The Bears (3-3) travel to London this Sunday, 10/23 to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-2) in Wembley Stadium. After a week 6 thrashing of the Vikings, Lovie Smith’s team needs another win to stay relevant in a tough NFC North.
LeGarrette Blount, the Bucs starting running back, has been ruled out for Sunday’s game. At 6-0, 247 pounds, he is the type of workhorse back that can punish a defense. The Bears defense ranks 21st against the run and Blount’s absence will force their offense to become one-dimensional early. The back up, Earnest Graham, has taken far few attempts than Blount and should be stifled early.
The Bears defense can’t afford to give up big plays as it has done game after game this year. Receivers including Devery Henderson (long of 79 yards), Steve Smith (long of 53 yards) and Calvin Johnson (long of 73 yards) have burned the defense big. The Bucs have two receivers that have receptions of 50+ yards in Arrelious Benn and Preston Parker. They also have slumping sophomore Mike Williams who had a long of 58 yards in his rookie season and is a favorite of quarterback, Josh Freeman. For a team with a very questionable secondary, one of these three receivers could catch a long pass on Sunday.
The Bears arrived in London 5 days after the Bucs. It’s difficult to say which strategy will pay off come Sunday. Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris wants his team to adjust to the time change and their surrounds early in the week and be able to focus on practice and the game late in the week. Call this the “Super Bowl Approach”. Lovie Smith took the “Regular Season Approach” and kept everything as normal as possible leading up to the game. They arrived in London on Friday for meetings and practices after spending the week in Chicago. “There are two ways you can do it,” said coach Lovie Smith. “I felt it was important for us to have a regular work week in Chicago, same dressing room, meeting rooms, surroundings that we know.” The outcome of these strategies will become more and more important over time as the NFL looks to expand overseas games.