Packers @ Bears (9-25-2011)

Week 3: Packers at Bears – 7 matchups to watch

So the Bears came crashing down to earth after a dominating Week 1 performance against the Falcons by being crushed by the Saints in Week 2. The most disheartening aspect of the Saints game to me was how badly and thoroughly we were PHYSICALLY beaten—our defensive line was swallowed up by their defensive line, their defensive line pushed back our offensive line, their RBs ran over our back seven, and the Saints’ blitzes almost sent our franchise QB Jay Cutler off in four pieces. To add injury to insult, we lose our starting RT Gabe Carimi and 3rd-down slot WR Earl Bennett to injuries. The only good thin I can think of about last week’s game is that it is over.

So, after getting blitzed and spread-passing attacked out of the Superdome, we get to face the Packers—with QB Aaron Rodgers and the king of the zone blitz, Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers. This would be an easy game to pick against the Bears in upon first glance. And, to be perfectly honest, this game has the capability to get away from the Bears really quickly if they don’t improve ALOT of things from last week. But do not forget, that the Bears split the regular season series against the Pack last year; and the Bears actually had the ball with a chance to tie or win in the NFC Championship Game against the Packers—all with a backup quarterback in the game. So theses two teams are not as far apart as last week’s results—or the media—would have you believe.

Here are the 10 matchups that will prove most critical to the Bears’ success on Sunday:

1) Bears’ Blitz Pickup (TE Kellen Davis, TE Matt Spaeth, and RBs Matt Forte and Marion Barber) versus Packers’ Extra Pass Rushers. The Packers sacked Jay Cutler 11 times in 3 meetings last season; however, only 4.5 of those 11 came from what you would call their ‘every-down’ rushers—meaning the front 3 and LB Clay Mathews. Secondary rushers, or guys who only blitz on specialty blitzes, accounted for the other 6.5 sacks. The Bears’ TEs and RBs had a heck of a time blocking ANYBODY against the Saints, and expect the Packers to test this early.
Also, QB Jay Cutler will also have to be quicker to bring the ball down and run, in order to slow down the Packers’ pass rush—for all the Saints’ blitzing, Cutler only ran the ball 1 time, and gained 12 yards. His running ability was causing a problem for the Packers in the NFC Championship before he went out with the knee injury.

2) Packers’ OT Chad Clifton versus Bears’ DE Julius Peppers. Peppers was held by the Saints to one—count ’em—ONE solo tackle; and no pressures on QB Drew Brees. I expect him to come out really put forth alot of effort in this game to make up for last week. On the flip side, Clifton and the rest of the Packers’ offensive line had a heck of a time with Peppers last season—especially in the first game last year, totalling 18 penalties—most of those holding and illegal procedure calls—not to mention the 8-10 holding calls against Peppers that were not called. Peppers has to get Rodgers thinking about his safety and not letting him focus entirely on the coverages downfield.

3) WR Roy Williams versus CB Charles Woodson. Williams will be back after missing last week with a groin injury; I think the Packers will put Woodson, the more physical of their two corners, against him. This will be an interesting matchup not only in the passing game but in the running game—Woodson is one of the better run-support CBs in the NFL; and Williams one of the better run blockers at the WR position. Woodson and the other Packers’ CBs pushed Bears’ WRs Johnny Knox and Devin Hester around in the last two matchups last year—knocking off the timing of our passing game. These are the types of CBs we went out and signed Roy Williams to matchup against.

4) Returner Devin Hester versus the Packers’ coverage units. Devin Hester has 2 of his 10 career punt returns against the Packers. The Packers have had trouble covering punts so far this year, giving up an average of 25 yards per runback. This could be the x-factor between two pretty evenly-matched teams.

5) TE Jeremichael Finley versus the Bears’ LBs. Finley abused the Bears in the first meeting last year, catching 9 passes for 120 yards; he then missed the final two meetings after being placed on season-ending IR. Part of the Packers’ passing philosophy is to bait your LBs and safeties in with alot of slant and hitch routes with their WRs, then gash you up the seams with Finley. The Bears’ LBs have to remain disciplined and keep a guy on Finley, or he can end up piling up huge yardage against us.

6) Mike Martz versus Dom Capers. Much was made after last weeks’ Saints-Bears game about the Bears’ 12 run plays versus 51 pass plays. However, I think the try to cram the ball down the Packers’ throats on Sunday. one thing that does bother me about the BEars’ offense is that e have two of the fastest WRs in the league in Devin Hester and Johnny Knox; yet we almost never run go (or fly) routes or drag routes straight across the middle—the two patterns that BEST utilize a wide receiver’s speed advantage. The Packers’ secondary is NOT known for the blzing speed; their All-Pro safety Nick Collins is out for the season, leaving little-used Charlie Peprah and Morgan Burnett (who is making his 3rd career start) covering the deep half of the field. If I were Martz, on the first play I would run a play-action, leave 8 guys in to pass prtect, and send Knox and Hester on go routes on opposite sides of the field, see where the deep safeties go, nd throw the ball 60 yards down the field for Knox or Hester to run under. In the least, you put the treat in the back of the defenses’ minds.

At any rate, this game will test the Bears’ offensive coaches’ ability to make adjustments. We were very weak on our edge pass protections last week; so you know the Packers will look to test that early on, and we will see what the Bears will do to (hopefully) improve in this area.

7) Matt Forte versus whoever tries to cover him. None of the Packers’ linebackers can cover Forte. So, do they just let him have his yards? Do they put a safety or Woodson on him? Two guys? Can the Bears do enough in the screen game to slow down the Packers’ pass rush?

MY PREDICTION: The winner of this game the last 3 meetings has scored 24, 10, and 21 points. And in each those 2 games with 20+ points, there was a defensive or special teams TD. In other words, alot of defense; not much offense. So I say BEARS 23, PACKERS 17.