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NFC Championship Preview: Green Bay at Chicago

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As I sat down to dissect this matchup I had very little idea of who I was going to pick. I have watched every game each team has played this season, including the two against each other, but that still didn’t offer much clarity. These teams, while drastically different in style, do matchup well with each other. The Bears run a 4-3 cover 2, focused on gap integrity and moderate blitzing. The Packers on the other hand run a 3-4 blitz your head off scheme. On offense, the Pack employ a modified West Coast offense, while the Bears run a Mike Martz scheme that changes like the weather. Add all of this up and that means the game will almost certainly come down to who makes more mistakes.

Aaron Rodgers vs Chicago Defense:

Right now Aaron Rodgers is hotter than the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. He is putting the ball wherever he wants, whenever he wants. He hasn’t had much trouble with the Bears so far this season, although he only has 2 TDs to show for it.  In their week 17 matchup, he couldn’t connect on the deep ball, and relied on a late TD drive for the win. The game meant nothing to the Bears, so the fact that they were in it has to be comforting. All of that said, with the right gameplan I think Rodgers is in for another big game on Sunday. If I were Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, I would attack, attack, attack. Green Bay has one of the better receiving corps in the league for Rodgers to find early and often. Philbin shouldn’t bother trying to establish the run, it won’t work anyway. Instead utilize the screen game to open up the downfield routes. The Bears are susceptible to double moves, and keeping them honest with screens will pay huge dividends. With the way Rodgers is playing, all he needs is a half-step and he will put the ball on the money.

Advantage: Green Bay

Flavor of the day Green Bay RB vs Chicago Defense:

In the wake of difference-maker Ryan Grant’s injury, the Packers have used 3 different running backs to shoulder the load. None of the three are any good, and in this game that won’t make much of a difference. The Bears rush defense is second in the league only to the Steelers. Green Bay would be best served not even attempting to establish the running game, because they won’t find much success. This is usually when the coach thinks he’s going to outsmart the Bears by attacking their strength, but Green Bay doesn’t even have as much as a rubberband gun to attack with.  James Starks had a decent outing against the Eagles, but was completely shut down against the Falcons. He surprised the Eagles, but doesn’t have nearly the skills needed to succeed against a team like the Bears.

Advantage: Chicago

Jay Cutler vs Green Bay Defense:

I think this matchup will be the difference in the game. The Bears offensive line allowed the most sacks by far (56) in the league this season, while the Packers compiled 47 sacks on defense; 1 behind league leader Pittsburgh. Jay Cutler has all the tools to be a great quarterback, but his greatest flaw is his competitiveness. He tries to make a play on every single down, even when the play has broken down and throwing it away is the best option. Cutler had a nice game against a Seattle squad who won their Super Bowl the previous week. The Packers are a whole different animal though and will send blitzes from all angles. The Pack also have the advantage in the edge matchups, so Cutler will need to utilize Greg Olsen in the middle. Utilizing the talents of Forte will be huge in trying to beat the Green Bay blitz, but I still see a few mistakes from Cutler on the horizon.

Advantage: Green Bay

Matt Forte vs Green Bay Defense:

Mike Martz never utilizes his star running backs nearly enough as he should, especially in big games… just ask Marshall Faulk or any Rams fan you know. While Matt Forte isn’t in the same class as Faulk, he is essentially a “Lite” version of the future Hall of Famer. Forte is a very good running back, but at 6’2, Forte is built more like a receiver. Martz would be wise to get Forte the ball early and often any way possible. While Forte can be a gamebreaker, he is more apt to pick up decent chunks. His efforts will allow Cutler to air it out deep to one of his speedy receivers. The Packers have excellent cover corners, but if they have their eyes in the backfield for even a second a guy like Devin  Hester will blow by them for an easy 6.

Advantage: Chicago

Special Teams:

The kicking matchup is about even. You could swap Mason Crosby for Robbie Gould and neither fanbase would know any better. Both are quality NFL kickers with big legs. Normally I wouldn’t get into the punting matchup, but this is the first one in NFL history that may be interesting. The Bears punter Brad Maynard is the worst in the league with an average barely above 40 yards per punt. On the other side, the Packers’ Tim Masthay is middle of the road, but will have his hands full keeping the ball out of the ever-dangerous Devin Hester’s hands. One bad punt could turn into 6 really quickly if Hester is able to get his feet under him. I would expect a lot of directional punting as the Packers punt coverage team is in the bottom 25% of the league with regards to return yards per punt. Longsnappers? Even, I guess? They both snap long, but neither ever gets mentioned. So here’s to you Patrick Mannelly and Brett Goode… 3/1 odds say you don’t know who plays for whom.

