By Laurence Holmes-
(WSCR) It’s strange to think this, but this is a big game for the Bears, beyond the usual Chicago vs. Green Bay storyline.
Looking at their upcoming schedule, both Carolina and Detroit are not ‘gimme’ games. A win on Sunday puts the Bears in a position to absorb an unexpected loss. The Bears need to show they’re closer to the team that blew out the Falcons and not the team that was blown out by New Orleans.
Here are a few things that I’m looking at for Sunday:
How The Bears Handle Pressure
When the Bears have issues with protection, you usually hear Bears players and coaches say: “We just have a few things to clean up.” It’s a nebulous term that acknowledges the problem, but doesn’t quite assess blame or offer a real solution. The Bears expect that Green Bay is going to use the tape of the Saints game as a template for how to attack the Bears offense.
Here’s what Jay Cutler is expecting: “A lot different looks. A lot of the same stuff that New Orleans is going to do. They’re gonna show us some different looks, blitz from odd angles, nothing we haven’t seen before, though.”
Let’s hope the Bears have adjusted from what happened to them last week. They seemed to be unsure of the rush count on a lot of plays and didn’t do some of the little things that would alleviate pressure — like communicating and hitting hot reads.
Green Bay is all about confusion. Clay Matthews lines up in multiple areas to start a play. The good news is there are some big-play opportunities for the Bears. The Packers have not been very good against the pass this year. In fact, they’ve been dead last. Green Bay is giving up 400 yards a game through the air. Drew Brees lit them up for 419 yards and three touchdowns on opening night. Cam Newton lit them up too, until they adjusted and forced him into turnovers.
Can Cutler split the difference and give the Bears a fighting chance?
Slowing Down Aaron Rodgers
The Bears have had some success in this area. In three games last season, the Packers offense scored only 41 points. Contrast that with the 72 points they’ve scored already in two games. The Cover-2 scheme is well-suited to slow down the Packers high-powered offense. When I asked Rodgers about why the Bears seem to do a good job against them, he pointed to the level of familiarity between the two teams.
The problem is the Bears showed some weaknesses in coverage last week. The Bears defense is successful when it doesn’t give up the big play. The whole point of two deep safeties and a middle linebacker who has deep drops is to make sure the top of the defense doesn’t get blown off. They should never give up a play like the 79-yard TD from last week.
Chris Harris looks like he’s ready to play, but if he’s not out there, the Bears will be at a disadvantage against one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Through two games, Rodgers is completing an insane 72 percent of his passes. The defensive line needs a bounce-back game after not getting pressure on Brees last week. If the Bears have to dispatch Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs or the defensive backs to blitz too often, it swings the balance of power in Green Bay’s favor.
Where Is Charles Woodson?
He’s a Hall of Fame player, and even at this advanced stage of his career, he is extremely productive. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers understands how to use him to create mismatches, but Woodson has been hampered by a foot injury. If he’s on the field, he’s dangerous. I expect we’ll see him covering the slot, and, in some situations, playing safety. He’s a fantastic blitzer and needs to be accounted for on every snap. He baited the inexperienced Newton into interceptions last week, changing the game. Quite simply, he is one of the best defensive players in the NFL.
Devin Hester vs. Tim Masthay
Hester likes the bright lights and big games. While he struggles to make an impact in the passing game, he still can change the game in special teams. It looks like teams are going to try and neutralize him on kickoffs by kicking out of the endzone. He still has a chance on punts – he’s stung the Packers twice with punt return touchdowns. Since then the Packers have changed their approach and are trying to keep the ball away from him.
They’ve angle kicked and tried to pin Hester in, sometimes just kicking out of bounds, limiting his chances. In the last 16 Green Bay punts, Hester has only returned five of them, the longest of which was for 19 yards. If he could get loose on a big return, it alleviates the pressure on offense and defense.
Remember, the Bears pride themselves on being a three-phase team. This would be a good time to see that…
For live gameday coverage Sunday, follow Laurence on Twitter (@lholmes670).