Sunday playbook: Bears’ Shea McClellin looking for another important break
BY ADAM L. JAHNS Staff Reporter December 28, 2013 1:12AM
Shea McClellin swoops in on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers for what would be a collarbone-breaking sack. | Matt Ludtke/AP
Updated: January 30, 2014 6:33AM
Testing the health and resolve of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers involves one thing — and one thing only — from the Bears in the eyes of defensive end Shea McClellin.
‘‘Hit ’em,’’ McClellin said.
“That’s how you rattle any quarterback. Get pressure on them.’’
McClellin just might get some star-like treatment Sunday because no player has shaken up the NFC North more than him this season. His collarbone-breaking sack of Rodgers in the first quarter of the Bears’ 27-20 victory on Nov. 4 at Lambeau Field granted the Detroit Lions and Bears second chances they didn’t even need at that point in the season and arguably put the division down the wacky, unpredictable path that has culminated in this winner-take-all game between the Packers and Bears at Soldier Field.
The Packers went 0-4-1 in November with Rodgers sidelined. That allowed the Lions to gain a considerable advantage in the division, which they blew, and permitted the Bears to work out their own issues and injury problems, from quarterback Jay Cutler and linebacker Lance Briggs on down.
The play that injured Rodgers was entirely caused by McClellin. His rush to the outside of Packers right tackle Don Barclay caused Rodgers to step up in the pocket and eventually scramble to his right. McClellin quickly corralled Rodgers and drove him shoulder-first into the ground. McClellin stood and celebrated while Rodgers got up with a pained grimace.
McClellin had three sacks that day — an overdue performance for the Bears’ 2012 first-round pick, who has garnered ample criticism this season for a variety of reasons. A hamstring injury cost McClellin two games after that, and he has only half a sack since; it came last week against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Bears general manager Phil Emery often has defended his first first-round pick. But while McClellin does more than the stat sheets show, it was expected he’d have more than four sacks and three tackles for loss and that his struggles against the run wouldn’t be as glaring at this point in his second NFL season.
‘‘A wise man once told me, ‘Stats are for losers and baseball players,’ ” McClellin said. ‘‘I could give a crap about that.’’
McClellin said he feels he has made improvements in just about everything this year.
‘‘It was my goal just to get better at little things, details, footwork, pad level, hands, that kind of thing,’’ he said.
It would be a perfect situation for the Bears if all that work resulted in another noteworthy performance Sunday against the Packers with the NFC North title and a postseason berth on the line. McClellin said the Bears need a ‘‘blue-collared’’ and ‘‘dirt-dog’’ mentality.
‘‘[Rodgers is] an elite player,’’ McClellin said. ‘‘He’s going to come back and play as good as he was.’’
But will McClellin be good enough to catch him this time?
Looking at Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy with defensive coordinator Mel Tucker
The Packers have a star in the making in rookie running back Eddie Lacy, who has rushed for 1,112 yards and 10 touchdowns on 263 attempts.
All those numbers are Packers rookie records.
‘‘[He’s a] big, fast, strong, physical back [and] has good body quickness,’’ Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “[He] can break tackles, run through arm tackles, can make you miss in space. [He’s an] excellent player.’’
The Bears, who have the worst run defense in the NFL, learned just how strong Lacy is on Nov. 4 at Lambeau Field when he rumbled and stiff-armed his way to a season-high 150 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries — one of his four 100-yard games.
Lacy, an Alabama product, missed most of the Packers’ game against the Washington Redskins in Week 2 and all of their Week 3 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals with a concussion. But since Week 5, no running back has rushed for more yards than Lacy, who has 1,061 since then.
‘‘You have to get multiple guys to the ball with him,’’ Tucker said. ‘‘You don’t want to leave it up to one guy to bring him down, so we’ll have to do a great job of pursuit, shedding blocks and getting guys to the ball and gang-tackling.
‘‘He’s a big back. He’s a big, strong, physical guy. Anytime you have those type of players, population at the point of attack is crucial.’’
Return specialist Devin Hester
Devin Hester knows all that’s guaranteed for him is the one game he has left against the Green Bay Packers to break the record for most career return touchdowns.
‘‘It’s big right now,’’ said Hester, one of many Bears with an expiring contract. ‘‘It’s tough. It’s been on our back the whole season. This is a business. I don’t know what the future may bring.’’
Hester said it would be sad if he didn’t return the 20th regular-season touchdown of his career in a Bears uniform.
‘‘This is where I started,’’ he said. ‘‘All my records and yards and all that came through this organization.’’
At 31 and with a focused role, Hester has shown he’s still a threat. He had an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown in Week 7 against the Washington Redskins and set a team record with 249 kickoff-return yards in Week 2 against the Minnesota Vikings. Teams still routinely kick away from him.
‘‘Even if the record doesn’t happen, I want to retire as a Bear,’’ Hester said. ‘‘At the end of the day, I still have a couple of years left.’’
Facing the Packers without linebacker Clay Matthews (thumb) is a nice post-Christmas gift for the Bears. Matthews’ 71⁄2 sacks and 28 tackles against the Bears in eight games are his best numbers against any opponent.
The Packers’ 3-4 defense may have ways to compensate for his loss, but Matthews’ special talents and special games against the Bears won’t be replicated.
‘‘They lose elite players like Clay is, and they have a way of working through that,’’ coach Marc Trestman said. ‘‘There’s nobody more skilled than [Green Bay defensive coordinator] Dom Capers at trying to facilitate a defense that can find a way to make up for that kind of talent.’’
Win or lose (or blown out), it’s unlikely the Bears’ opinion of quarterback Jay Cutler will drastically change Sunday. The Bears like him and would like to re-sign him if they can. But Cutler is playing for something on an individual level: leverage.
Weekly stat to consider: With quarterback Aaron Rodgers under center, the Packers have averaged 28.15 points per game in his 86 regular-season starts, which leads all quarterbacks since 1950.