By Jeff Joniak-
(WBBM) Below are Jeff Joniak’s “Keys to the Game” for the Bears matchup against the Packers on Sunday at Solider Field.
Offense: No Extra Possessions
In nine of the last 10 games against the Packers, the Bears have fallen behind by at least two scores. That has left them behind by a combined score of 131-to-14 early in games. The Bears have not scored a touchdown in those games before Rodgers has directed 14 touchdown drives, plus the Week 2 fake punt touchdown by tight end Tom Crabtree. It’s a disturbing trend, and the Bears have yet to prove they are equipped to dig out of those kinds of holes. In addition to a balanced, clock-owning, chain-moving, productive attack, the Bears must value the ball. Aaron Rodgers does not need extra possessions. In the September meeting at Lambeau, Jay Cutler was intercepted by Tramon Williams in the fourth quarter, and on the next snap in five seconds a Rodgers to Donald Driver touchdown pass put the game out of reach. Balance, ball-security, and points by any means necessary combine to put the Bears in a position to win the game.
Defense: Strip, Sack & Conquer
It’s been a “Bear” market on sacks and takeaways over the last five games for the Bears. Only 8 of their 33 sacks this season have come in the last five games. The Bears takeaway rate has dropped from 3.5 on average in the first eight games, to 1.4 in the last five games. They are -3 in turnover ratio during their current tailspin. Getting those numbers up for the rest of the season is a huge goal for the banged up defense. During the Packers five game winning streak over the Bears, Aaron Rodgers is completing 68.4% of his passes, 8.22 yards-per-pass-attempt with 11 touchdowns, five interceptions, 11 sacks, and a 103.3 quarterback rating. Cutting into that rating will require flipping the TD/INT ratio in the Bears favor and getting him on the ground. The Bears sacked him five times in Week 2, and the Packers have issues up front.
Special Teams: High Alert
After kicking in 122 consecutive games, Robbie Gould’s calf strain on his plant leg ends his season. 39-year old veteran Olindo Mare arrives in an emergency after not playing this season, but after a full season in Carolina in 2011. Hopefully the adjustment to a new kicker in Soldier Field is smoothed over by the excellence of long snapper Patrick Mannelly and holder Adam Podlesh. The coverage units are thinned out with the loss of Craig Steltz and Sherrick McManis for the season, so new faces will be in new places. For the most part, the continuity has been solid this season producing very good coverage units and the field position that comes with it. Green Bay will test the Bears who must be on high alert for more fakes and surprises plus the return excellence of the dangerous Randall Cobb. The fake field goal touchdown in Green Bay still lingers and the Bears have to be aware of more tricks.
Intangibles: Now Or Never
There have been 108 “300” yard passing games in the NFL in 2012. It sounds great, but in reality it’s not a winning stat. Every team but Seattle has one, but the overall record in 300-yard passing games is 53-and-55. Jay Cutler threw for 333 in beating the Colts in Week 1. The Bears defense has given up three, 300-yard games, beating Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, and Tony Romo. Getting Matt Forte and Michael Bush cranked up in the run, paired with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey in the passing game, is enough to move the chains on the Packers. Marshall was targeted only five times in Week 2 against the Packers, catching two balls for 24 yards with a long of 14 yards. The Bears did not move Marshall around in that game, but they have since then and the result will be fun to watch. Calvin Johnson of Detroit and Marshall are the only two receivers with (four) games of 10 catches or more and they are 1-2 in 100 yard receiving games with nine and seven, respectively, this season. Over the last five games, scoring points in particular touchdowns has been challenging for the Bears, but time is running out. They must get the ball in the endzone, somehow, someway. They have had plenty of opportunities, so it’s not as if they haven’t been in position to make the big play, they simply have not done it enough.
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.