Well, here we are. It’s Bears week and the Green Bay Packers have a chance to clinch another NFC North divisional title with a win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday. These are the types of matchups that the schedule makers and NFL hope for this late in the season.
When earlier this year it seemed that the Packers would be facing seemingly insurmountable odds to surpass the Bears in the North, all of the chips have started to fall into place. The Bears have lost four of their last five games and are staring at a good possibility that their playoff chances will be reduced to a wild card chase.
Should the Bears lose Sunday, the Packers could clinch the division win and that is the only way Chicago can get into the postseason. Should the Bears win, the Packers can still control their own destiny and win the division by simply winning their last two games.
There has been some jarring in the media between both teams with some subtle and some not-so-subtle barbs. Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall acted like he didn’t know how to pronounce Packers cornerback Tramon Williams’ name and said that none of the Green Bay defenders should take any credit for severely limiting him in the teams’ first matchup. Packers tight end Jermichael Finley commented that the Bears defense may be better off without the “slow” and future Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher, who is out with a hamstring injury.
But all of that is nothing but entertainment leading up to another huge game between these long-time rivals. Let’s hone in on the key matchups that will play a big role in the outcome.
Bears Wide Receiver Brandon Marshall vs. Packers Secondary
As was the case in the first matchup, this is probably the most key matchup in the game. Marshall is, by far, Chicago’s biggest offensive threat and he is currently the second leading receiver in the NFL in terms of yardage. He’s a big body who is a tough tackle and can pick up some yards after the catch. He has the speed to stretch out the defense and run the deep route too.
In the first game against the Bears, the Packers blanketed Marshall with corner Tramon Williams with help over the top from safety Morgan Burnett. As much as Marshall has clamored for one-on-one coverage this week, the Packers should certainly not oblige. If Green Bay is able to accomplish what they did in the first game, their chances of limiting Chicago’s offense will dramatically improve. In the first matchup, Marshall had just two catches for 24 yards and no touchdowns.
Marshall has said he doesn’t like the Packers and he will play this game like it’s his last. Players can elevate their game simply with the mindset to do so and if I’m Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, I’m not taking Marshall lightly. I expect him to have a much different game than the last.
Williams is coming off a fairly decent game against Detroit Lions and receiver Calvin Johnson. Johnson did have 118 yards receiving, but needed 10 catches to do so. He did not have a touchdown catch. Considering that Williams was, at times, matched up one-on-one on Johnson, that’s no small feat.
Still, Green Bay needs to stick with what worked and ensure that Marshall is at the very least double covered on Sunday. The Bears may be forced to utilize all of their other offensive playmakers to get the win when you consider that that consists of running back Matt Forte, receiver Devin Hester and young receiver Alshon Jeffery.
It’s a bit of a “pick your poison” scenario for the Packers defense and the worst thing they can do is give Marshall even a sliver of an opportunity to deliver a dagger. He has to be the ace of spades to the Green Bay defense and accounted for on every snap this week.
Packers Linebacker Clay Matthews vs. Bears Left Tackle J’Marcus Webb
Welcome back Clay Matthews! In the first matchup, Matthews had 3.5 of the Packers seven sacks and he was Bears quarterback Jay Cutler’s worst nightmare. Just how effective Clay can be after a six week layoff remains to be seen. My guess is that he has been close to getting back and this game was circled for his return.
The pass rush desperately needs a boost and not many other players offer a better opportunity than Matthews. Last week, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford went virtually untouched. Without CM3, the push up front has been very sporadic and anemic at times. The Bears offensive line has had their struggles this season and getting pressure on Cutler is the best way to contain Chicago’s offense.
Webb took to twitter this week to assure “Webb Nation” that he will be ready for Sunday’s game. If only games were played in cyberspace. Few, if any, left tackles can handle Matthews alone and all game long. Forcing extra protection to Matthews’ side will benefit the Packers defense in one way or another. It is up to those who get more favorable matchups because of it to do their part.
In addition to his pass rushing ability, Matthews has become Green Bay’s best run defender. With his ability to chase plays down on the backside and force them into the gut of the defensive line, it limits running lanes for opposing backs. Matthews sets his edge well and there’s not much I can see Webb doing to control that this week.
Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers (And Packers Ball Carriers) vs. Bears Secondary
Short and sweet: Be smart with the football. That’s what Rodgers does but these are the 2012 Bears. No team has more takeaways than do the Bears in 2012 (35). Rodgers threw one interception in the first matchup and nearly a second that bounced off the hands of linebacker Lance Briggs.
