By Jeff Joniak-
(WBBM) Below are Jeff Joniak’s “Keys to the Game” for the Bears matchup against the Packers on Thursday at Lambeau Field.
Offense: Dominate The Clock
Against the Packers, time of possession is always a key. Own the clock, own the game or at least dictate the tempo by putting together a game plan that accomplishes this goal.
In the last two seasons, the Packers have had games with 37:29 and 35:49 in time of possession against the Bears. The Bears scored on more than half of their possessions against the Colts, including six times in a stretch of seven from the first to the third quarter.
The Packers had the ball for only 27-minutes in their loss to San Francisco. The Bears had almost an 11-minute advantage on the Colts, despite struggling on first down. The Bears had 34 first down snaps, but only eight plays produced four-yards or more, which computes to a poor 23.5 efficiency rating. The Bears actually averaged nearly 11 yards on second down against the Colts.
Defense: Keep Rodgers In The Pocket
It’s not enough for the Bears to pressure Aaron Rodgers, they have to pressure him and keep him in the pocket. When Rodgers ejects the pocket, he makes plays…big ones. He will crush a defense if that part of his game is not kept in check.
He is sharp and accurate, and rarely throws an interception. When there’s an opportunity to make him eat it, an opportunity to sack him, or an opportunity to make him throw it away, the Bears have to do it. Rodgers took only 13 sacks at home last season. When the pressure comes, the back seven must plaster coverage to limit Rodgers’ downfield options and potential for big plays when the protection breaks down.
Back shoulder throws to Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, and Jermichael Finley are common and often successful as it is one of the most difficult passes to defend in the NFL, and Rodgers is exceptional on that throw. The 49ers put Rodgers into check down mode in the opener, with 21 of his completions five yards or less.
Special Teams: Curtail Cobb
Thanks to a 75-yard punt return touchdown against the 49ers, Randall Cobb kept the Packers in the game. On 66 returns Cobb has three touchdowns, two on punts and a 108-yard kick return last season.
His career average on 29 punt returns is equal to Devin Hester’s all-time average of 12.9 yards per return. The Bears special teams unit must be disciplined and not fall asleep on Cobb. The directional punting of Adam Podlesh and the strong leg of Robbie Gould on kickoffs should ease the burden by keeping the ball out of Cobb’s hands.
At the same time, opportunities for Hester in the return game mean at least a first down every time he touches it. He opened the season with a 23-yard punt return against the Colts.
Intangibles: Play With Optimum Emotion
Take out all the obvious ramifications of a Bears-Packers game. Those are a given. Beating the Packers, and doing it at Lambeau—that’s automatically crucial and big.
The Packers lost to the Giants in the playoffs and now to another title contender in Week 1 and they were physically beat up as well by the 49ers. Nothing heightens the security of a team more than an opening day loss at home like that one. So the Bears can’t go in over-confident just because they scored 41 points against the Colts. And I don’t expect them to, given the leadership base of the roster and because of Lovie Smith.
The website Cold Hard Football Facts did a research project on the Packers recently and found that Aaron Rodgers has a record of 3-19 in fourth quarter comeback scenarios, which now includes Sunday’s loss to San Francisco. It’s significant, because in a two-year stretch, he never trailed in the fourth quarter of 19-straight wins. The Packers are not used to it, and the Bears hope to keep it that way.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play voice of the Chicago Bears on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. You can follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffJoniak.