By Chris Emma—
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) – The NFL’s oldest rivalry, played between the Bears and the Packers, brings a sincere distain between two cities and franchise steeped in history yet so different from one another. There are decades of bad blood shared.
For Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee, it took just one game to understand what it means. Really, it only required a simple barb from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who mentioned after a 31-23 win at Soldier Field in 2015 that it’s always fun to beat the Bears. McPhee felt greatly disrespected, taking it to Lambeau Field in November that season and reveling in a surprising 17-13 victory, after which he declared that the Bears “slapped (Rodgers) on his ass.”
Sunday at Soldier Field will mark the 196th meetings between these two teams and one with a different setting that those of recent history. For the first time since 2008, the Bears are favorites over the Packers, in large part because Rodgers is out with a broken collarbone. It will be 24-year-old Brett Hundley looking to lead Green Bay to its first Rodgers-less victory this season.
McPhee and his teammates are licking their chops about facing the Packers without their future Hall of Fame quarterback.
“Disappointed? No, I’m not disappointed,” McPhee said. “I hope Rodgers has a speedy recovery. He’s a legend to this game. But I’d rather play Brett than Aaron.”
Even with Rodgers out, this is still a victory that must be earned for a Bears team that has sputtered in every opportunity to contend in the John Fox era.
The Bears (3-5) can draw their record even with the Packers (4-4) keep thoughts of contention alive with a win. To do so, they need to contain the dual-threat Hundley, whom is still dangerous, the Bears warned.
“He can get downfield with his feet, he can extend plays getting out of the pocket in the pass game,” Bears linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski said. “So you just got to be aware of what’s going on. You can’t assume he’s going to take a sack. You can’t assume the ball’s going to be out. You have to stay locked on your guys in coverage, execute and know your assignments. You can’t leave holes where he can get away.
“The biggest thing is just knowing where he’s at, knowing the assignment and not getting out of your coverage. The little things – that’s how it gets you.”
Hundley has eight rushes for 69 yards and two touchdowns on the season. Working through the air has been a struggle, as he’s 57-of-97 for 489 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions, equating to a paltry 58.3 quarterback rating.
The Packers are “not going to be running the option anytime soon” with Hundley, as coach Mike McCarthy said this week, but their offense featured zone-read elements in a 30-17 loss to the Lions at Lambeau Field on Monday night.
The Packers are preparing Hundley for his third NFL start on a short week of work and with the various elements to their offense exposed on the film. Chicago cornerback Marcus Cooper sees a Green Bay offense similar to the one the Bears faced in September with Rodgers at the helm, just with different looks to make Hundley’s speed a factor.
“It does diversify their offense,” Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “Any time you’re with a quarterback that can pull it – and they’re playing some of the zone read or the stretch read with him – you always have to account for that. You can’t let it be ignored.”
Added Cooper: “It’s just something we have to prepare for. Coach has lined up a great game plan for us this week.”
Hundley can extend plays with his feet – something shown many times in Monday’s game – and get away from pressure to avoid a sack or mistake. Save for a three-interception outing on Oct. 15 in which he relieved the injured Rodgers, Hundley has been smart with the football, the byproduct of working with McCarthy and Rodgers.
The Bears can neutralize Hundley’s ability to extend plays by staying sound in coverage and forcing him to take a sack or throw it away.
And of course, a win would mean a great deal to the Bears.
“We know our season’s kind of on the line going into this game,” McPhee said. “(A win) would mean a lot, and it would show you how much growth we’ve had as a team. We’re really looking forward to the challenge.”