Week 17 – Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
Part 17 of a 17 part series analyzing each week of the Bears’ season
The Chicago Bears are hosting the Green Bay Packers in what looks to be one of the most exciting games of the week. The Bears are 8-7 and a win away from the division title. They had a chance to win it last week and couldn’t do it. They will give it their all to lock up their first division title since 2010, but it’s not going to be easy against a very tough Packers team.
The Packers are 7-7-1 and in the same position. Win and they are in; lose and go home. The potential return of a number of injured players, including Aaron Rodgers, could help quite a bit in their quest for the postseason. They couldn’t beat the Bears when these two teams first met, but that game featured the loss of Rodgers, so the circumstances will be much different in this one.
The Packers have one of the more potent running attacks in the league, featuring rookie Eddie Lacy as the workhorse. He is eighth in the league in rushing with 1,112 yards, and his 10 rushing touchdowns are tied for third. However, his status for this game is very much up in the air after suffering an ankle injury last week. His backup, James Starks, has been very effective this season as well. Although he only has 78 carries on the year, he is averaging 5.2 yards per carry, and he has been very effective as a change of pace back. Whether Lacy can go or not, the Packers should be able to hand the ball of to a quality runningback.
Much has been said about the Bears’ league-worst run defense. They have not been able to slow down any runningback, and it only seems to get worse as the season has gone along. They have allowed a 100-yard rusher in eight straight games, and they have shown few signs of improvement. Even the return of Lance Briggs last week was not enough to prevent the Philadelphia Eagles from getting two 100-yard rushers. Coming into this game, it looks as though it won’t matter whether Lacy or Starks suits up for the Packers, because either could easily have a big game against this defense.
When these two teams first played, Lacy rushed for 150 and a touchdown on 22 carries, while Starks had 40 yards on only six carries. The Bears run defense need to step up in this game if they want the final result to be the same. Aaron Rodgers might be a little rusty in his first game back, so a potent rushing attack would certainly make it easier for him.
Packers Pass Protection versus Bears Pass Rush
The Packers have really had a lot of issues keeping Matt Flynn protected. He has been sacked 17 times over the last four games. It has really impeded the Packers’ offense and kept them from reaching their full potential. Flynn has done very well in place of Rodgers, but he could be even better if he can get better protection up front. Not all of the sacks are the fault of the offensive line, but a lot of the blame falls on them. Keeping their quarterback upright in this game would go along way towards a potential Packers win.
The Bears’ pass rush has been very poor this season. As a team, they have the fewest sacks in the league with only 28. They will have occasional strong games, but for the most part, opposing quarterbacks have remained clean in the pocket. They have two games with five sacks, one of which came against the Packers, while they have a number of games with no sacks and very little pressure. If they can produce like they did in the first game between these teams, it would make it a whole lot easier on the defense. This is a matchup between two struggling groups, but the winner will have a major impact on the outcome of the game.
Packers Run Defense versus Bears RB Matt Forte
While the Bears’ run defense has been horrendous, the Packers’ has not been that much better. They have allowed a 100-yard rusher in four of their last five games, giving up 4.6 yards per carry on the season. They too have battled injuries in the front seven, having to rely on younger, less experienced players to fill the gaps. This is especially apparent, as their rushing yards allowed has gotten progressively worse as the season has elapsed. With the division title on the line, the Packers’ front seven needs to hunker down to stop Matt Forte.
Forte is in the midst of another very strong season. He is fourth in the league in rushing with 1,229 yards, nine yards away from a career high, and he is fourth among runningbacks with 547 receiving yards, already tying a career high. An important part of the offense, his performances have had a major impact on the outcome of the Bears’ games. They are 3-1 when he rushes for more than 100 yards, while they are only 2-4 when he rushes for fewer than 80. Forte had 125 in the first matchup between these teams, and the Packers will have to do a better job stopping him to prevent another Bears’ win.
Can the Bears’ shake off last week’s embarrassment and win the division title?
The Bears were absolutely trounced last week. The Bears came in to Philadelphia with a chance to punch their ticket to the playoffs, and they completely folded. The Eagles ran all over them offensively, and when the Bears’ did have the ball, they could do nothing with it. The 54-11 final was the biggest blowout of the 2013 season. The Bears were completely demoralized, and nothing seemed to go right. With a division title on the line, the Bears did not come to play.
So once again, the Bears have a chance to win the division. They couldn’t do it last week, and now they face their most heated rival. They have to get it together and forget about their last game. The motivation certainly won’t be lacking in this game, but the Bears need to show their drive on the field. They need to treat last week as their “rock bottom”, and harness the anger from last week and play their hearts out. Otherwise, they’ll be watching the playoffs from their couches, instead of the sidelines.
Can Shea McClellin have another big game against the Packers?
