Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz has to be careful not to outthink himself in his chess match with Dom Capers. | Nam Y. Huh~AP
20-17 (OT) PACKERS
Updated: April 23, 2011 4:45AM
It’s your move, Mike Martz.
After getting outcoached by Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers when the Bears lost to the Packers on Jan. 2 at Lambeau Field, Martz’s response in today’s NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field will be one of the Bears’ biggest keys to victory.
Every football game ultimately is a players’ game, but mostly because they’re the ones on the field. Coaches make a difference. There’s a reason why the Bears lost badly to the Seahawks at Soldier Field in October and beat them even more decisively last week in the same place. Or why Lawyer Milloy was sacking Jay Cutler twice in October and chasing Greg Olsen into the end zone in January. It’s not just ‘‘execution.’’
So while Jay Cutler has to outplay Charles Woodson today, Julius Peppers has to beat Chad Clifton or Bryan Bulaga or both and Urlacher has to outsmart Aaron Rodgers, the key matchup is Martz vs. Capers — two coordinators brought in to repair leaks so damaging that Lovie Smith and Mike McCarthy didn’t mind hiring somebody who once did their job better than them. Neither the Bears nor the Packers would be here without them.
But Martz has the advantage because he has the most room for improvement. Cutler was sacked six times in Week 17 — more than he had been sacked in the previous three weeks combined. Johnny Knox cannot catch fewer than the zero passes he caught at Lambeau. And the Bears figure to be better at making the Packers pay for bringing the heat on Cutler.
Unless the Packers already have anticipated the response, and Capers adjusts to Martz’s adjustments. In which case Martz will have to adjust to Capers’ adjustments. It’s a classic chess match.
‘‘We all do that,’’ Capers said. ‘‘We study ourselves. We know what we’ve done the last four, five, six games. They certainly know what we’ve done.
‘‘You always anticipate what tape they’re looking at. And then there’s certain elements of your scheme that you’re just going to do. That’s just you. Then it’s whatever little adjustments that you make off of that.’’
On the other hand, Martz is concerned that he doesn’t out-think himself, which seems like it can be quite a challenge for a guy like him.
‘‘It happened to me once before,’’ he said. ‘‘You have to be very careful of it. You make some assumptions and give them more credit about knowing more about you than maybe you do. You can get away from why you are there in the first place, and you start doing some stuff you really don’t need to do.”
Capers and Martz have been around for a long time but have faced each other as head coaches or coordinators only four times — in 2005 when the Rams (Martz) beat the Texans (Capers) 33-27; in 2006 when the Dolphins (Capers) beat the Lions (Martz) 27-10; and the two Packers-Bears games this season.
Martz, 59, has been in the NFL since 1992, when he was an offensive assistant with the Rams, and has been an offensive coordinator or head coach since 1999.
‘‘Mike has been doing this for a lot of years, and he has a lot of little intricacies that are true to his system that you never know when that’s going to come out,’’ Capers said, ‘‘and he knows when he wants to use them, and he knows when they’ll be most effective against you.’’
Capers, 60, has been in the NFL since 1986, when he was a defensive backs coach for the Saints.
He has been a coordinator since 1992, when he was hired by Bill Cowher with the Steelers. He was the head coach with two expansion teams: the Panthers (1995-98) and Texans (2001-05).
“When you look at his football teams, every position, the fundamentals within the scheme of what they do is outstanding,’’ Martz said. ‘‘You can’t get them out of position. They’re just so well-schooled and everything. He’s a terrific teacher. He understands this game as well as anybody defensively. I have great respect for him.’’
The Bears’ hiring of Martz had great potential but also the ingredients for disaster — he would clash with Smith; he would clash with Jay Cutler; he would clash with Rod Marinelli; his system would take too long to kick in.
Those problems never really materialized. Now it’s time for the Martz hire to really pay off for Smith.
