By Bryan Dietzler
The 4-6 Chicago Bears will travel to venerable Lambeau Field this Thursday night to take on the 7-3 Green Bay Packers for the second time this season in a Thanksgiving night matchup. The Bears are coming off of a loss to the Denver Broncos at Soldier Field while the Packers put the screws to Minnesota and beat them ending a three game losing streak. The Packers come into this game with all the momentum after their big win while the Bears continue to struggle to find answers to why they are losing so many close games.
The Packers have traditionally beaten the Bears in this rivalry as of late and Chicago will hope to turn things around. The Packers boast one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers and he has been one of the main reasons this team has won seven games this season. Green Bay’s defense has also been playing some pretty good football this season and the Bears will have to contend with that. This is a better Bears team now than when these first two teams played one another to start the season and they might be able to play the Packers a little bit better this time around. Despite what the lines say about it this game could be much closer than anyone thinks it’s going to be.
The following is a preview of the Bears and Packers game this Thursday night. There is a look at how individuals can and should perform in this game as well as specific units. There is some insight into the key matchups as well as a final score prediction.
The Bears offense has its struggles in the redzone. They get down there just fine for the most part but when they get close to the end zone they walk away with field goals or no points. The Bears will have to improve on that against the Packers as Green Bay can score from anywhere on the field and put up points quickly. This means that the plays that offensive coordinator Adam Gase calls in that part of the field need to be spot on and the execution of those plays needs to be flawless. If the Bears can execute well in the redzone against the Packers they will have an excellent chance of winning this game.
Don’t look now but it appears as if running back Matt Forte is going to be back for this game and that spells good things for the Bear’s offense. If they can get good production out of him and spell him with Jeremy Langford at times, who is a solid running back in his own right, they should be able to do well. Forte had a real nice game against the Packers in week one and now that he is rested and healthy he could go off on the Packers this Thursday night.
On defense, Green Bay is giving up 114 yards of rushing offense to opposing teams per game. The Bears are averaging 114.6 yards per game so the matchup is pretty even. The Bears will hope to get more rushing yards than their average in this game and control the ball and the clock keeping it out of Rodgers and the Packer’s offense’s hands. The more they keep it away from the Packers the better chance they have of winning this game.
So look for the Bears to try to run the ball a lot in this game as long as the score doesn’t get too far out of hand. With Forte back they should be able to gain some yards and having Langford spell him should also help the Bears in the running game. If the Bears can run the ball effectively then they should have a solid shot of winning the game.
The passing game may be better this week as it appears that wide receiver Alshon Jeffery will be returning to the lineup. The Bears can really use him to stretch the field and draw double coverage to allow other receivers to catch the ball and move the offense down the field. Cutler will use Jeffery as much as possible as long as Jeffery is able to overcome his injuries and play well. He was hurting in the Bear’s game against the Rams and didn’t see much action but his presence was enough to draw double teams in that game and it helped out immensely. We may see some of that in this game.
Quarterback Jay Cutler has been pretty good since coming back from an injury a few weeks ago but did take a little bit of a step back in the game against Denver. He threw two interceptions and really didn’t get going (and also failed to throw a touchdown pass) so things will have to change this Thursday night. The presence of Jeffery will help. The Packers defense is allowing teams to throw for an average of 254 yards per game so there is some room for the Bears to gain some yards through the air. On a per game basis, Chicago is averaging 238 yards per game through the air so they should be able to get that and more against the Packers defense. It might end up being one of Cutler’s better games if he can get the ball down the field and get it to his receivers. Still, the Bears should try the running game to control the ball and the clock and then use the passing game as needed. The passing game will become very important though if the Bears fall behind and have to play catch up. At least they will have the weapons to compete if Jeffery plays.
The offensive line got somewhat back to normal in their game against the Broncos as center Hroniss Grasu came back into the lineup. The Bears will sport that same offensive line in this game. That offensive line didn’t do a great job of blocking for the run against the Broncos but hopefully they will be able to pick it up in this game and help the running backs gain more yards. They are pretty decent at protecting Cutler (the Broncos only had two sacks in the game last week for a team that has been known for getting a lot of sacks) so that may not be an issue in this game. But they have to perform better than they did last week in the run blocking game or else this is going to be a long and unproductive game for the Bears.
