Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers – Week 9 Preview

Week 9 – Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers

Part 9 of a 17 part series analyzing each week of the Bears’ season

 

The Chicago Bears head to Green Bay for their first matchup with their most bitter rival. This is the most anticipated game of the season, and the Bears enter it in a much different position they anticipated when the season began. Injuries and defensive struggles have put the Bears in a difficult position, but they are still 4-3 and in the playoff hunt. Coming off of a bye week, the Bears’ players are eager to get back on the field, and it should only increase their motivation to take on their nemesis.

For the Packers, they have been rolling and have overcome a slow start to take the division lead. They are 5-3 and looking to increase their lead. They too have faced a number of injuries but have found a way to once again rally around Aaron Rodgers. They have been rather dominant this season, with four of their five wins coming by 13 or more points. Their schedule lightens up from this point, but so another win here could keep them rolling through the rest of the season.

 

Key Matchups

Bears CBs Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings versus Packers WR Jordy Nelson

Charles Tillman has really been banged up this season, battling hamstring, knee, and groin injuries since week two. His status for this game is still in question, but he is expected to play. He has not been 100-percent since the first game, and it has shown with his on the field play, which has been very inconsistent. Across from him is Tim Jennings, who has quietly had an excellent season. Jennings has three interceptions, and two of them have been returned for touchdowns. He has been solid in coverage and one of the few bright spots on the defense.

Because of the both the style of the Packers’ offense and the injuries at the wide receiver position, Jordy Nelson will lineup in a number of different locations on the field, so neither Tillman nor Jennings will cover him exclusively. Even so, one of the two will likely be on him at most times. Nelson has been one of the top receivers in the league this season, ranking seventh in yards with 649 and tied for fourth in touchdowns with seven. He has been Rodgers’ favorite target by far, especially with the injuries to James Jones and Randall Cobb. No defense has found a way to stop him, and it is going to be a tough task for the Bears.

Keeping Nelson under control would force Rodgers to look to his much less proven receivers, although he has not been afraid of that up to this point. Still, defenses would rather he throw to undrafted free agents than a 1,000-yard receiver. He is the key cog in the Packers offense, and it is his play that opens it up for the other receivers. That is what makes stopping him so important. If they cannot, it is going to be a long day for the defense.

 

Bears DE Shea McClellin versus Packers RT Don Barclay

All season, the Bears have relied on Shea McClellin to step up and produce in an increased roll, and so far, he has failed to produce. In this game more than any other, the Bears desperately need McClellin to emerge. The Bears have struggled to generate a pass-rush this season, in part because of injuries but also from a lack of production McClellin and Julius Peppers. McClellin so far has not shown much significant improvement from 2012, and he is nearing bust territory. However, his career best game came against the Packers last year, when he had 1.5 sacks and four tackles. The Bears need him to have another big game to give the defense a chance against Rodgers.

The offensive lineman McClellin will face in this game is Don Barclay, who has been the weakest link on an already struggling Packers’ line. The team has looked at potentially benching him, but so far he has been able to keep his job. Because of Rodgers’ mobility, he has only been sacked 17 times, but a different quarterback would be much less successful behind the line he has. They need Barclay to hold his own against a struggling McClellin.

The Bears have gotten four sacks in the last four games, while the Packers have allowed seven sacks in the last four games, so the Bears should have plenty of opportunities to get to Rodgers in this game. Teams already fear Peppers, so he often receives a double team, so it is up to the rest of the pass rushers, especially McClellin, to get to the quarterback. McClellin almost always gets a one-on-one matchup, and against a struggling tackle, the Bears really need him to produce. In not, Rodgers will have time to throw and pick apart the secondary.

 

Bears TE Martellus Bennett versus Packers Linebackers and Safeties

Martellus Bennett’s 2013 season has been up and down. He started strong, but a shoulder injury slowed him down and he still is not 100-percent recovered. Still, he is averaging over 50 yards per game, ranking ninth among tight ends. He has provided a much-needed weapon over the middle of the field for the Bears’ offense, and if healthy, he could be in line for a big game. The Packers have not been very strong against tight ends, having allowed a tight end to catch for 50 or more yards in six games this season. The Bears need him to have a big game to help Josh McCown move the offense.

