Breaking down Bears-Packers
By Mark Potash email@example.com December 24, 2011 7:59PM
Aaron Rodgers has thrown for 4,360 yards with 40 touchdowns and six interceptions. | Charlie Riedel~AP
BEARS AT PACKERS
Time: 7:20 p.m. Sunday at Lambeau Field.
TV: Ch. 5 (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Andrea Kremer).
Radio: 780-AM, 105.9-FM.
Line: Packers by 12.
Total: 43 1/2.
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
On the ground
Even without Matt Forte, the Bears can attempt to emulate the Chiefs’ winning formula against the Packers with Kahlil Bell (15 carries, 65 yards vs. Seattle) and Marion Barber (11-33), if he plays. With no one rushing for more than 48 yards, the Chiefs rushed 39 times for 139 yards to dominate time of possession (36:11) and limit the Packers to nine drives and 57 offensive plays. Barber started last week, but Bell is clearly the best replacement for Forte — he had 108 yards from scrimmage against the Seahawks, including 43 passing and a 25-yard TD. Packers are 27th in rushing yards per carry (4.7).
In the air
Any QB in Mike Martz’s system has needed time to acclimate himself with his receivers and other variables, so expectations are low for Josh McCown in his first start since 2007. With leading WR Johnny Knox out for the season and Devin Hester bothered by an ankle injury, the Bears’ WR corps is short-handed. The available WRs have a combined six catches for 77 yards in the last two games. Kyle Orton dinked and dunked his way to a victory over the Packers last week. If McCown can avoid the INTs that doomed Caleb Hanie, he has enough experience to give the Bears a fighting chance.
McCown’s mobility will be tested against a defense that attacks from all angles, most dangerously by Matthews (6 sacks) but also with LBs Desmond Bishop (5 sacks) and Erik Walden, who had 3 sacks vs. the Bears in Week 17 last year.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
On the ground
The Packers use the run primarily to keep opponents honest. With James Starks out with an injury, Ryan Grant (114-467, 2 TDs) has the bulk of that role. Grant has rushed for 151 yards and 2 TDs on 22 carries in the last two games. His 92 yards on 17 carries against the Bears in Week 3 are still his season high. The Packers have seven rushing TDs in their last six games. The Bears’ run defense was 18th in the NFL when the Bears played the Packers in September. But it is currently eighth (96.7 yards). The Bears held Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks to 60 yards on 33 carries last week.
In the air
Aaron Rodgers (4,360 yards, 40 TDs, 6 INTs) is having one of the finest seasons a QB has ever had. But he has been mortal the last two weeks, completing 34 of 65 passes (52.3 percent) after completing 70.5 percent in his first 12 games. WR Greg Jennings is out at least until the postseason with a sprained knee. The Packers have plenty of depth, but Jennings has hurt the Bears more than any other receiver, averaging 102 yards in five victories since 2009. The Bears lost safety Chris Conte last week. Backup Craig Steltz has been solid recently, but he’s vulnerable against this offense.
The Packers have a jumbled O-line after losing Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod last week. Marshall Newhouse has been a turnstile in pass protection. If the Bears can’t win this matchup, they don’t deserve to win.
The Bears struck out swinging with Caleb Hanie in place of injured starter Jay Cutler. Now veteran Josh McCown gets a chance to prove his previous experience in Mike Martz’s system was worth signing him over Donovan McNabb. McCown is 1-11 on the road as a starter in the NFL. His mobility and experience could cause problems for the Packers’ defense. But being on the road before a jacked crowd at Lambeau Field could nullify any advantage.
Devin Hester sparked a 20-17 victory over the Packers last year with a 68-yard punt return. But punter Tim Masthay neutralized Hester in the NFC Championship Game. Now it’s the Bears’ turn to respond, and they are due after a subpar special-teams game last week. Hester is bothered by a bum ankle. Johnny Knox is on IR. The Bears allowed a 36-yard punt return against the Seahawks last week. Randall Cobb has a punt return and KO return for a touchdown.