By Bryan Dietzler
It’s never easy to bounce back after losing to a division opponent one week then having to play your all time most hated rival the next. But for the Bears, a team whose season is in a serious downward dive, it’s happening this weekend. The Bears go into Sunday with hopes of closing out the season with some sanity (and maybe a victory or two?). It won’t be easy, however, as they will play host to their all-time rival, the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field.
The Bears lost a close game in Detroit last Sunday, 20-17, and were effectively eliminated from the playoffs with the loss. The Packers still have playoff hopes and increased their shot at getting into the postseason with a 39-10 drubbing of the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday. The Packers come into this game with a record of 7-6 while the Bears have only won three games this year losing 10. This one of Chicago’s worst seasons in recent memory.
This game will be played at Soldier Field which has meant nothing for home field advantage for the Bears over the past couple of seasons. One factor that will impact both teams is the cold. At the time of this writing, the weather forecast in Chicago puts the temperature at kickoff at around two degrees with a wind blowing at 15 miles per hour.
That is cold! It will be interesting to see how this impacts the game.
These two teams played one another back in October. Green Bay came out on top 26-10 but the Bears lost more than just the game. The starting quarterback at that time, Brian Hoyer broke his arm went out for the rest of the season. Kyle Long was also injured (but this was not the game that put him on injured reserve).
The score of that first game is a little deceiving. The Bears played Green Bay very close for two and a half quarters. When Hoyer went out the offense crumbled and the defense, which had been holding up well, seemed to fall apart. Soon enough, the game turned into a bit of a rout. Hopefully that does not happen this Sunday.
We will look at the factors for both sides heading into this game and who will win and why. You can throw statistics and past experiences out the window when these two teams meet because when they get together, anything can happen.
Interestingly enough, this will be starting quarterback Matt Barkley’s second game against Green Bay. He filled in when Hoyer went out with in the first game but understandably did not do that well. Now, Barkley comes in with more experience, including a win, and is building confidence every week. This, however, will be the biggest test of his young career so far.
In looking at how many yards the Packer’s defense give up, per game through the air, you will see that Green Bay is generous with the passing yardage. They rank 19th in the NFL allowing 251.5 yards per game on average. Barkley has been putting up some decent numbers over his last three starts (240 yards per game on average) so he could have a good game against the Packers. But, if you have watched the last three games the Bears have played, you will notice that Barkley could be doing even better and it’s not his fault that there he hasn’t.
The struggles that have come to the offense recently have come in the form of dropped passes. The Titan’s game was the worst. You can say with confidence that the Bears would have won that game had those dropped passes been caught. The 49ers game saw some additional drops but the receivers made up for it by catching additional critical passes to help win that game. The Lions game, again, could have been won had those dropped passes been caught (and not so many penalties committed).
This dropped passes are an epidemic that has struck this team as a direct result of the level of talent the Bears have at the wide receiver position. Their number one receivers have been out and that means they have second, third and fourth string players in starting spots. They don’t have the ability, in particular the soft hands, that number one wide receivers have and therefore they drop more passes. Chicago can’t do much about that because number one wide receivers, in the middle of the season at least, are very hard to come by on such short notice obviously. Replacements need to come in the off season.
But one thing may help this Sunday. After a four-week suspension for PED use, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery will be back in the lineup. Perhaps he and Barkley can build some chemistry in this game that will allow them to make some great plays and move the ball down the field effectively. Jeffery’s return improves Chicago’s chances of winning this game.
The remaining group of wide receivers must catch what’s thrown their way this Sunday. If they can get open and catch passes, Chicago will stay competitive and get their chances of winning this game will get ever higher.
The tight end position has been missing its number one target, Zach Miller, for a few games now but Daniel Brown has filled in nicely. He has become a reliable target for Barkley and they seem to have developed a bit of on the field chemistry together. This is paying dividends and could come up big for the offense soon.
The running game could be a huge factor. Starter Jordan Howard has had a very strong rookie season and when the coaching staff gives him the ball, he can do lot with it. In their first meeting, the Bears rushed the ball for just 70 yards. This took the offense out of their game plan and, even though the game was close for a while, made it so the Bears could not seal the victory in the first game.
But a lot has changed since these two teams last met. There have been injuries on both sides while Howard has improved his running ability and has been getting better each week.
When these teams met in October, Green Bay had one of the best rush defenses in football. Now, they are ranked 10th, allowing 96.2 yards per game. Chicago is gaining an average of 101.3 yards per game on the ground which gives them a ranking of 20th in the NFL. I have said this before and will say it again but the per game rush total for the Bears is somewhat deceiving. Chicago gets some very good play out of the running game and Howard is a beast to try to bring down. He breaks tackles and is always a threat to break a long run.
If the Bears can ride Howard for a while, keeping the ball out of the hands of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, they have a much more improved chance of winning. But the Packers will be out to shut the run down and force Barkley and his bevy of pass droppers to bet them. This will be why the Bears’ will struggle.
The offensive line has proven that it’s depth is strong but they have struggled with injuries this season. Couple that with critical penalties at key moments in games and this unit has been tough to watch. They should have all their starters back this week except for Kyle Long. With that, you would think that they would have some good play out of this group. That equals good pass protection for Barkley and better run blocking. Hopefully this unit is successful because if they are, (broken record here) Chicago has a good shot of winning this game.
In the first game between the two, the defense was playing well until about the middle of the third quarter where, all the sudden, they cracked and started giving up points. The defense was guilty of doing that at the outset of the year but has since tightened things up and given this team a chance to win almost every game they have played. Can they put the reigns on Green Bay and help keep the Bears in this game for the duration?
