Packers vs. Bears: Week 2 key Matchups
After a tough loss at home to open this season, the Packers gladly move on to week 2 to face their long-time rival Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field on Thursday. The good news is that they have a chance to get the bad taste of a week 1 loss to the 49ers out of their mouth. The not so good news is that they have only 4 days rest and prep time before that game. The Bears also will have just 4 days to prepare and travel to Green Bay to face the Pack. They are riding high after a 41-21 week 1 romp over the Indianapolis Colts at Soldier Field.
Both the Packers and Bears have made several changes to their roster during the offseason. The Pack added 6 defenders in addition to free agents Jeff Saturday and former Bear RB Cedric Benson. The Bears traded for standout WR Brandon Marshall, who was a teammate of Jay Cutler’s in Denver. They also added RB Michael Bush and recently acquired D lineman Amobi Okoye. Rookie draft picks Shea McClellin, Alshon Jeffery and Evan Rodriguez have cracked the starting roster and will likely see time against the Packers. Let’s take a look at some of the matchups to watch for in this week’s game.
Brandon Marshall vs. the Packers secondary
When the Bears traded for Marshall, it was clear they were looking to keep pace with their bitter rivals to the North. The Pack have won the last 4 straight contests vs the Bears including playoffs and largely behind the arm of Aaron Rodgers. During the last year, the pass-heavy Pack have put most of their opponents in a quick and deep hole with the potent offensive output and the Bears were sometimes no exception. With the NFC North featuring yet another good QB in Detroit’s Matt Stafford, the mantra is “pass till you die”. Marshall adds a dimension to the Bears’ passing game that has been absent for a while: a big and speedy receiver who can get up and snatch the ball away from defenders or run a solid route and get open downfield for a big play.
QB Jay Cutler was giddy when the Bears acquired Marshall and had to be happy to have a very potent target to work with this season. In game 1, Marshall had 9 catches for 120 yards and a TD. Not a bad day’s work. Having been in the AFC, the Packers have only faced Marshall twice. The first time was in 2007 in a game at Denver and the most recent was in 2010 when he was with the Miami Dolphins. Marshall was targeted all day and gave CB Tramon Williams fits during that game, one that the Pack eventually lost in overtime at Lambeau Field.
With a 6’4”, 230 lb frame, Marshall presents a problem for nearly every defensive back (and linebacker for that matter) in the league. It’s no secret the Packers have had their problems tackling. This could develop into an issue on Thursday if Marshall is able to find the soft spot in Green Bay’s zone and Cutler continues to feed him the ball. He averaged just under 13 yards a catch in game 1. What is also concerning were the few blown coverages the Pack had against San Francisco, one of which resulted in a wide open Randy Moss for a touchdown. If they can “lose” a guy like Moss, they can surely make the same mistake with the savvy Marshall.
After a very physical game 1, the Packer DB’s may still be banged up which does not bode well against a WR of Marshall’s caliber. The Pack will likely play a lot of nickel in order to slide help to Marshall’s side. None of the LB’s can cover him so their best bet is to get a speedy DB who can try to blanket him and force Cutler to look in another direction to get the ball downfield. I’d expect Charles Woodson won’t be far from where Marshall is Thursday night.
Aaron Rodgers vs Bears secondary
Rodgers has had some success against the Bears’ secondary as of late. In all fairness, the Bears held out quite a few starters in last year’s week 16 game at Lambeau Field and the Packers won that game easily. During the week 3 game at Chicago, Rodgers found TE Jermichael Finley for 3 TD’s which helped seal the road win. The Bears drafted safety Brandon Hardin in the 4th round to help solidify a defensive backfield that has been trying to find a steady rotation for a few seasons now. Unfortunately Hardin was hurt during the preseason, suffering a neck injury and the Bears were forced to place him on injured reserve as he recovers. That leaves Chris Conte and Major Wright at safety with Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings at the corners.
In week 1, Jennings had 2 INT’s and Conte had 1 pick of Colts QB Andrew Luck. The Bears have long been known for having aggressive defensive backs who get after the ball and create turnovers (sound familiar?). Pro Bowl corner Charles “Peanut” Tillman anchors this unit but is somewhat of a question mark for Thursday’s game after leaving game 1 with a lower leg injury. His status is uncertain but rumblings around the Bear locker room are that he will play. Jennings has emerged and is now a full time starter opposite Tillman.
If Tillman plays, one thing he has made a living at is stripping the ball after the catch. Packer WR’s have to be sure the ball stays high and tight with Tillman lurking around. The Bears have had their success getting a turnover or two consistently against the Pack. That’s one thing the Pack cannot afford in this game. Rodgers is one of the best at making good decisions and avoiding the costly INT but to get out of a Bears’ game without coughing up the ball is a rarity. This will require a very focused effort by the ball carriers. One likelihood this week is that Rodgers should get more opportunities to throw it deep than he did in week 1. The Bear safeties have decent speed but their defensive backfield is nowhere near the level to which San Francisco’s was.
