Bears vs. Buccaneers: Channel, time, how to stream, game pick, what to know about Thursday Night Football. Tom Brady’s injured-ravaged Buccaneers look to advance to 4-1 in Chicago. We’re into Week 5 now, and this week’s edition of Thursday Night Football features a matchup of two 3-1 teams. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, holding a one-game lead in the NFC South, travel to Soldier Field to take on the Chicago Bears, who sit a game behind the division lead in the NFC North.

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The Chicago Bears got exactly what they expected from Nick Foles in their comeback victory over Atlanta in Week 3, as the veteran quarterback replaced Mitchell Trubisky and threw three touchdown passes in fourth quarter. Foles was unable to work his magic in his first start for the team last Sunday, as Chicago was held without a TD until late in the fourth quarter in its loss to Indianapolis. He’ll try for a better result when he leads the Bears against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football. Kickoff from Soldier Field is set for 8:20 p.m. ET.

Being that these are two of only five NFC teams with records over .500, this game could very well have playoff implications, no matter what anybody thought about the two sides coming into the year. With that in mind, let’s break things down.

How to watch

Date: Thursday, Oct. 8 | Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
Location: Soldier Field (Chicago, Illinois)
TV: FOX, NFL Network

When the Buccaneers have the ball

It doesn’t make sense to talk about the Tampa Bay offense without first acknowledging the injuries this unit is dealing with at the moment. The list is, uh, extensive. Wide receivers Chris Godwin and Justin Watson are out, as is running back LeSean McCoy. Leonard Fournette is doubtful, while Mike Evans and Scotty Miller are questionable. And tight end O.J. Howard is now out for the year.

That means even if Evans and Miller are able to suit up, the Bucs will have only those two, plus fifth-round rookie Tyler Johnson, Jaydon Mickens, and Cyril Grayson at receiver; Ronald Jones and third-round pick Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the backfield; and Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate at tight end. And given their questionable status, it’s possible Tampa could be down to only Jones, Gronk, and Brate as their healthy regulars at the skill positions.

Ordinarily this would seem like a massive issue, but there’s I saw a stat yesterday that makes me question just how much it matters.

Brady’s dominance during his nearly two decades in New England was first and foremost a result of his skill and intellect, as well as the play-calling and design of offensive coordinators like Josh McDaniels — but he was also afforded incredibly clean pockets throughout his time with the Patriots, and the impact that had on his ability to pick defenses apart cannot be discounted. You might be interested to know, then, that the Bucs’ revamped offensive line is looking like one of the best in football through the early part of the season. They’ve got the sixth-best pass blocking grade from Pro Football Focus, while offensive line guru Brandon Thorn from Establish the Run named them as one of his Tier 1 units.

When you’re working with a crew of either subpar or injury-affected weapons in the passing game, it’s important to make sure they have time to get open — especially when the opponent has Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn coming off the edge and Akiem Hicks crashing the pocket up the middle. The trio of Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, and Alex Cappa has been strong up the middle, where it’ll be important to keep Hicks from knocking them backward and forcing Brady to move off his spot to the edges. Brady is far better at dealing with perimeter pressure and stepping up into the pocket than he is at escaping to the outside when the rush comes up the middle. Tampa has Donovan Smith and rookie Tristan Wirfs bookending the line to deal with Mack (Wirfs) and, presumably, Robert Quinn (Smith), though Barkevious Mingo will also get some run rushing at Smith as well.

On the perimeter, the Bears use Kyle Fuller primarily at left corner and rookie Jaylon Johnson on the right, with Buster Skrine in the slot. Skrine is easily the most likely of the three to be picked on, though if slot man Miller sits out that could make things difficult for Brady, who seems to have developed a strong level of trust in him on the young season. Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, Eddie Jackson, and Tashaun Gipson make for a very strong up-the-middle pass defense, which obviously has the potential to affect the Brady-to-Gronk connection. Vaughn appeared to have a decent-sized role catching passes out of the backfield last week, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he and Jones were heavily involved in the pass game again on Thursday night.

