November 19, 2014

Lovie Smith hasn't enjoyed much success in his first season of coaching since being fired by the Chicago Bears two years ago.

Things haven't gone smoothly for his former team, either.

However, both Smith's Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Bears are looking to build on much-needed victories Sunday when the coach returns to Soldier Field.

Over nine seasons in Chicago, Smith went 81-63, made the playoffs three times, reached two NFC title games and guided the Bears to their second Super Bowl after the 2006 season. He was eventually fired after the Bears went 10-6 and failed to make the playoffs in 2012.

Still, some current Bears, especially on the defensive side of the ball, continue to praise their former coach.

"He was the type of guy that you really wanted to run through a wall for," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "And you didn't want to see him go."

The defensive-minded Smith was replaced by Marc Trestman, who thrived as an NFL offensive assistant and head coach in the CFL, but has endured a rocky start in Chicago.

While Smith's Buccaneers are 2-8 in his first season after taking a year off, there's certainly more heat on Trestman, who is 12-14 in Chicago (4-6), where the defense remains a problem and the offense is averaging 6.3 points fewer than its NFC-best 27.8 from 2013.

Though the circumstances surrounding this matchup seem most critical to Trestman, he isn't about to address the underlying significance of what a loss can mean to his potentially shaky status within the organization.

"We're going to talk to our team truthfully about every aspect of this game," Trestman said. "The thing I can tell you about Lovie is that I've watched him for years and played against him for years and I know him as a person and I have tremendous respect for him as a person in all areas.

"That's the only thing I can speak of at this point, and I truly mean that."

The most glaring difference between the Bears under Smith and Trestman is on defense.

With Smith, Chicago averaged 2.2 takeaways, allowed 19.2 points per contest and 40 or more four times. In 26 games under Trestman and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, the Bears have averaged 1.6 takeaways, 29.5 points per contest and given up 40 six times.

After yielding 50 or more points in two straight, Chicago managed to snap a three-game slide with last Sunday's 21-13 victory over Minnesota. The Bears allowed a season-low 243 yards, but it came against a Vikings team that ranks 30th with 309.1 per contest.

"I'm sure there's going to be things we can build off of defensively, but this is a step in the right direction," safety Ryan Mundy said.

Chicago expects to be in for a more difficult test against former Bear Josh McCown, who has thrown for 589 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions in two games since regaining the starting job he lost after suffering a thumb injury.

McCown threw for 288 yards and two TD passes to rookie Mike Evans as the Bucs snapped a five-game skid with a 27-7 win at Washington last Sunday.

He earned a two-year, $10 million deal with Tampa Bay after throwing for 1,543 yards, 11 TDs, one interception and posting a 108.2 passer rating while going 3-2 as a starter for the Bears in place of an injured Jay Cutler last season.

The 35-year old is 1-4 with six TDs, six INTs and an 82.6 rating in 2014, but feels confident facing his former team coming off a victory.

"It will be neat, weird, all those things. I'm sure for Coach Smith it's the same thing," McCown said. "But for us, we've got to win ball games, it doesn't matter who we play."

McCown will continue to look toward Evans, who had seven catches for 209 yards last Sunday to become the first rookie with 200 yards and two TDs since Anquan Boldin in 2003.

Evans has caught seven passes in three straight games, recording 458 yards with five TDs during that stretch.

Tampa Bay allowed an average of 30.2 points, forced 12 turnovers and had 14 sacks through nine games, but had three takeaways and six sacks while yielding their fewest points of the season against Washington.

"Hopefully we can build on this and see where we go from there," Smith said.

Cutler, whom the Bears handed a seven-year, $126.7 million extension instead of re-signing McCown, expects Smith's defense to have even more incentive to build on last weekend's performance.

"It's going to be challenging," he said. "We are going to be familiar with their defense, they've got some really good players on that side of the ball."

Cutler threw for 330 yards with three TDs, but was picked off twice for the second straight week last Sunday. He's thrown half of his 12 INTs in the last four games.

Matt Forte had 117 of his 175 total yards on the ground against the Vikings. Third in the NFL with 1,308 total yards, Forte has rushed for at least 100 in two of the last three games and faces a Tampa Bay team that allowed 155 on the ground to the Redskins.

Forte gained 145 yards on 25 carries to help Chicago win the most recent meeting with the Bucs, 24-18 on Oct. 23, 2011.

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