By Dan Durkin
(CBS) After dropping five straight in Lambeau Field and six straight to the Packers, the Bears were able to grind out a 27-20 win, creating a three-way tie atop the NFC North.
An injury to the left shoulder of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will dominate the national headlines, but a masterful game plan by head coach Marc Trestman and a gutsy performance by backup quarterback Josh McCown were the real stories in this game.
It’s amazing how quickly things change in the NFL. For years, it was the Bears defense and special teams that led the charge, helping win games in spite of their anemic offense. In 2013, the Bears have experienced a complete role reversal, as the offense has become their best unit.
Beating a team like the Packers – that can seemingly score at will – requires near perfect execution on offense, and the Bears met the challenge. Yes, Seneca Wallace is a backup for a reason, but the same can be said for McCown. The fact of the matter is in a game that ended up with both team’s backup quarterback on the field, the Bears were the better team.
Heading into Monday night’s game, the Packers defense was fourth in the NFC with 23 sacks, but the Bears offensive line was stout. After surrendering a sack on their second drive, the Bears front five kept McCown clean for the rest of the game, giving him sturdy pockets to go through his progressions and deliver the ball confidently down the field. McCown played with great poise and spread the ball around to five different targets, completing 15 of his 22 completions for 10 or more yards.
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On his touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall (7 receptions, 107 yards, 1 touchdown), McCown faced a six-man pressure, yet kept his eyes down the field and delivered a strike to Marshall’s back-shoulder. On his touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery (5 receptions, 60 yards, 1 touchdown), McCown found the single coverage matchup and delivered another indefensible back-shoulder throw.
The Bears came out aggressive with their play-calling, throwing the ball to take advantage of a shaky Packers secondary. This pass-heavy game plan also tired out the Packers defensive line, which made a difference in the second half of the game.
Matt Forte played a crucial role, making the most of any crease he could find in the Packers defensive front. After getting 11 carries for 42 yards at the half, Forte turned 13 second half carries into 83 yards and caught five passes for 54 yards, giving him 29 touches for 179 total yards and a touchdown. The Bears struck an equal balance in the second half, and Forte’s head’s up running to stay in bounds on their final drive of the game forced the Packers to burn all of their timeouts on defense.
It was one step forward (pass rush), but two steps back (run defense) for the Bears defense. Defensive ends Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin resurrected a dormant pass rush, turning in their most dominant performance of the season against a young and unproven set of tackles. The pair generated four sacks and several pressures. In total, the Bears five sacks doubled their season output.
McClellin’s first sack change the entire complexion of the game. As McClellin rode Rodgers to the ground, Rodgers landed hard on his left shoulder, knocking him out of the game and perhaps longer.
Peppers flashed the rare athleticism that’s made him one of the most dominant pass rushers of the past decade. The Packers checked from a run to a backside smoke screen to Jordy Nelson, but Peppers sniffed it out. Left unblocked, Peppers read Wallace’s eyes, waiting in the passing lane to bat the ball, then leapt to tip it to himself for an interception. It looks like the extra time off (24 days in between games) did Peppers well, as his burst and change of direction was back.
The Bears back seven had a rough outing, particularly in run support, as they were gashed for 199 yards, surrendering 6.9 yards per carry. What’s most troubling is most of the rushing yards came after Rodgers was out of the game. With Wallace not being a threat to beat the Bears deep, they crowded the box with eight defenders and were still unable to stop the run.
Rookie Eddie Lacy ran for 150 yards, including a 56-yard burst, and James Starks ran for 40 yards on six carries, including a 32-yard touchdown run.
On the Starks touchdown run, the Packers ran a simple lead draw, and caught the Bears in a slow defensive stunt and missed run fits. Linebacker James Anderson went to the wrong gap, leaving a hole wide enough to drive a truck through. Free safety Chris Conte was slow to react, then stopped his feet at the point of attack, allowing Starks to make one quick cut to the end zone.
The play of the Bears safeties continues to be an issue. Major Wright has had a rough season, but bottomed out against the Packers. Wright was poor in his disguises (dropping from a two-high safety look to a box defender), was frequently in the wrong gap, and his tackling fundamentals continue to lead to big plays.
For weeks, it was the Bears lack of a pass rush that exposed the safeties, but that wasn’t the case against Green Bay. Their lapses were a combination of missed assignments and poor technique. If the Bears aren’t able to shore up their run defense, they’ll have to drop extra defenders in the box, which opens up passing lanes down the field.
The Bears special teams breakdowns continue to cost the team points. The offense stalled after the Peppers interception, but they still had a chance to at least flip field position. Instead the ensuing punt was blocked, giving the ball back to the Packers at the same spot on the field, and they scored a touchdown on the next play.
In the second half, the Packers recovered an onside kick. The Bears front line on their kickoff return team turned and ran before the ball was kicked, allowing the Packers to recover the kick. This led to a Packers field goal, capping off 10 straight points.
The loss of Dave Toub has been felt weekly, as the Bears special teams units haven’t been this poor in a decade. Yes, injuries at linebacker have forced some reshuffling in all four phases, but Joe DeCamillis needs to make better use of practice time.
In his brief NFL coaching career, Trestman had a defining moment. Leading 24-20 with 7:50 left in the game, he elected to go for it on 4th-and-inches from their own 32-yard line and the Bears converted. This play showed the confidence that Trestman had in his best unit to protect their defense, and it kept their 18 play, 80-yard drive alive which resulted in a game-clinching field goal.
Reports before the game indicated that Jay Cutler is expected to start next week against the Lions. Unless he’e medically cleared to play, McCown’s performance in a hostile environment has earned him another start. The importance of this win can’t be understated, but in reality, it’s only one game.
The Bears now have a short turnaround for a rematch against a Lions team that dominated them earlier in the season.
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