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Bears seem to be falling further behind Packers

Green Bay Packers v MinnesotVikings

Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings

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Updated: October 31, 2013 3:13PM

With Jay Cutler and Lance Briggs out with injuries, the Bears’ once-promising season threatens to get worse before it gets better.

Even more daunting is the prospect that the big-picture outlook is diminishing, too. The Bears still are losing ground to general manager Phil Emery’s model of homegrown excellence, the Green Bay Packers.

Three weeks into the season, the 3-0 Bears had a two-game lead over the 1-2 Packers. Since then, the Bears have gone 1-3 and the Packers have gone 4-0 to take control of the NFC North.

But it’s not just the records that tell the story. It’s how the Packers have done it that bodes ill for the Bears in their attempt to catch up. On Sunday, the Packers played without linebackers Clay Matthews and Brad Jones, wide receivers James Jones and Randall Cobb, tight end Jermichael Finley and offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga
and still beat the Minnesota Vikings easily.

And while Aaron Rodgers was typically efficient — 24-for-29 for 285 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 130.6 passer rating — he wasn’t the whole show. Led by rookie Eddie Lacy (29 carries, 94 yards, one touchdown) and James Starks (seven carries, 57 yards, one touchdown), the Packers ran for 182 yards on 42 carries.

The Packers’ reinvigorated running game arguably poses the biggest threat to the Bears. Previously 20th, 27th, 24th, 14th and 17th in the NFL in rushing under Rodgers, the Packers now are third in yards per game (141) and yards per attempt (4.8).

The Bears are proud of the progress their revamped offensive line has made, but the Packers are outdoing them even on that front. The Packers have three new starters and no players who were at their current position last season. Yet they have improved from 20th to third in rushing, from ninth to fifth in passing and from 31st to 14th in sacks allowed per pass play.

Tackle David Bakhtiari, who became a starter when Bulaga suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp, was a fourth-round draft pick. Center Evan Dietrich-Smith and tackle Don Barclay were undrafted. Veterans Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang were fourth-round draft picks. The Packers’ five starting offensive linemen have a combined one Pro Bowl berth (Sitton last season).

And every one of them is an original Packer, which brings up another area where the Bears are struggling to catch up to their rivals. Emery made it a point of emphasis to fortify the Bears’ roster with homegrown talent. With 10 rookies, the Bears have 29 players on their 53-man roster who were drafted or signed as undrafted free agents, down from 31 at the end of last season. But the Packers are pulling away. With 13 rookies, they have 49 homegrown players on their 53-man roster.

That includes some painful examples for Bears fans. Bakhtiari is a rookie with a $518,000 cap hit who just helped neutralize Vikings pass rusher Jared Allen on Sunday. And reserve defensive end Mike Daniels is a fourth-round pick in 2012 who had two sacks against the Vikings, has a team-leading four sacks in 209 snaps and is ranked 12th among 3-4 defensive ends by Pro Football Focus.

Rodgers gets much of the credit for the Packers’ ability to sustain success. But the Packers’ most recent surge is another reminder that, from Emery’s perspective, general manager Ted Thompson, coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers are the guys to beat.

Emery and coach Marc Trestman have the Bears on the right track. But as circumstances have shown, it might be more difficult than it looked to catch the leader.


Twitter: @MarkPotash

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