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A Step Up in Competition for Bears

Like when they faced Green Bay last week, the Bears are up against a team on a roll this week but the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers have reached a far greater level of defensive dominance than the Packers.

In so many ways the Bears will face a different challenge from Tampa Bay than the one they had last year when they won 20-19 at Soldier Field that it almost seems like those were imposter Buccaneers.

The real Buccaneers went on to win the Super Bowl and this year started 5-1. 

It's a step up in competition for the Bears, and considering they just played a team and quarterback who "own" them, it's saying a lot. It's true.

The Buccaneers beaten by Bears last year were without wide receiver Chris Godwin.  Antonio Brown was still suspended.

And although the defense the Bucs had then was strong, this group has become even more stout. 

"Tampa is best in the league at stopping the run, and that's something we've been really good at, so it will be interesting to see how that goes," Bears tight end Cole Kmet said.

The Bears have run the ball against every team except Cleveland, unlike last year when it seemed they could run only on weaker defenses. They ran on the Rams, and on the Packers even with third-string running back Khalil Herbert playing Sunday.

Doing it against a team with Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh and Lavonte David would provide further confirmation their line is at least functioning while the passing game still needs work.

"I mean, sure, it's a bigger challenge," Kmet said. "We're playing some of the top players in the league this weekend. You've just got to be better with your (blocking) technique. 

"They're big, long guys. Being able to use different forms of technique against these guys will be a big deal coming up this Sunday."

It's not just personnel but scheme which provides a challenge. Bears coach Matt Nagy is a longtime friend of Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, the former Jets head coach and Eagles assistant, and knows all about the Buccaneers' blitzing. 

Tampa Bay leads the NFL in percentage of plays they blitz (39%) and no one else is even close, so Justin Fields can get ready to face a buzzsaw.

"That will be a true test for us," Nagy said. "You saw what they did last year when we faced them. They're a stout run defense."

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The Bears had 35 rushing yards in that game, but it didn't require a great run defense as the Bears couldn't run on anyone at that point. They averaged 53 yards rushing for seven weeks then. The point was well taken, though, since these Bucs are No. 1.

"They've got a lot of great players on that front line, the second level with their linebackers," Nagy said.  

Brady was much better last year following the Bears game, when he forgot what down it was on fourth down and threw an incomplete, game-ending pass.

"You look at where they were at the beginning of the year last year and where Tom was getting acclimated to that new offense, and the new scenery and new environment, all of that, his new teammates, right?" Nagy said. "So, what they were able to do last year and end it the way they did is very, very impressive.

"And now for them to be able to start off as fast as they are and being the No. 1 explosive offense in the NFL, again, they do a great job coaching and their players, starting with Tom Brady, do a heck of a job of executing. And when you match that together it makes it difficult."

The Bears poured out the compliments even while Brady was going on Sirius XM with Jim Gray and trolling fans a bit by joking about how Aaron Rodgers now owns a part of the team. 

It was a fairly lame attempt at humor on the side of interviewer and interviewee, and if Brady had been really serious about being a funny guy he'd have joked about how Mayor Lori Lightfoot should negotiate now with Rodgers about Soldier Field stuff since the Packers quarterback now "owns" the team.

While all the chuckling and lampooning goes on at the Bears' expense, they seem to have taken the right approach toward dealing with what Rodgers hollered and Brady piggybacked.

"Well, I mean, let's face it, he's not totally wrong," said Kmet, a long-time Bears fan. "He’s been pretty successful against the Bears in his career.

"So it’s on us to kind of change that narrative going forward." 

They can start changing minds by proving last year was no fluke against Tampa Bay. 

They won't be able to say they "own" Brady just by beating him twice in two years, but being 4-3 in the standings sure leaves them in much better shape considering the difficult schedule ahead. 

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven