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Any time the Bears play the Green Bay Packers, it’s a big game. With the Bears blowing a 20-0 lead in the opener, then eventually losing 24-23, they want to make up for that poor finish and show the Packers that they are obviously the better team.
Another, even more important reason the Bears want this game is because a win clinches the the NFC North title and knocks the Packers out of playoff contention. That would be a win/win for both the fans and members of the Bears organization. If the Bears succeed, this will be their first time in the playoffs in eight seasons.
Bears defense vs. Green Bay offense
The Packers' offense hasn’t changed much since 2006, when Mike McCarthy took over as head coach. With McCarthy being let go last week and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin taking over as interim head coach, the offense won’t change; what will be different is how plays are called. That is the task Bears DC Vic Fangio has at hand as he prepares his group for the Pack.
Green Bay has only played one game under Philbin, which was last week. Although we can’t derive much from only one game, one thing that jumped out to me was that the run-pass ratio was much closer than it had been in previous games. Against Atlanta, the Packers ran the ball 25 times for 138 yards and threw the ball another 32 times. Whether or not the ratio will be similar this week, we won’t know until Sunday.
Another interesting stat to look at is that Green Bay has not won on the road all season. The Packers are currently 0-6, and they have lost by an average of eight points in each game played outside of Lambeau Field.
Looking at the Packers offensive roster, they are not healthy. Last week against Atlanta, the line, from left to right, was David Bakhtiari, Justin Patrick, Corey Linsley, Lucas Patrick and Jason Spriggs. Only two of those five are normal starters (Linsley and Bakhtiari). At the wide receiver position, starter Geronimo Allison is on injured reserve, but Davante Adams and Randall Cobb are healthy and playing well.
With Bears nickel corner Bryce Callahan sent to season-ending injured reserve this week, I look for the Packers to try and attack Sherrick McManis with Cobb. Green Bay's WR3 role is filled by a rotation of two rookies — Equanimeous St. Brown and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Though both are talented, neither is going to scare the Bears defense. The player the secondary has to worry about is Adams. The Packers' go-to receiver, he has a career-high 92 receptions and 1,132 yards, including 11 touchdowns, one shy of matching his personal best.
As usual, the Bears will need to put pressure on Aaron Rodgers. He has not missed any time since sustaining a knee injury vs. the Bears in the opener. He looks close to 100 percent now as far as movement skills but still has been sacked an inordinate amount of times this season (39). Last week, Atlanta got to him four times. Look for the Bears to put heavy pressure on Rodgers. Heavy pressure could lead to a mistake on Rodgers part, but the fact is he has been intercepted only once all season and broke Tom Brady's NFL record Sunday for the most consecutive attempts without a pick (368 and counting).
Green Bay’s ground game is by committee with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams splitting time. In recent weeks, Jones has gotten the bulk of the carries. Green Bay has run the ball well of late but averages only 108 yards per game on the ground.
Rodgers has had his way for years with the Bears. The latest example was the miraculous Green Bay comeback he led after injuring his knee on opening night. Regardless of how poorly Green Bay has played this year, the Bears defense has to be at the top of its game in order to stop Rodgers.
Chicago offense vs. Packers defense
Like its offense, Green Bay's defense has been hurt by injuries. Key players on injured reserve include OLB Nick Perry, DT Mike Daniels, CB Kevin King and ILB Jake Ryan. It’s difficult for any team to play at a high level with that many players out. In addition to the players on injured reserve, CB Bashaud Breeland (groin) and DT Kenny Clark (elbow) didn’t practice on Wednesday and Thursday. Needless to say, the Green Bay defense won’t be at full strength this week.
DC Mike Pettine starts two rookies at the corner positions, and both have played well. Jaire Alexander is second on the team in tackles with 59, and he also has 11 pass breakups and one interception. The other corner is Josh Jackson, who has 43 tackles and eight PBUs. As a group, though, the Packers have only recorded seven interceptions on the year. The Bears have 25!
They don’t force turnovers at a high rate, but the Packers have only given up an average of 225 yards per game in the air — the coverage mostly has been good.
The Bears got their run game going last week by rushing for just under 200 yards against the Rams. Green Bay has not been that stout when it comes to stopping the run, giving up an average of 126 yards per game on the ground. Last week, Atlanta ran for 107 yards, and much of that came in the first half before they had to throw more while in catch-up mode over the final 30 minutes. I look for the Bears to try and do what they did last week and control the clock with the run game.
But Matt Nagy will want to get the Bears passing game back on track after a poor outing by Mitch Trubisky last week. So while I look for the Bears to run more than usual, I also expect the play-action passing game to be a factor. In the opener at Green Bay, Mitch got off to a great start but struggled in the second half. Being the competitor he is, I look for a much more even performance from him on Sunday.
Regardless of whether they're pass protecting or run blocking, the Bears offensive line is stronger than Green Bay’s defensive line. Against the Rams— who have a far better line than Green Bay — the Bears line played perhaps its best game of the season. Look for more of the same this Sunday.
With the Bears in position to lock up the NFC North and earn a spot in the playoffs I expect them to come out and play with the same intensity we saw against the Rams. In the Giants game, the Bears were caught looking ahead, and I feel that attitude will be a thing of the past. This team is hungry and wants to lock up the playoff slot ASAP, and to do it at home is just extra incentive for the players. Bears by 10!