For some mystical and unknown reason, Shea McClellin finds a way to be very effective against the Packers. However, he struggles in most other games. In his young, two-year career, he has a total of 6.5 sacks. 4.5 of those have come in two games against Green Bay. There really appears to be no specific answer for his one-team dominance. In those two games, the Packers have started four different players at both offensive tackle spots, so McClellin isn’t exploiting one guy every time.
Regardless of how he does it, McClellin will be relied on for another big game for the Bears. In the last Bears-Packers game, McClellin injured Rodgers, drastically altering the outcome of the game. While something like that is a fluke, another multiple-sack performance from Shea would do wonders for the Bears’ defense. They have struggled to generate much of a pass-rush, but McClellin has shown he can do something about that against the Packers. It will be interesting to see if he can keep it up.
How well will Aaron Rodgers and others perform coming off of injury?
After suffering a broken collarbone at the hands of McClellin, Aaron Rodgers has missed seven games leading up to his return in Chicago. The team struggled without him, going 2-4-1, and they will certainly be happy to have him back. Rodgers has done a good job of avoiding injuries in his career. Prior to this absence, he had only missed one start due to injury in the NFL. That was in 2010 when he suffered a concussion against the Detroit Lions. He only missed one game. Given that, there is very little data to determine how well he will do in his return from injury.
In his first game back from his concussion, he threw for 404 yards and four touchdowns. However, after only missing a game, there was not going to be a lot of “rust” to accumulate. He has never missed this much time before, so it is a major unknown as to how well he will play. It is tough for quarterbacks to come back from an injury, especially a throwing-related injury, and everyone will be watching to see how he does. His play could very well be the difference between a win and a loss.
The question marks surrounding Rodgers’ return make a quarterback comparison less clear, but conventional wisdom says to take Rodgers no matter what, although Jay Cutler has been playing well when healthy. Injury for the Packers makes the runningback comparison murky as well, because it is hard to tell how Lacy will perform. If both Lacy and Matt Forte were healthy, it would be impossible to give one the advantage, but for purely health reasons, Forte gets the slight edge.
At wide receiver, the Bears’ have the most potent duo in the league in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. They have combined for a staggering 2,562 receiving yards. For the Packers, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and Jarrett Boykin have formed a tough three-headed attack. As a trio, they have the second most receiving yards of any team, behind only the Denver Broncos. Randall Cobb may even return for this game, but he would be far from 100-percent. It’s a tough comparison given their respective success. Neither group is significantly better than the other.
A major injury to Jermichael Finley has hindered the Packers’ tight end position, forcing them to rely on Andrew Quarless, who is more of a blocking tight end. The Bears have gotten a career-year out of Martellus Bennett, who is seventh among tight ends in receiving yards. Again, injuries give the Bears the position advantage. Along the offensive line, the Packers have had issues protecting the quarterback, giving up 42 sacks on the year. While the Bears allowed fewer sacks, they too have had shoddy protection at times. Still, they get the slight advantage for their overall better play.
The Bears have dealt with a number of injuries along the defensive line, and it has really hurt their defense as a whole. The Packers had some injuries of their own, but they have been mostly healthy. For that reason and others, the Packers have the better defensive line. At linebacker, both teams have had major injuries, being forced to rely on young, inexperienced players. The Packers’ depth at the position has been better than the Bears, and for that, they have the better unit.
In the secondary, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields have had another quality season at cornerback with three interceptions apiece. An injury to Charles Tillman hindered the Bears’ cornerback play, but Zack Bowman has played well in his place. Still, the consistency of the Packers’ corners gives them the slight advantage. At safety, the Bears young players Major Wright and Chris Conte have been two of the worst in the league. While none of the Packers’ safeties have been spectacular, they have been more reliable than the Bears’.
Robbie Gould’s strong 2013 kicking season was recently rewarded with a hefty contract extension, while Mason Crosby is having a nice bounceback season of his own. Gould has been the better of the two however. The Packers have gotten another reliable season out of punter Tim Masthay, while Adam Podlesh has been inconsistent for the Bears. In the return game, both teams have gotten strong years from their respective returners, each with flashes of brilliance with other moments of inconsistencies. Neither Devin Hester nor Micah Hyde has been much better than the other.
With the season on the line, both teams will give it everything they’ve got. They know that this is what they have been playing for all season, and the emotion and passion put into this game will be intense. Added on to the playoff implications is the divisional game aspect of it. Even if the playoffs were not on the line, these two teams would be fired up to play their rival. The postseason aspirations will only make it better.
Both teams have a number of flaws that they have to overcome one last time to punch their ticket. As divisional rivals, each team knows each other very well, and they know how to take advantage of each other’s weaknesses. This looks to be another classic in the Bears-Packers rivalry, and it will be a fun one to watch.
Game Prediction: Green Bay Packers 31 – Chicago Bears 34