The Packers have been battling many injuries at the linebacker positions, and as a result, only one linebacker that started week one started last week against the Minnesota Vikings. They were forced to shift Mike Neal from defensive end to linebacker, and they still had to start a former undrafted free agent along with their rookie sixth round pick last week. With all the inexperience in the middle, it makes their play against Bennett all the more important. At times, the safeties will come down and defend him, but that leaves the deep end of the field open with the Bears’ big receivers with one-on-one coverage. In last year’s Bears-Packers games, Bears tight end Kellen Davis had some big opportunities that he could not take advantage of, but Martellus Bennett won’t make the same mistakes if given the chance. The Packers cannot allow him those chances.

 

Biggest Questions

How will Josh McCown do in his first start under Marc Trestman?

McCown is starting his first game with the Bears since 2011, and prior to that, he had not started a game since 2007. In his first start in 2011, McCown played the Packers, where he went 19 for 28 for 242 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in a 14-point loss on Christmas. That was a game in which Roy E. Williams and Dane Sanzenbacher were the Bears’ most targeted receivers, while Kahlil Bell was the team’s leading rusher. Needless to say, the Bears have a much better offense now than they did then.

McCown looked very confident when he took over for Jay Cutler last week against the Washington Redskins, completing 70-percent of his passes for 204 yards and a touchdown. He seemed comfortable in Marc Trestman’s offense, because it is a scheme that fits him well. It will set him up to make only the plays he is capable of making, as seen in his debut. He will get the ball out quickly to keep him protected, and the receivers run routes that are manageable for him to hit. He does have the ability to hit the deep ball though, having completed five passes for 20 or more yards against the Redskins. However, it is best for him if they keep the passes on the shorter end of the spectrum.

How he will do in a full game against a quality opponent remains to be seen. The Packers as a team are very good, but their defense is still their weak link. It is not going to be easy for McCown, but he is not going to be completely shut down. He has shown that he can run and lead the offense, but it is up to the players around him to help put him in a position to be successful. The team is confident in him, and that definitely helps a lot. It will be interesting to see how he does.

 

How will Marc Trestman handle his first game against the archrival?

This game is the biggest game of the season for the Bears up to this point. Coming off the bye-week, the Bears and Trestman have had plenty of time to prepare for this game. Previous head coach Lovie Smith won his first matchup with Green Bay, in Green Bay, and his predecessor Dick Jauron beat the Packers on the road in his first matchup. Trestman certainly wants to continue that trend, but the team is battling a number of issues that will make that difficult. It would say a lot about Trestman if he can overcome them and put together a win.

Trestman knows how important this game is to both the fans and the playoff race, so it likely that he will have a few tricks up his sleeve to give the Bears an advantage. Last season, in the Bears first matchup with the Packers, the Packers scored a touchdown on a fake field goal in the second quarter. While that was a different coaching staff, that play likely stuck on the mind of many of the players, and it is certain that they would like to embarrass them in a similar fashion if given the opportunity. Does that mean Trestman pulls out a trick play? Probably not, but he may bring in a different personnel package or route combination that throws off the defense. It is little things that like that Trestman could reveal this week in an effort to push his team over the top in this important game.

 

Will the Bears be able to slow down Aaron Rodgers?

Rodgers has been unstoppable this season. He leads the league in yards per pass attempt, and he is once again in the top five in the league in completion percentage and touchdowns among other categories. He is on pace to eclipse 5,000 passing yards for the first time in his career, and no team has found a way to slow him down. He has been the main reason for much of the Packers success, as the offense around him is depleted. Two of his top three wide receivers are injured, while his top tight end suffered a brutal injury that kept him hospitalized overnight. Once again, Rodgers has had to put the team on his shoulders and carry the team to success.

He almost never has a bad game, and only one team has been able to keep him relatively under control this season. The Cincinnati Bengals held him to a “mediocre” 244 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions on a 60-percent completion rate. The Packers would lose that game however. Rodgers is entering the prime of his career and he seems to be playing a level above everyone else. The Bears need to find a way to slow him down, at least a little. No defense can fully neutralize him, but reducing his effectiveness is possible. If he is unhindered, the Bears’ defense does not stand a chance.