Leading the league in interceptions is Bears cornerback Tim Jennings. Jennings is a bit of a question mark in this game after sustaining a shoulder injury two weeks ago against the Seahawks. As we saw last season with Tramon Williams, a shoulder injury can be very limiting for a corner. As of Friday, Jennings is still officially listed as questionable with a few sources saying he’s out. That would be a big loss for the Bears on defense.
On the other side at corner for Chicago is Charles “Peanut” Tillman and ball carriers beware. Tillman continues to terrorize ball carriers and has accounted for many of the Bears’ 14 caused fumbles this season. It’s no secret he is going to try and punch the ball out during the tackle and ball security is a must. In recent matchups, James Jones and Jermichael Finley have been victimized by Tillman. Tillman also has a shoulder injury but has been a full participant at practice this week and is probable for Sunday.
On the backside, Chicago’s safeties have been serviceable as well. Major Wright has come on and claimed a starting spot this season along with Chris Conte. Chicago plays a lot of cover 2 and will likely do the same on Sunday unless the Packers can force the Bears to respect the run. With the big play abilities of Greg Jennings and Randall Cobb, look for the Bears to keep their safeties back to avoid the explosive play.
Packers Tight End Jermichael Finley vs. Bears Secondary
This was originally going to be Finley vs. his mouth but there’s no contest there. The mouth always wins. Finley made the comments about Urlacher and later took to Twitter to try and recant, claiming he meant no disrespect. One thing to be said about the ordeal is that Finley may want to hire a better PR team, but I digress.
Finley has posted some of his best games against the Bears and while the players differ from year to year, the Packers have to hope the results don’t. The first matchup this season didn’t produce much magic from Finley. He had just four catches and 26 yards. But I am recalling last year’s matchup inChicagoin week 3 that netted three Finley touchdowns enroute to a Packers victory.
With the return of receiver Greg Jennings and the outstanding play of both James Jones and Randall Cobb, the Bears pass coverage will have their hands full. They can’t cover everyone all day long. And the Packers just so happen to have a quarterback who is very sharp when it comes to finding the split second that a receiver is open.
With Finley’s height advantage over most defensive backs (Chicago’s tallest backs are safety Chris Conte and cornerback Charles Tillman, both listed at 6’2”), this will become an important area for Green Bay in the short passing game. Chicago’s pass rush has been decent and the need for quick throws won’t likely change.
In short yardage situations, Finley needs to come through and keep the chains moving. With the jump ball and a defender closing in, a lot of times it comes down to the receiver’s determination for the ball. Let’s hope Finley is as determined on the field as he is to shake up the Twitterverse.
Bears Defensive Line vs. Packers Offensive Line
On Friday it was announced, somewhat unexpectedly, that Packers right guard Josh Sitton was questionable for Sunday’s game. He sustained a hip injury in Thursday’s practice. With Sitton being the most solid lineman Green Bay has, this has to concern the Packers.
Head coach Mike McCarthy stated that he wasn’t “overly concerned” with Sitton’s injury which should indicate that he will be given every opportunity to suit up this week. But the question is how effective can he be if there is any limitation to his mobility and push off the line?
As for the rest of the line, there are still many eyes on rookie right tackle Don Barclay who has been serviceable, but not great. He was charged with half of the hits on Rodgers last week but it should also be noted that the bulk of the others went to veteran Marshall Newhouse. Center Jeff Saturday has had his struggles as well and may be getting a break as it was announced Friday that Bears solid defensive tackle Henry Melton was doubtful for Sunday and had not practiced all week.
The Bears will move their personnel around on the line to exploit a favorable matchup. Defensive end Julius Peppers has moved from the right to the left side at times. With so much youth at running back and with Ryan Grant just having returned last week, everyone on the Green Bayside will need to be 100% sure and aware of their assignments in protection.
Chicago has amassed 33 sacks this season, 21 of which have been credited to the starting defensive line. Backups Israel Idonije and rookie Shea McClellin have thrown in eight of their own. Aaron Rodgers was sacked five times in the first meeting.
Pass protection is a must in what will surely be a very physical game. Rodgers has taken some tough shots lately and while no time is ever good to see your quarterback go down, now would be catastrophic to the Packers 2012 season.
Lastly, any success in the running game will open a mountain of opportunities for the Packers offense. The Green Bayline still has yet to have a dominating performance in this area and I don’t expect one this week either. But if they can mix in just enough to have the kind of success they had last week vs. Detroit, they can wear down the Bears defensive front and take advantage from there.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: