By Jeff Joniak-
(CBS) The Bears (2-1) host the Packers (1-2) in an NFC North showdown Sunday at Soldier Field at noon. Here are some keys to the game for Chicago.
After facing three of the best run-stopping defensive fronts in football in consecutive weeks, the Bears look for a productive game against the Packers. Buffalo, San Francisco and the New York Jets are ranked sixth, seventh and first against the run, respectively. Green Bay ranks 30th, allowing 156 yards per game. Teams have run it a league-high 37.3 times per game while scoring a league high-tying five rushing touchdowns against the Packers.
The Bears’ two longest runs this season have been Jay Cutler scrambles for 25 yards and 16 yards, and they’ve run it fewer than 19 times per game, well below the league average of 27. All that being said, controlling the momentum of the game — which includes the tempo, the scoreboard and the clock — are the key components to winning this phase of the battle. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall is again questionable after missing a week of practices with a sore ankle, which opens the door for Josh Morgan and Santonio Holmes to contribute if necessary. Playing against Aaron Rodgers is always scary, so limiting his possessions or stealing one is ultimately more important than simply dedicating your game plan to a run-heavy package of plays.
The Packers are disappointed in their run game and may feel like they need to revive it against the Bears. So far, the Packers’ longest run is 17 yards. They average only 3.63 yards per carry but like the Bears have faced three of the top run defenses in football (Seahawks, Jets, and Lions).
Uncharacteristically, the Packers are 28th in the league in yards, after finishing third in yards last year, when they also started 1-2. There’s no panic in Green Bay because of Rodgers. The Packers only ran 51 plays and scored seven points last week against the Lions, who stayed in Cover 2 with the safeties wide and deep and let their corners play man-to-man, with the linebackers defending the middle of the field.
The Packers didn’t have success running the ball, and so the Lions ignored play-action. Rodgers is great on the move and picking up first downs with his feet. Bears defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff and linebacker Shea McClellin won’t play, and defensive end Jared Allen has battled an illness all week, leaving him questionable. Defensive backs must play to the whistle and avoid mistakes, two areas Rodgers challenges a defense in. Make a mental error against Rodgers, and it usually means a touchdown.
Attitude and physicality are the two keys every week on special teams, but a third key needs to be met against the Packers: discipline. The Bears must play disciplined on special teams. Giving the Packers better field position due to a bad penalty, a turnover or a missed assignment complicates the plan. The idea is to not give the Packers any momentum in their second straight road division game.
The Bears’ coverage units played with an inspired attitude and aggressive tackling against the Jets. It was fueled by the physical and opportunistic performance of newcomer and rookie defensive back Ahmad Dixon, who was the first man down the field as the gunner and recovered a muffed punt. Keeping it going, building on it and capturing the enthusiasm against the archrivals is huge for the Bears.
Home division games are always important in the playoff formula, ahe 189th meeting with the Packers is no different. It’s the only division game for the Bears in the first nine weeks of the season, and it’s a big one. In splitting two games a year ago with the Packers, the Bears scored 55 pointsand gave up 53.
Prior to last season, the Bears struggled to score on the Packers defense in the previous games dating back to 2009, putting up 15, 14, 20, 3, 14, 17, 21, 10, and 13 points during an nine-game stretch, including the 2010 NFC Championship game. The intangible here is “belief” in the idea that the Bears can match the Packers point for point.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.