The Bears defense has actually improved greatly since the first time these two teams met. They aren’t allowing too many points per game like they did at the outset of the season and are keeping games close. What they have struggled with is playing against the run. They are allowing an average of 118 yards per game on the ground while the Packers are gaining an average of 109.6 yards per game on the ground. Packers running back Eddie Lacy has been much maligned this year with weight problems and an ineffective ability to run the ball but he had a solid game against the Vikings on Sunday so the Bears will have to keep an eye on him. His backup, James Starks, is also a solid runner and will spell Lacy from time to time. The Bears have to be stout against the run.
Getting good production on run defense will come when the Bears are much more disciplined in their gaps. In Sunday’s game against the Broncos players were often out of their gaps or there were two guys in one gap so that was causing problems in their ability to defend against the run. After the debacle on Sunday it can be assured that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has his defense ready for this game and won’t allow the Packers to pile up a lot of yardage against them. Look for the Bears defense to do well against the run in this game providing they can keep gap integrity and not be out of position.
The Bears passing defense has been hot and cold at times during the season. They did well against the Rams (but then again they weren’t against a top of the line quarterback) but had their struggles against a quarterback that had barely played a game in Brock Osweiler last week. Chicago will face one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in Rodgers but Rodgers is human and can be forced into making mistakes and having a less than stellar performance. How is that possible? Through pass pressure and keeping him in the pocket.
Chicago needs to ratchet up the pass pressure against Rodgers and not let him escape the pocket to throw on the run. The Bears got good pressure against Denver last week (they got five sacks) but didn’t get pass pressure at critical times in the game and that cost them. They absolutely have to get pressure against Rodgers (this has worked for other teams especially those teams that have beat the Packers this season) to throw him off his game and make him make mistakes. If the Bears can get Rodgers off his spot they should have a good bit of success.
On a per game average, the Packers are gaining 232.3 yards per game through the air. The Bears defense is allowing teams to pass for an average of 217 yards per game so the Bears defense has done a decent job of not allowing teams to gain a lot of yards passing. They have decent coverage players in Tracy Porter and Kyle Fuller and those two have been doing a decent job of locking down receivers and not allowing a lot of yards through the air. This week’s test will be a little different however as the Bears will be facing one of the best quarterbacks in the league but this quarterback doesn’t have the top of the line receivers that some other quarterbacks do. Still he makes due with what he has and does a very good job.
Coverage units are going to have to play very well in this game in order to keep the Packers offense from gaining a lot of yards through the air. With a pass rush, the secondary should have no problem keeping tight coverage on Green Bay’s receivers and not allowing them to catch the ball or gain a lot of yards after the catch. One positon that really hurt the Bears in their last game when going through the air was the tight end position. The Bears are going to have to lock down the Packers tight ends and not allow them to become a problem. Good play from the safeties and the linebackers will help do this.
As of this writing, it was still not determined if Jeffery was going to play but there is a good chance that he will come back and play in this game. It looks like Forte will be back as well. There is some bad news on offense regarding the injury front however. It was just determined today that tight end Martellus Bennett would be out of the game with a rib injury. This definitely hurts the Bears passing game. Wide receiver Eddie Royal will also miss another game adding to the Bears woes.
On defense it is not known if safety Antrel Rolle will play or not. He was nursing a knee injury he suffered in practice last Saturday and didn’t practice all week so it’s not know what his status is. Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee looks like he is going to play.
Controlling the ball and the clock is going to be a huge factor for the Bears. If they can keep it out of Rodgers hands they will have a better chance of winning this game so running the ball will be important. Getting good pass protection for Cutler is also going to be a must as the Packers had several sacks in their game against the Vikings. Run the football and get good pass protection will be the name of the game for the Bears offense and if they do that they will be productive and quite possibly score quite a few points.
On defense the Bears need to get to Rodgers and cause him to not set his feet or roll out of the pocket and make throws on the run. Keeping him in the pocket would be the best way to defeat him and the Bears can do that with a good pass rush and blitzes. Stopping the run will be huge because that allows the Bears more opportunities to control the ball and keep it out of Rodgers hands. They have to allow Rodgers as few opportunities as possible in this game.
This really looks like it could be a close game and the Bears have an excellent chance of winning if they play well but they are playing against one of the best quarterbacks in the league and this team has owned the Bears recently. Chicago needs to play a perfect game in order to beat the Packers and it’s pretty unlikely that the Bears will be able to do that. It won’t be a blowout but the Bears will just miss getting a win against the Packers this Thursday night at Lambeau Field.
Prediction: Green Bay 24 Chicago 20