By Jeff Joniak–
(CBS) The Bears (1-5) are on the road to face the Packers (3-2) on Thursday night at Lambeau Field. Here are my keys to the game.
Offense: Strive to score
Most defenses feel they play winning football in holding opponents to 17 points or less. That should be enough. Right now, the Bears are scoring challenged, averaging 16.8 points through six games, the lowest in the NFL.
To beat the Packers in Lambeau Field, scoring touchdowns is a must. The Bears have better passing and total yardage numbers than the Packers, but their red-zone inefficiency is biting them, with touchdowns on only nine of their 19 trips there.
Another revealing stat comes outside the red zone, where the Bears are last in the league with just 10 points scored, well below the league average of 37 and far from the top team — the Colts, with 97 points. The Packers’ rush defense is outstanding, having allowed only eight runs of 10-yards plus and ranking third in the league in allowing only 3.4 yards on first down.
Defense: Be wary of Rodgers
If you’ve read or heard about the demise of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, don’t buy it. The Packers offense isn’t firing on all cylinders yet, but Rodgers is an ever present danger. The Packers are ranked 26th in yardage and are at a minus-3 in turnover ratio, but Rodgers presents a unique challenge for the young Bears defense.
On third down, the Packers lead the NFL in conversion percentage. However, Rodgers has been intercepted three times on third down. Where Rodgers excels and always has is in the first quarter. In that regard, his four passing touchdowns rank tied for second-best, as does his 106.0 rating. Especially at home, he jumps on teams early, and over the years the Bears have paid the price for that.
Rodgers is also tough on blitzes, tying Drew Brees and Matt Ryan with five touchdowns this season.
On the flip side, here’s a stunning stat, given the excellence of Rodgers over his career: The Packers have started 14 drives this season inside their own 20 this season, and they’re the only team in the league with no points on such drives. Last season, the Packers turned it over six times for the entire season, something they’ve already matched in five games this year.
Special teams: Be ready for anything
For the 11th consecutive season, the Bears and Packers are in primetime. Don’t be shocked if the Packers pull a special teams surprise. It could be a fake punt or an on-side kick or something out of the ordinary. This young Bears team must be ready for anything when it comes to a division rival like the packers. The pressure cranks up on rookie Cre’von LeBlanc as the Bears’ punt returner with Eddie Royal out. Look for Packers punter Jacob Schum to use that inexperience to his advantage. Schum is struggling with one of the lowest averages in the league and has landed only three punts inside the 20. Bears punter Patrick O’Donnell is doing a good job with what he’s being asked to do. His hang time ranks fifth best in the league (4.59 seconds), and he’s tied for the second-most fair catches with 14.
Intangibles: The spark
Since beating the Packers on Thanksgiving at Lambeau Field last season, the Bears have gone 2-9. It was the signature win of the John Fox era so far, and it created a lot of excitement. A duplicate win over the Packers could do wonders for a young team trying to find its way. It would also make the Bears 2-0 in the division and could spark something that moves this team in the right direction.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.