Team Comparison

Offense

Much has been said about the two quarterbacks in this game, and both have had very different paths up to this point. Rodgers is one of the best, if not the best, quarterbacks in the league. His play is phenomenal. He hands the ball off to rookie Eddie Lacy, who has had a strong start to his career. However, he has not been as good as Matt Forte has been for the Bears. Especially in Cutler’s absence, Forte is the focal point of the Bears’ offense.

Injuries to the Packers’ wide receivers have kept them thin, while the Bears’ dynamic duo of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery has been one of the top pairs in the league. Similarly, Jermichael Finley was lost indefinitely to an injury for Green Bay, while the Bears have a mostly healthy Martellus Bennett, who’s having a nice season. Along the offensive line as well, there have been some injuries for the Packers, and the unit has been shaky from the start. On the other side, the Bears have had a consistent line for the first time in a long time, a credit to the work of general manager Phil Emery. Still, the presence of Aaron Rodgers and the lack of Jay Cutler make the Packers’ offense the more potent unit.

 

Defense

The defensive lines are the opposite of the offensive lines. The Packers’ defensive line has found great production from their young and unproven players, while the Bears’ line has battled injuries and featured underachieving and inexperienced players. Linebacker has been a position that both teams have faced numerous injuries, and both teams are relying on rookies in starting roles in this game. How these rookies perform will have a major impact on the game.

Cornerback has been a position that both teams have found some consistency in, although Tillman has been banged up for the Bears. Tillman and Jennings have more turnovers and touchdowns, but their occasional lapses in coverage make it difficult to say they are that much better than Sam Shields and Tramon Williams. At safety, the Bears have been horrendous, and both Major Wright and Chris Conte have been at risk of losing their starting jobs. The team is not going to make any lineup changes this week, but they need to bounce back to keep the defense from crumbling apart. Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings have not been dominant, but they have been better than Wright and Conte. As a whole, the Packers’ defense is probably the slightly better group, but neither has been stellar.

 

Special Teams

Mason Crosby has quietly had a strong bounce-back season, after nearly losing his job because of his 63-percent field goal kicking last season. This year, he is connecting on just under 90-percent of his field goals, the highest of his career. However, Bears kicker Robbie Gould has only missed one field goal this season, working on a career high of his own. In the punting game, Packers’ punter Tim Masthay has been good but not great, with a 45.3-yard average per punt. Meanwhile, Bears’ punter Adam Podlesh has been near the bottom of the league, averaging only 43.5 yards.

Returning punts, Devin Hester and Micah Hyde have had success for the Bears and Packers respectively, each reaching the endzone in their team’s most recent games. On kickoffs though, the Packers have struggled to find the same success, while Hester has been able to break some big returns, although he has not reached the endzone. Both special teams groups have been up and down this season, but a big return by either team would drastically swing the momentum in this game.

 

Conclusions

Ever since he took over as the full-time starter, Aaron Rodgers has been what makes the Packers’ offense tick. He is why they were able to win a Super Bowl in 2010, and he is what makes the Packers so difficult to beat. As long as he is under center, the Packers will be tough. Even as the team around him starts to fall apart, whether it be injuries or inconsistency, Rodgers finds a way to make it work. It is going to be very difficult for the Bears to keep him contained given the way their defense has played this season. That does not mean the Bears cannot win this game however.

A lot is stacked against the Bears. Injuries have caused them to lose their offensive and defensive leaders in Cutler and Lance Briggs, and the disappointing play of their young defensive players have left them vulnerable. Yet, they have had an extra week to prepare this game and work on their shortcomings. It has also allowed time for players to recover from any undisclosed nagging injuries. The Bears players and coaches know the importance of this game and they are going to come out ready to go. Marc Trestman has done some amazing things for the Bears thus far, and he is going to give the Packers a run for their money. Even so, this game is in Green Bay and the Packers are the team with all of the momentum, having won four straight games. It will be very tough for the Bears to pull off the upset, but it is possible.

 

Game Prediction: Chicago Bears 31 – Green Bay Packers 41