Packers’ pass rush, corners will be tough to crack
By NEIL HAYES email@example.com January 21, 2011 12:24AM
Tramon Williams (left) has been a game-changer, leading the Packers with six picks. | Chris Trotman~Getty Images
Updated: April 21, 2011 4:47AM
Diagrams of the opposing team’s defense are on the marker board when Bears players walk into the offensive meeting room to begin installing the game plan on Wednesdays.
Mike Martz sometimes draws red X’s over vulnerable defenders so everybody knows the plan of attack from the moment they step into the room.
The problem is, the solution to attacking the Green Bay Packers’ defense isn’t as simple as ‘‘X marks the spot.’’ It’s not one player or even one position group that has made the Packers’ defense so effective heading into Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field. It’s how a secondary that ranks among the league’s best and a pass rush that produced the NFL’s second-highest sack total complement each other that makes this a difficult matchup.
Physical corners who latch onto Bears receivers, coupled with a relentless pass rush, helped the Packers limit the Bears to 23 points while sacking quarterback Jay Cutler nine times in two games this season.
‘‘They obviously are the best in the league at bump-and-run and pressing and getting ahold of that receiver,’’ Martz said. ‘‘They do a great job at that. They are well-schooled in all the details of doing that.
‘‘You have to have a plan. As a wide receiver, you’ve got to go into that game with a plan for how you’re going to deal with that. Some of it we can use formations and help, but by and large, it’s a technique issue that you have to resolve.’’
Tramon Williams, who leads the Packers with six interceptions, keeps making the kind of plays that turn games in Green Bay’s favor. Charles Woodson isn’t playing as well as he did when he was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2009, but he moves seamlessly from cornerback to the slot, and his frequent blitzing gave the Bears fits in the regular-season finale at Lambeau Field.
There still will be individual matchups that Martz will try to exploit. Look for him to try to isolate Packers nickel back Sam Shields, for example. But the key to cracking the Packers’ complicated code hinges on either making sure Cutler has more time to throw or Bears receivers getting open faster.
If the young Bears receiving corps is looking for respect, here’s their chance to earn some.
‘‘Charles sets the tone over there for those guys, especially when he gets in nickel,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘When he gets in the slot, he’s going to take those guys away, he’s going to be all over them in those five yards, and even down the field they are still going to bump you, they’re going to make it tough. Our guys have to be aware of that. They have to be ready for it. In-breaking and out-breaking routes, we’re going to have to get them off of us and snap it out and get them off.’’
The Packers have made things tough on Bears receivers. Devin Hester caught two passes for 32 yards in two games despite being targeted 10 times. Johnny Knox was productive in his team’s 20-17 win on Sept. 27, catching four passes for 94 yards, but was shut out in the second game despite being targeted eight times.
Earl Bennett was injured and didn’t play in the game at Lambeau Field. Fill-in Rashied Davis was the Bears’ most effective receiver with seven catches for 63 yards. Expect Bennett — or perhaps even Davis in a limited role — to be high on the lists of Cutler’s targets Sunday.
For Hester and Knox to be the down-the-field threats they have been in the past, not only is protection important, but so is their ability to shake their clutching defenders.
‘‘They’re aggressive in everything they do, their coverage types, and they blitz a lot of [defensive backs] sometimes,’’ said running back Matt Forte, who had eight catches for 60 yards on Jan. 2. ‘‘They have to be aggressive DBs to even want to do that. The key is picking them up when they blitz, and once I get out in the open field, try to be just as physical as they are.’’