By Jeff Joniak
(CBS) The Bears (1-2) are on the road to face the Packers (2-1) on at Lambeau Field on Thursday night. Here are my keys to the game.
Offense: pound the ball
When the Bears played the Packers in Week 7 last season, running the ball was going to be a chore. The Packers run defense had allowed only eight runs of 10-plus yards and was third in the league, allowing only 3.4 yards on first-down rushing. Through three games this season, the Packers have already permitted eight runs of 10-plus yards and are allowing 5.7 yards rushing on first down. Bears running back Jordan Howard has eight runs of 10 or more yards already, tied for second in the league. Rookie Tarik Cohen has four.
Controlling the clock is the only real way to quiet Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who possessed the ball for nearly 40 minutes in his team’s 26-10 win over the Bears in Green Bay last season. That can’t happen again if the Bears are to have a chance.
Defense: Limit creations by Rodgers
Rodgers has a knack for jumping on the Bears defense quickly. With starting safety Quintin Demps out with a broken leg, look for Rodgers to test third-year safety Adrian Amos and rookie safety Eddie Jackson. Rodgers is equipped with a unique ability to squirm out of trouble and make a big play. His hard counts lure defenders off the line of scrimmage, giving him free plays downfield. And forget about group personnel changes. His quick snaps catch defenses with 12 men on the field. Rodgers ranks first in completions and passing first downs (49) and second in passing yards. The Packers are tied for third in third-down conversion percentage (48.8) and are third in time of possession.
Special teams: Play smart
Fresh off blocking a field-goal attempt and recovering a muffed punt return, Sherrick McManis leads the Bears’ special teams unit against a Packers outfit debuting an inexperienced long snapper and a rookie holder and punter on a short week. This should be considered an edge for the Bears, given the lack of reps and continuity with no real practice time with a Thursday game. This is Green Bay’s first look at Tarik Cohen returning punts. He will need to be patient and secure the ball. Packers punter Justin Vogel has a hang time of 4.7 seconds and had five punts of 50-plus yards last week against the Bengals. Green Bay punt returns are handled by Trevor Davis, who had a 62-yard return in the preseason.
Intangibles: Short-week issues
Five Green Bay tackles have been injured already. Three are on injured reserve, and Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari are banged up and may not play. Newly signed Ulrick John, rookie Adam Pankey and first-year pro Justin McCray may be the options on the outside of the line. The Bears’ highly regarded front seven needs to take advantage of this situation. Meanwhile, Packers running back Ty Montgomery tore the Bears up in with a 16-carry, 162-yard explosion running the ball in a win in Chicago last season. There’s talk the Packers need a home-run threat to complement him, so they may also turn to rookie Jamaal Williams.
By the numbers
This is the longest rivalry in football history. A Packers win would them the series lead over the Bears for the first time since 1932. It’s all even at 94-94-6. Packers coach Mike McCarthy is 16-7 against the Bears, while Rodgers is 15-4. Over the last 25 years, covering 51 games, the Brett Favre-Rodgers era has produced a 37-14 record against the Bears.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.