Chicago Bears: Which player is the key to victory against the Buccaneers

Chicago Bears (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
Chicago Bears (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) /

When the Chicago Bears take the field on Sunday to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who will be the key to victory?

The Chicago Bears are off to a hot, but unexpected 2-1 start. The main reason has clearly been the play of their defense, led by Khalil Mack. However, a second but less talked about reason has been the health of the team on both sides of the football.

Over the last two seasons, the Bears roster has resembled a mash unit more than a football team. In fact, over the last two seasons. the Bears have been at or near the top of the list for adjusted games lost due to injury.

That has not been the case this year, as the Bears injury report through the first three games has been noticeably clean.

That was, until this week. Unfortunately for the Bears, both Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper are both unlikely to play on Sunday. Neither participated in practice on Wednesday or Thursday. If by chance, they are able to give it a go, it’s unknown how effective they will be with their hamstring injuries.

And for that reason, Bryce Callahan and, to a lesser extent, Sherrick McManis are perhaps the single biggest keys to victory on Sunday. Alright, so the headline was a bit misleading — there are actually two players who are key this week. Sure, Mitch Trubisky or Khalil Mack would have been the easy choice. However, the Bears have shown they can win despite Mitch’s ineffectiveness, and Mack is going to get his regardless, and as a result, he will draw a ton of attention.

Instead, the Buccaneers will try to exploit a perceived weakness of the Bears — especially when it aligns with one of their strengths. With that in mind, the Bucs will likely try to take advantage of their receiving corps. They’ll trot out a verifiable stud in Mike Evans, a rejuvenated Desean Jackson, and a quality receiver in Chris Godwin.

While Kyle Fuller will do his best to neutralize Evans, it will fall primarily on Callahan and to a lesser extent, Kevin Toliver and McManis to shut down the remainder of the Bucs’ options. While Toliver could get more playing time than McManis, he appeared to struggle some against the Arizona Cardinals and needed to be helped on defense.

Therefore, I would expect Callahan and McManis to be doing most of the heavy lifting. McManis was terrific in limited action on Sunday, so expect him to see much more game action this week — especially with the injuries. Even Vic Fangio believes he has earned a more prominent role on the defense. Callahan, on the other hand, has been terrific all season. In fact, he currently grades out as the second-best cornerback this season according to Pro Football Focus.

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Consequently, much will be expected of he and McManis to slow down the top-ranked offense in the NFL so far this season. No doubt the Bears will bring the pressure, so the book on how to beat that pressure was written by Aaron Rodgers in the second half of the opening game — get the ball out quickly. If Callahan and McManis can take away those quick throws, and neutralize the Bucs’ advantage, it will be a long afternoon for Fitzpatrick.