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
ON THE GROUND
The most curious aspect of the Bears’ 10-3 loss to the Packers in Week 17 was their suddenly imbalanced offense — 18 rushing attempts to 47 drop-backs. With Chester Taylor out of a post-bye slump (11-44 vs. Seattle last week) and Matt Forte running well, the Bears’ best bet is to establish the run early and let Jay Cutler take what the Packers give him. If the Bears can’t run against the Packers’ 18th-ranked rush defense, they have no right being in this game. Forte (25-80 vs. Seattle) has averaged 5.2 yards per carry over his last 7 games (112-582, 2 TDs). Cutler rushed for 43 yards, 2 TDs vs. Seattle last week, but can’t take too many chances against the Packers’ hard-hitting defense.
KEY MATCHUP: Bears RT J’Marcus Webb vs. Packers LB Clay Matthews
Webb, a rookie drafted in the seventh round in April, has made steady progress since becoming the starter in Week 5, but he could quickly find himself in the middle of a hurricane in this one. Matthews was contained by the Bears in Week 3 but had a sack, a TFL and a QB hit in Week 17. He has 3 sacks in the postseason.
IN THE AIR
Jay Cutler was outstanding in his postseason debut last week, but now he moves up to the big leagues against a defense that thrives on forcing QBs such as Cutler to do things they know they shouldn’t do. The key number is 25 — that’s the average number of passes Cutler has thrown in the 5 100-plus passer rating games he has had in the Bears’ last 7 games. In 4 games vs. the Packers the last 2 seasons, Cutler has thrown 4 TDs and 9 INTs for a 57.9 overall rating. Johnny Knox will be a key early indicator. He was shut out vs. the Pack in Week 17. Return of Earl Bennett can’t hurt — Packers are susceptible to physical WRs who make tough catches. TEs have scored 7 TDs vs. Pack this year.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
ON THE GROUND
The Bears have shut down the Packers’ running attack in the two regular-season games — QB Aaron Rodgers was their leading rusher in Week 17 with 21 yards. But making the Packers 1-dimensional doesn’t seem to slow them down too much. Rodgers still gets defenses to bite on play-action and finds more ways to avoid heavier pass rushes. James Starks, who had 20 yards on 5 carries vs. the Bears in Week 17, rushed for 123 yards on 23 carries vs. the Eagles in the wild-card game but was held to 66 yards on 25 carries against the Falcons. Rodgers, who rushed for 356 yards (5.6 per carry) with 4 TDs this season, might be the Packers’ most dangerous runner.
KEY MATCHUP: Bears DE Julius Peppers vs. Packers LT Chad Clifton
Clifton has been nursing chronic knee soreness, and the Packers have rookie Bryan Bulaga on the other side. If Peppers can’t find room to operate at either of those spots, the Bears could be in for a long day. Peppers had 2 tackles and was shut out of impact plays against the Packers in Week 17.
IN THE AIR
Aaron Rodgers overcame two concussions in the regular season to throw for 3,922 yards, 28 TDs with only 11 INTs for a 101.2 rating. But he has been even better in the postseason, throwing 3 TDs with 0 INTs vs. the Eagles and Falcons. Going from a domed stadium to Soldier Field and facing the Bears’ ninth-ranked ‘D’ might slow Rodgers down, but that’s not a promise. Rodgers has never had a bad game vs. the Bears, but no great ones either. In his last 5 games vs. the Bears, his rating has ranged from 87.6 to 92.5. Penalties could be a key. The Bears took some chances with aggressive play vs. the Seahawks. They might not get away with that tack against the Packers.
There are all sorts of unknowns: The Packers are going from ideal conditions indoors last week to frigid temperatures, one of the worst fields in the NFL and even unfriendlier confines at Soldier Field. But the Bears are taking a huge step up in class by facing the Pack after beating the 8-9 Seahawks. That’s not an easy transition, either. The Packers had an extra day of rest. Will either of the rookie tackles wilt under the pressure?
The Bears’ inability to win special teams was the difference at Lambeau. Tim Masthay put 4 punts inside the 20, pinning the Bears at their 2 and 3 in the fourth quarter. The Bears started 10 of their 13 drives inside their 30. Brad Maynard had 3 punts inside the 20 last week. Devin Hester had a 62-yard punt return for a TD vs. Packers in Week 3, but 19 was his long in Week 17. Packers did not punt last week vs. the Falcons.