By Jeff Joniak–
(CBS) The Bears (3-5) host the Packers (4-4) on Sunday at noon. Here are my keys to the game.
Offense: Play clean
Defensively, the Packers have some good individual players, but they’re collectively not playing up to their potential. Playing a clean game is key for the Bears, who don’t want to shift tempo or momentum in favor of a team that’s on a three-game losing streak. Rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky will look to avoid sacks, the Bears’ ground game will look to reduce the high number of negative runs they had in the first half of the season and Chicago needs to cut down on its penalties.
When opportunities present themselves in the passing game, the expectation is Trubisky will open it up more than he did in his first four starts. There’s an element of the unknown here in favor of the Bears, because there’s a small sample size on Trubisky and receivers Markus Wheaton and Dontrell Inman are essentially new to the party. When all else fails, the run game must percolate with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen.
Defense: Cause doubt
A quality Bears defense figures to continue its climb in the second half of the season. If they can cause the Packers to doubt their ability to handle the pressure and physicality, the Bears will win some of the mental edge in this game. New Packers quarterback Brett Hundley is struggling with his accuracy and also slow to process and diagnose. But with more snaps and more experience, he will speed up that process. The Bears can’t let it be Sunday. Chicago is making it difficult on teams to score touchdowns, even on short fields after sudden change. The Packers were a quick-working and successful red-zone offensive team with Rodgers, but that’s not the case now.
Special teams: Play smart
Green Bay punter Justin Vogel has a hang time of 4.7 seconds and had five punts of 50-yards plus recently in a game. The Packers’ punt returns are handled by Trevor Davis, who had a 62-yard return in the preseason. Green Bay’s special teams have improved over the years, and Chicago needs to swing the advantage in its direction. Bears special teams star Sherrick McManis doesn’t appear quite ready to return from his hamstring injury, but DeAndre Houston-Carson is emerging as a core contributor, piling up seven special teams tackles the last few weeks. Giving Trubisky short fields to work with will be a plus for the Bears.
Intangibles: Momentum busters
Packers running back Ty Montgomery tore the Bears up in Week 15 last season with a 16-carry, 162-yard explosion running the ball. An encore performance like that from Montgomery or rookie Aaron Jones would take the pressure off Hundley. The Bears defense must stop the run to prevent that from happening.
Numbers: Lessons learned
Both teams are 2-3 since the Week 4 meeting at Lambeau Field that the Packers won easily. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy is 17-7 against the Chicago, but he’s without Rodgers, who’s 16-4 against the Bears. Over the last 25 years, covering 52 games, the Brett Favre/Rodgers era has produced a 38-14 record against the Bears. The Bears haven’t beaten the Packers at home since September 2010, and no Chicago player on the roster has experience a win against Green Bay at Soldier Field.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.