions, tells us almost everything we need to know.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is a Bears/NFL Insider for Shaw Media