By Dan Durkin-
A weekly glimpse at the Bears’ upcoming opponent. This week: Green Bay.
(CBS) The Bears must have upset someone at the NFL’s scheduling department. First it was the defending NFC South Champion Atlanta Falcons, then the 2009 Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints on the road, now they welcome to Soldier Field the defending Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.
The Bears sit at 1-1 in the NFC and if they intend on picking up their first divisional win this weekend they’ll need to play nearly flawless football against the best team in the NFL. Are the Bears up for the challenge? Let’s take a look at the Packers’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as the key match-ups in the 183rd installment of the NFL’s longest running rivalry.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in football. He’s unflappable under duress, compiling the NFL’s highest quarterback rating against the blitz over the past three seasons. When teams sit back in coverage, his footwork buys enough time to find the open receiver. Is he unstoppable? At times, yes, he is. But for some reason the Bears defense has had a modicum of success against him over the years. To have any chance on Sunday, the Bears have to generate pressure with their front four and be assignment sound in the secondary.
Armed with the most diverse group of receiver talent in the NFL, the Packers pass to set up the run. This pass-first approach forces opposing defenses to use safeties for deep help over the top on sticky-handed speedster Greg Jennings. However, choosing to double team Jennings – also known as “cloud” coverage – can be a catch-22 for a defense. When teams go to the cloud, opportunities arise for tight end Jermichael Finley up the seam of the defense. Even though Brian Urlacher is the premiere pass defending linebacker in the NFL, Finley is a mismatch for any linebacker or safety that the Packers will certainly exploit.
While the Bears would prefer to burn and bury any evidence from last week’s offensive debacle in New Orleans, future opponents now have game tape to devise their defensive attack. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, deploys a high pressure blitz scheme similar to that of the Saints, so the Bears porous protection schemes will be tested.
Clay Matthews and BJ Raji are game changing talents who will have to be accounted for on every snap by Bears’ blockers. If the Bears choose to keep a tight end or running back in to help chip on Clay Matthews, Jay Cutler will have one less receiving option to work with. In an offense with very limited wide receiver talent, this will be a problem, and Cutler may be forced to make risky throws to try and move the chains.
The Bears do catch a break this weekend, as the Packers lost Pro-Bowl free safety Nick Collins for the season with a neck injury, which is a big blow to the Packers secondary. The Bears should test new free safety Charlie Peprah on vertical and deep dig (square-in) routes.
The Bears only hope for winning this weekend will be to run the ball to eat the clock and keep Rodgers and company on the sideline. Judging by the offensive line’s performance thus far, I just don’t think this will be possible. The Packers will stuff the run and force the Bears to throw the ball. Unless the Bears are able to win with their old formula of forcing turnovers and getting a spark from special teams, their chances on Sunday are grim.
What to watch when the Bears have the ball:
Mike Martz vs. Dom Capers: Martz’s gameplan last week in New Orleans was indefensible. It was evident early in the game the Bears’ offensive line was losing the battle at the line of scrimmage, yet Martz continued to call 7-step drops and put Jay Cutler in harm’s way. Hopefully, Lovie Smith has had a chat with Martz about achieving a better run-pass balance in play calls, but if the Bears offensive line doesn’t improve, it won’t matter.
What to watch when the Packers have the ball:
Packer receivers vs. Major Wright: Guaranteed the Packers will take multiple deep shots down the field after seeing Major Wright get burned by Devery Henderson last week. The very purpose of the Tampa-2 scheme is to prevent big plays, but Wright was slow out of his break and bit on the outside vertical route, letting Henderson slip behind him. If Chris Harris is able to play this weekend, I’d look for Brandon Merriweather to start and play all of the game on Sunday as Wright just isn’t ready for prime time.
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