Chicago’s run defense is lagging behind its pass unit so far this season, but the Bucs offensive line is a better pass-blocking unit than they are paving the way for the run. Tampa ranks 16th in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards and has allowed 19 percent of rushing attempts to be stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage, the 22nd-ranked mark in the league. Jones got going on the ground against the Chargers last week, though, so perhaps he can find a similar rhythm against Chicago.
When the Bears have the ball

The big question on this side of the ball is whether Chicago’s offensive line can hold up against Tampa’s excellent defensive front, which ranks fourth in the league in pressure rate, third in Adjusted Line Yards and fifth in the percentage of opponent rush attempts stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Shaquil Barrett has picked up right where he left off last season, collecting three sacks in four games and ranking sixth among all edge rushers in Weighted Overall Win Rating, an adjusted version of Pro Football Focus’ pressures and run stops per snap which accounts for the greater importance of pass-rushing in comparison to run defense. Vita Vea ranks 14th in the same metric among interior defenders, giving Tampa a dynamic inside-outside force up front.

Every quarterback struggles under pressure, but Nick Foles struggles more than most. He has a 68.7 passer rating when under pressure over the last four seasons, per Pro Football Focus and Tru Media, and he has the second-lowest scramble rate among the 58 quarterbacks who have attempted at least 200 passes during that span. His passing EPA per play on those dropbacks is right on par with that of Mitchell Trubisky, which any Bears fan will tell you, is not good. Toss in the Bears losing pass-catching running back Tarik Cohen — a valuable release valve for the quarterback when under pressure — for the season and it’s not a great matchup for the Chicago offense.

Tampa has also been pretty stingy on the back end, where cornerbacks Carlton Davis (77.1 passer rating allowed on throws in his direction, per Pro Football Focus) and Jamel Dean (84.3) are off to solid starts. Sean Murphy-Bunting has been more beatable in the slot, though, yielding 14 catches for 167 yards and a score on just 15 targets when lined up inside. That could point to a big role for Anthony Miller (97 percent of his routes have come in the slot) when the Bears go into three wide receiver sets, while Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney work against the better corners on the perimeter. Robinson is clearly this team’s best wideout, though, so Chicago would do well to get him matched up against Murphy-Bunting quite often as well.

In the team’s first full game without Cohen last week, David Montgomery filled the feature back role, and it’s reasonable to expect him to do so here as well. Montgomery was wildly ineffective running the ball last season, but got off to a good start against the Lions and Giants this year before being slowed down by the Falcons and (especially) Colts. He’s making defenders miss more often this season (12 missed tackles forced in the run game so far, per Pro Football Focus), but still not breaking long runs: only one of his 53 carries has resulted in a gain of 12 or more. Against one of the best run defenses in football, it’s difficult to see him gaining much traction.

Prediction: Buccaneers 20, Bears 17

Why the Buccaneers can cover

With fellow wideouts Chris Godwin (hamstring) and Justin Watson (chest) ruled out, Tampa Bay’s passing game certainly would benefit from Evans’ presence. Regardless, Scotty Miller likely will see plenty of action. The 23-year-old from Bowling Green already is second on the Buccaneers with 15 catches and leads the team with 250 receiving yards.

Tom Brady spread the wealth during his five-touchdown effort on Sunday, throwing scoring passes to two wideouts, a pair of tight ends and a running back. He finished with 369 passing yards to pull even with Peyton Manning for second place on the all-time list with 93 300-yard performances. The outing earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors, marking the first time he received the distinction in his new conference and 31st overall in his career.
Why the Bears can cover

Foles, who completed 26-of-42 attempts for 249 yards with a touchdown and an interception on Sunday, has performed well against Tampa Bay during his career. The 31-year-old has faced the Buccaneers four times, throwing for 1,104 yards with six passing TDs and a pair of rushing scores. Foles will be focusing on Allen Robinson II, who leads the Bears with 25 catches and 331 receiving yards.

The 27-year-old Robinson was targeted 10 times on Sunday and finished with seven receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown, marking the second straight game in which he reached triple-digits in yards and found the end zone. Robinson has produced for the Bears on Thursday Night Football, making 23 catches for 333 yards and two scores in four appearances. Tight end Jimmy Graham also enjoys the big stage, as he has hauled in seven TD passes in 10 Thursday Night Football games.

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