If the Pack are able to establish any sort of run and play action, they will get a few legit shots downfield. Former Bear Cedric Benson will be a key for the Pack in the run game and in setting up the deep pass. As the 49ers showed, not having to worry about the run allows the safeties to sit back and guard the deep halves. The Packers’ success will be limited not just in this game, but this season, if they cannot run the football.
Rodgers will rely heavily on WR’s Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and TE Finley. Rodgers’ favorite target Greg Jennings is questionable, at best, to play Thursday. He suffered a groin injury late in game 1. I’m no doctor but I can say that a groin injury is not something that heals quickly. With a short week to prepare, there’s a good possibility that Jennings is held out of this one. That means one less weapon to worry about and possibly more pressure on Rodgers & Co. to come up with answers as to how to put up enough points.
Bears D line vs Packers O line
The Bears’ D line was getting good pressure on Colts QB Andrew Luck most of Sunday afternoon. The Bears had 3 sacks and forced a dismal 3 interceptions. The Bears gave up just 63 rushing yards on 15 attempts and seemingly held their own at the point of attack. Their line features Pro Bowler Julius Peppers along with Henry Melton and Israel Idonije. They will go up against the Packers’ O line that was not able to get any sort of running game going in game 1. They also surrendered 3 sacks of Aaron Rodgers. The line has a big task ahead of them this Thursday: get the run game going and keep some of the heat off themselves or spend all night trying to neutralize a good Bears’ rush that knows Rodgers is going to air it out.
The Pack O line came into the season set and without question for the first time in the past 6 seasons. They faced a very tough task in that of San Francisco’s D line in week 1 and Packer fans as well as Head Coach McCarthy have to hope that this unit will gel and improve each week as the season goes on. McCarthy was admittedly unhappy with the running game’s output against the 49ers and has issued a challenge to his offense to get it done on the ground when needed this week. With an important bounce back opportunity and a near “must win” situation this week, they will have to put together one of their best outings to get the job done.
A good sign during the 9ers game was Center Jeff Saturday making line calls and seeming to have good chemistry with the rest of the linemen. He almost looked like former Center Scott Wells with the pre snap reads and pointing he did. It sounds simple enough that the Packer linemen need to have their footwork down and be disciplined. When you have an All Pro in that of Peppers across from you, it’s easy to want to get a head start and false start. Good teams play well, end of story. Thursday night will go a long way in telling us where the O line is in that equation.
This is one area that always becomes more important in this matchup. Both teams feature some very good special teamers. The Bears have one of the best if not THE best returner in NFL history in Devin Hester and added more fire power in acquiring Eric Weems in free agency during the offseason. Hester handled all 3 return opportunities in week 1 and figures to continue to carry that role this week vs the Pack. He is always dangerous and it will be up to Packers’ punter Tim Masthay to kick away from Hester and give the punt coverage team time to get downfield and stifle a big return.
You may recall last season during the week 3 game when the Pack were so focused on Hester that their coverage ran right at him during a punt when, in fact, the ball actually went to the opposite side of the field and into the arms of Johnny Knox. Knox took the ball in for an apparent score but it was called back due to an illegal block. It’s easy to overdo it when trying to protect yourself against a player of Hester’s caliber but the Pack have to be fundamentally sound and focused on what is happening in front of them. Masthay has been solid over the past few seasons in placing the ball inside the 10 and giving the hang time to force many a fair catch. With Hester, it’s almost safer to boot it out of the end zone than risk his getting his hands on it. Either way, I expect Masthay to have another solid outing this week.
Special teams play a crucial role in the field position game and both teams feature returners who can do amazing things with the ball. The Packers’ Randall Cobb always has big play potential and had a punt return for a TD against the 49ers last week. There was some question about whether it should stand due to an uncalled block in the back during the return but alas, it stood and Cobb now has a return for a TD in the season opener 2 years in a row. Both teams will be looking for big things from their return units and also good fundamentals from their coverage teams. It has the potential to be an interesting chess match if either team can get a big play or two from these groups.
In the end, it’s just Packers vs. Bears. No 2 teams in the NFL have faced each other more times. We can digest all of the matchups for days and days but in this game, you can often throw all of the analysis out the window. It comes down to who can establish their game and pace as well as who turns it over fewer times.
Both teams face a short week and need this game to establish themselves as top contenders for the division. The Packers probably face a bit more in the way of pressure to win after dropping their opener. It was a hard-fought game against a very good 9ers team but they now face the possibility of starting the season 0-2 if they can’t overtake the Bears. They haven’t lost their first 2 homes games since before I was in diapers (and that’s quite a few years ago!). It should also be noted that since the NFL went to a 16 game format in 1978, over 77% of teams who lost their opening game have failed to make the postseason. With all of that in mind, this is as close as it gets to a “must win” for the Pack in this very early stage of the 2012 season. We’ll find out where this team stands in less than 48 hours.——————
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.