Despite getting off to a sluggish start in the first half and after a fiery speech by a supposed red-faced Mike McCarthy, the Green Bay Packers ran over the Buffalo Bills 34-7.
This week, the Packers won’t be afforded the luxury of a slow start as they head to Soldier Field to face the Chicago Bears Monday night with first place in the NFC North on the line.
With two weeks of the 2010 NFL season now in the books, some trends are beginning to emerge. The Packer offense is every bit as potent as expected and the defense, despite some occasional shakiness, looks to have rebounded from the debacle that was last year’s playoff loss in Arizona.
Clay Matthews continues his torrid pace recording his second consecutive three sack game, a first in Packers history. Aaron Rodgers recovered nicely from a shaky game against the Philadelphia Eagles and the offense didn’t seem to miss a step without running back Ryan Grant who is out for the season on injured reserve.
The Chicago Bears enter this game as one of the biggest surprises of this young season. The Bears sit at 2-0 after a win over what could be a worse than expected Dallas Cowboys team and an incredibly lucky Week 1 win over the Detroit Lions when Calvin Johnson’s obvious touchdown catch as time expired was overturned by the officials.
With first place on the line and a potential three game lead over the Minnesota Vikings hanging in the balance, this is a very important game for both teams despite it being only Week 3.
Breaking Down Da Bears
I can’t believe I am typing this sentence, but Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is actually playing sound football. Thus far he has meshed nicely with new offensive coordinator Mike Martz and both men have been able to keep their bigger than average egos in check. Cutler has thrown only one interception thus far which is much lower than where he was at this time last season.
Cutler, to the surprise of no one, has found a reliable target in tight end Greg Olson despite the fact that tight ends usually don’t feature much in Martz’s offensive packages. He usually likes to stretch the field but with Chicago lacking in the wide receiver department (Johnny Knox aside, and I am still not convinced about Devin Hester), Martz obviously has decided to play to Cutler’s strengths.
Matt Forte also appears to be back in form after a sophomore slump last year. He is not only the team’s leading rusher, but also its leading receiver as well. Forte is a bigger back who can power through and break tackles easily, so this is a dual threat the Packers must take seriously.
On the other side of the ball, it should be obvious now that the Bears missed linebacker Brian Urlacher last year. Currently with 16 tackles and one sack, Urlacher looks like he may have returned to Pro Bowl form and will be a key cog to the Bears defense, provided he stays healthy. Lance Briggs anchors the other part of a solid Bears linebacking corps. He and Urlacher will provide tight end Jermichael Finley with another test.
The Bears secondary seems to be the weak link in Lovie Smith’s defense. With perhaps the exceptions of Charles Tillman and Zackary Bowman, the Packers match up really well with Chris Harris and Daniel Manning.
With new defensive lineman Julius Peppers, the Bears defensive line suddenly looks a whole lot better this year. The question seems to be how well he and Tommy Harris will gel. The verdict is still out, so how they are able to match up with the Packers running backs will definitely be interesting to watch.
When the Packers have the ball….
Look for Rodgers to come out firing. The Packers will undoubtedly try and stretch the Bears secondary, so Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and company could have big days. Finley could be in for a bit of a slow day as he may have his hands full trying to shake off Urlacher and Briggs.
As for the Packers running attack, it wouldn’t be surprising to see McCarthy go with another running back by committee approach that he went with against the Bills. Multiple doses of Brandon Jackson, John Kuhn, and Dimitri Nance could be enough to throw off a solid Bears run defense.
The Bears will try to blitz the Packers and get to Rodgers. Despite not allowing any sacks against the Bills last week, the Packers offensive line will still be regarded as the team’s weakest link as the season goes on. As usual, they need to protect Rodgers and open up holes for any of the three backs.
When the Bears have the ball….
Cutler has played well this season, but he hasn’t played well enough over a long period of time to completely shake his reputation as a turnover machine. Everyone still remembers the stinker he put up against the Packers in the season opener last year. Expect to see Cutler try and force some throws to his receivers with the Packers covering up the tight ends as much as possible.
Also look for Forte to continue to play a dual role. In addition to his rushing duties, expect him to line up in the flat and to try and break some runs on screen passes. It would not be surprising to see him downfield in certain packages as well.
The Packers will likely blitz like there is no tomorrow, since the Bears’ offensive line is arguably much worse than the Packers’. Martz runs a very high risk/high reward offense and the Packers will try and make him pay for it. Cutler likely will do one of three things each passing play: complete the pass, get sacked, or force a turnover.
Three keys to the game:
1. Can the Packers get to Cutler?
Cutler is one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the league once he gets on a roll. The Packers must make every effort to disrupt his rhythm and shake his confidence. A few early sacks and even a turnover would do wonders towards slowing him down. Get Cutler frustrated and the game is basically half won.
2. Can the Packers running game get going?
The Packers tried a running back by committee approach last week and it remains to be seen if this will be effective against Peppers and the Bears’ defensive line. Even though they have more than enough weapons in the passing game, McCarthy knows that a stout running game will help carry the Packers to a world title. This will be a true measuring stick of how much the Packers will miss Grant.
3. Will Matthews continue his incredible pace?
There is no doubt Matthews has been the most fun Packer to watch this season so far. If the Bears don’t adequately account for him, look for the Claymaker to rattle Cutler’s cage and force him into some old bad habits.
Even if he isn’t blitzing, Matthews can take away Cutler’s security blanket in Olson.
Packers 21, Bears 17
No matter how good or bad the teams are, Packer-Bear games usually end up being slugfests. They called the old NFC Central the Black and Blue Division for a reason and this game will remind fans why.
Look for the Packers to get the edge on the strength of their passing attack. Cutler won’t perform nearly as poorly against the Packers as he did last year, but he will take a big enough beating that this loss will begin the long, hard fall to mediocrity that everyone thought the Bears were in for this season.
The Packers train to the Super Bowl continues next week at home against the Lions.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke