Bears-Packers breakdown: Keys to the game
BY MARK POTASH firstname.lastname@example.org September 24, 2011 5:14PM
Updated: October 4, 2011 5:44PM
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
In the Air
Protection will be the key factor against a Packers defense that has been torched by Drew Brees and Cam Newton but usually finds a way to harass Cutler into a tough day. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers always comes up with something the Bears aren’t ready for, and 13 Packers had either a sack or an interception against the Bears last season. With Frank Omiyale playing for injured right tackle Gabe Carimi, the Bears have a different five-man offensive line for the third consecutive game. And with Earl Bennett (bruised chest) out, Cutler doesn’t have his favorite receiver.
Key Matchup: Bears QB Jay Cutler vs. Packers CB C. Woodson
The Bears couldn’t take advantage of the Saints’ aggressive pass rush last week. Jay Cutler had little success finding ‘‘hot’’ receivers, and his 42 percent completion percentage was the second-lowest of his career. The quick hitters must start working.
On the Ground
After Matt Forte (10 carries, 49 yards) and Kahlil Bell (one carry, minus-1 yard) combined for 48 yards on just 11 carries last week against the Saints, the Bears have vowed to re-establish the run and reintroduce balance to their offense. But this might be the week to get pass-happy because the Packers’ pass defense is last in the NFL after two weeks (400 net yards allowed per game). Last week, the Panthers got a combined 18 yards on 11 carries from DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart and still scored 23 points. Still, the Bears struggle to pass without running, so it’s all on Mike Martz to give Forte and Marion Barber or Bell a chance.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
In the Air
The Bears defend Rodgers better than most teams do. He has 31 100-plus passer ratings in 54 career starts, but only one was against the Bears. The Bears, though, always seem to be at the breaking point against Rodgers, and injuries to starting safeties Chris Harris (hamstring) and Major Wright (head/neck) make them even more vulnerable against a potent offense. Rodgers is red-hot, too, with passer ratings of 132.1 and 119.9 against the Saints and Panthers (five touchdowns, no interceptions). But in his last two games against the Bears last season, Rodgers had no touchdown passes and three interceptions.
Key Matchup: Bears DE Julius Peppers vs. Packers OT Chad Clifton
End Julius Peppers had an All-Pro season in 2010 but was relatively quiet against the Packers (no sacks, one tackle for loss, two quarterback hits in three games). Tackle Chad Clifton is coming off a Pro Bowl season, but he and inexperienced guard T.J. Lang aren’t the strength of the Packers’ line.
On the Ground
With James Starks (21 carries, 141 yards) and Ryan Grant (15 carries, 65 yards), the Packers have the two-pronged running attack the Bears are trying to establish. The Packers dared to run 23 times against the Saints in their opener and gained 102 yards and scored two touchdowns. The Packers, though, use the pass to set up the run, so shutting down the run game doesn’t guarantee anything. The Bears are 20th in the NFL in rush defense (114 yards per game) and 30th in yards per carry (5.3). The biggest threat might be quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who keeps drives alive with his feet. He had 16 carries for 80 yards against the Bears last season.
Last season, it took the Bears seven weeks to find the right run-pass balance. But a 30-13 loss to the Saints last week quickly exposed the issue, and the Bears have vowed to correct the flaw. Finding the right balance against the Packers might be tricky because they have been so vulnerable against the pass that it might be counterproductive to rely too much on the run.
The Bears have been solid on special teams, except on kick returns. Devin Hester is averaging five yards on two punt returns and 20 yards on five kickoff returns. Hester had a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown in the Bears’ 20-17 victory against the Packers last September, but punter Tim Masthay neutralized Hester in the NFC Championship Game.