By Jeff Joniak-
(CBS) The Bears (3-5) play the Packers (5-3) at Lambeau Field on Sunday night. Here are my keys to the game.
Entering Week 4 against the Packers, the Bears prepared for the NFL’s 30th-ranked run defense that was allowing 156-yards per game. Despite a loss to the Packers, the Bears ran for 235 yards. Green Bay is now entering Week 10 ranked 32nd against the run, allowing 153.5 yards per game on 32.1 rushing attempts.
Once again, it would appear to make sense for Chicago to make the running game a big component of this week’s game plan. The idea will always be to try to keep Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers off the field as much as possible. Controlling the momentum of the game, the tempo, the scoreboard and the clock are key to giving the Bears a chance to compete offensively with the Packers.
Avoiding long fields, but conquering the task if necessary, also factors into this game and for the second half of the season. The Bears have scored only 31 points outside the red zone this season, which is tied for 29th in the league. Getting more completions to the receivers will open up the field, and that too will likely be an emphasis against the Packers.
Green Bay has 15 takeaways and 55 points off those takeaways, top-10 totals that need to be taken seriously Sunday.
Defense: Play smart
Green Bay is one of only 10 teams in the league averaging fewer than 100 yards rushing per game, as it has averaged 97.5 yards on only 24.3 attempts per game. That ranks 26th, just ahead of Chicago at 27th. However, the Packers average 4.02 yards per carry and 4.3 yards per carry on first down, so they are staying on schedule for Rodgers to play-action defenses to death.
We know Rodgers is great on the move and picking up first downs with his feet. He buys time, and that time often ends in excruciatingly aggravating results for defense. In the Week 4 meeting, the Bears were without Jeremiah Ratliff, Shea McClellin and Jared Allen. That trio, along with the returning linebacker duo of Lance Briggs and Jon Bostic, will be counted on to be difference-makers against Rodgers. Defensive backs must play to the whistle and avoid mistakes, two areas in which Rodgers challenges a defense.
Make a mental error against Rodgers, and it usually means a touchdown. He’s third in the NFL in averaging 8.22 yards per pass. Those of you who want to blitz Rodgers, be mindful of this stat line: He’s No. 1 in quarterback rating against the blitz at 130.71 with eight touchdowns and one interception.
Special teams: Don’t lose field position
Green Bay does a fantastic job of preying on mistakes made by their opponents. When it comes to special teams, the Bears must play disciplined. As of their bye, the Bears piled up the fourth-most penalty yards on special teams with 112. Those penalties erode field position, and giving Rodgers and the Packers offense an enviable drive start typically leads to points. It’s an extremely important key to this game.
The 190th meeting between the Bears and Packers opens the second half of the season at a crucial tipping point for Chicago. The matchup is only the second division game in the first 10 weeks of the season for the Bears and one of five left on the schedule. To make a run and start to repair the damage of the first half of the season, a win in Green Bay would be the reset that Chicago needs so badly.
Playing the game that way, with a reckless abandon, will tell us a lot about where this team’s focus and collective resolve is at after the week off. The unique aspect of this matchup is that both teams are coming off the bye. With all the self-scouting teams go through, tendencies are revealed and adjusted. Both teams will anticipate changes and tweaks and unscouted looks. Who wins the details may ultimately win the game.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.