This has not been a great season for the Packers offense, their running game, but they can still do damage and are always dangerous especially with Rodgers at the helm. He hasn’t been his “normal” self this year but you can never count him out something especially against the Bears.
When it comes to passing the ball, the Packer’s offense is ranked 10th averaging 259.3 yards per game. Chicago’s defense is allowing opponents to throw for about 219.5 yards per game. This is good for 6th in the NFL. You can see that the Bears are shutting down their opponents passing games but can they shut down Rodgers and Green Bay’s attack? Traditionally, they struggle doing that.
There could be a couple of factors that give the Bears a better chance to win. First, Rodgers appears as if he may not be 100% healthy. This week’s injury report lists Rodgers as having a calf issue and not practicing. You can bet, with the playoffs at stake, he will be in the lineup this Sunday but he may be less mobile. Anyone who has watched a Bears/Packers game with Rodgers starting should notice he usually does most of his damage against the Bears using his mobility.
A less mobile Rodgers would be huge for the Bears this Sunday.
Another thing that could work in the Bears’ favor is that Rodgers has been struggling this season and could continue this against the Bears. What Chicago needs to do is use Rodgers potential lack of mobility to their advantage and get after him on passing plays with a strong pass rush. They can do that with guys like Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks and Pernell McPhee. The more they get to Rodgers the better because if they can keep him off his mark they can win this game.
The defensive line has been rock solid the last few games but did get “dented” last week. Starter Eddie Goldman has not practiced all week and may miss Sunday’s game (ankle). That would leave a huge hole in the middle of that defense and one that Green Bay could exploit. Someone needs to step up and fill in for Goldman and help the Bears keep pressure on Rodgers. Mitch Unrein can do that or Akiem Hicks, another defensive star, came come in and assist.
Pass pressure also needs to come from the outside linebackers and, as mentioned, this will be up to McPhee, Floyd and Willie Young to accomplish. We have seen the outside guys do this.
Floyd had a nice game last time these two teams met. He had a sack, forced fumble on Rodgers and the fumble resulted in a touchdown. Bears fans could be looking for something similar this Sunday especially with Rodgers hobbling from the calf injury. Can the pass rushers deliver?
But keep in mind, Rodgers has been reported to be injured time and again and somehow, he manages to work through the pain and play well. You can never underestimate him. Injured or not, Rodgers is always a threat.
Green Bay’s rushing attack has been very stagnant this year as injuries and a “revolving door” of players has caused issue. The Packers are averaging 98.6 yards per game on the ground which ranks 22nd in the NFL right now. Chicago’s defense has been allowing 107.1 yards per game on the ground which is 19th in the NFL.
If you go by the numbers, it would appear as if the Bears have the advantage in stopping the run. They can’t allow Green Bay to “find” their running game and give the game away. No surprises just shut down the run and move on.
The interior linebackers for the Bears have been stout despite the fact they haven’t started that often. You have John Timu and Nick Kwiatkowski in for Danny Trevethan and Jerrell Freeman. Freeman will be back after he finishes serving his four-game suspension for PED’s but Trevethan is out for the rest of the year. Timu is the weak link but the assistance he receives from the other linebackers make up for his mistakes.
Every week we have something negative to say about the secondary. Last week, they struggled and gave up some big plays but did do some good things. They grabbed two interceptions, including a pick six by Cre’Von LeBlanc which helped keep things close. But penalties and breakdowns from that unit helped cost the Bears a victory.
There is a lot of work that needs to be done with this group and it’s not going to happen this season. The cornerback position is suffering even with Tracy Porter in the lineup (see last week’s game when he was sick?). Kyle Fuller never comes back from a simple (we think) knee scope. So, the cornerback position has been doomed from the start.
The safety position is a never-ending quagmire of poor talent and ineffective play. There is some depth but this depth is not yet tested and has been injured. Once again, another job for the off season.
Whenever you face the Packers, your secondary must be on top of its game. Green Bays’ wide receivers, with guys like Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb can tear a defense apart. The Bears know this as they have experienced this time and again. But do they have the horses in the secondary to stand up to the Packer’s this Sunday?
If Chicago can’t get to Rodgers keeping him from using his legs to make plays and can’t cover the Packer’s big time pass catchers, they will lose this game. Unfortunately for the Bears, their secondary is not capable of covering these types of receivers right now.
Special teams are about even. They could easily be a factor with the weather the way it’s going to be with the kicking and punting games being the most important. The Bears return teams have slowly disintegrated over the course of the season and won’t be that much of a factor in this game unless we see an appearance by the typically injured Eddie Royal (more on him shortly). Like the secondary, some work needs to be done here during the offseason.
I had written another article recently about how the coaching staff failed to prepare the team for winning games earlier in the season. In that article, I did point out that it appears that they are finally doing that now. With Green Bay being a division rival and one that seems to have the Bears “number” you would think that John Fox and company would have the team fired up for this game. I bet they do. Can they win this game? Yes, they can.
Will they win this game? No, they won’t.
The season is over for the Bears. Green Bay has a lot to play for and will be more motivated with their greater talent, to win this game. I do think it will be closer than some think and, with a little luck, Chicago could twist out a win. But a lot would have to happen for that to take place.
Injury Update: It has just been released to the public that Royal will not play Sunday and that wide receiver Marquess Wilson appears to have broken his foot for a third time and will not be active the rest of the season. So much talent but always hurt. That’s the story of the Bear’s season in 2016.
Prediction: Green Bay 24 Chicago 17