Advantage: Chicago

Who Will Win?

The Bears win the battle above, unfortunately that will probably be all they will win this week. The Packers’ pass rush should keep Jay Cutler flustered just enough to make some mistakes. The Packers are one of the better teams in the league at capitalizing on mistakes, and also led the league in plays of 30+ yards. The Bears pride themselves in taking away the big gains, but the last time they faced a hot QB, they were torched in losing 36-7 to Tom Brady and the Patriots. That said, the Bears have relished being the underdog all season long and again seem to be in that role according to the court of popular opinion. If they can keep Jay Cutler upright, their defense should keep them in the game. If not, it may be a long day for Chicago who will be forced to watch the Packers raise the trophy named for Bears legend George Halas.

Final Score: Packers 26 – Bears 16


8 Responses to “NFC Championship Preview: Green Bay at Chicago”

  1. “The game meant nothing to the Bears,”

    I dissagree with that statement, I think you should have said “The Bears had nothing to gain, playoff-seeding-wise,”.

    To say that THIS game, meant nothing to the Bears players is erroneous. They had the chance to knock their Arch rivals out of a potential playoff appearance. The fact Lovie did not pull a single player, shows a little of this…granted it was a close game, and you can’t let your faithful fanbase see you tank a close game against your bitter rival…But to assume they didn’t want to win, or didn’t try hard to win, doesn’t make sense.

    Agreed, when you have the division wrapped vs fighting for the potential appearance, things change, and the hunger/effort/style changes to get it done…but not enough to say they didn’t care.

    Posted by Bobby Digital | January 20, 2011, 1:13 pm
  2. ….but not enough to say it meant nothing to the Bears.

    Posted by Bobby Digital | January 20, 2011, 1:14 pm
  3. “He surprised the Eagles, but doesn’t have nearly the skills needed to succeed against a team like the Bears.” (on GB RB James Starks).

    Actually, he has the skills to be effective, he’s a 1-cut runner, North-South….meaning, if a hole is opened (and that’s a BIG IF), then he will get up in it and get that 3-5. Chicago is great at not allowing those sort of hoels to stay open, as they fill VERY well and are very good at avoiding blockers on the second & 3rd levels.

    Plus, as mentioned over and over and over on TV, they pursue relentlessly, so multi-cut backs, or trying to bring it back to the middle is all for not.

    But, that said, I think Chicago has 3 D-Linemen that can defeat any number of GB’s OL-men consistently. GB’s run blocking is usually what befalls them….and THAT is the reason I don’t see GB having success, not because James Starks, Kuhn, and B-Jax are weak rubberbands.

    Posted by Bobby Digital | January 20, 2011, 1:24 pm
  4. Fair point on the Bears. Once any athlete gets out there they probably want to win, but effort level tells a different story. I based my statement on the quotes of Bears like Brian Urlacher and Jay Cutler before and after the game:

    Brian Urlacher: “We weren’t playing for anything. Everything we needed to do was done already.”

    Lovie Smith was seemingly the only one taking it seriously out of the major players: “…Why would we do that? I mean, there’s a game on the line, we’re trying to win a football game,” Smith said. “No. That was never part of the mindset at all. We have a week off and we saw it like that.”

    Cutler joked afterward that he told his coach to rethink his (try to win) approach to the game.

    “There’s no real problems out there,” Cutler said.

    Posted by Jason Marlo | January 20, 2011, 8:09 pm
  5. As for Starks, Kuhn, & B-Jax, I’ll stick with thinking they are “weak rubberbands”. Ryan Grant, an actual NFL caliber starting running back, average 5 YPC against the Bears over his past 5 games (100 carries – 504 yards, 5 TDs). While Brandon Jackson has one of the worst YPC averages of any back with over 150 carries in the league at 3.7. Kuhn (3.3YPC) is a fullback, and Starks (3.5YPC) is fragile, slow, and plodding (4.5+ 40, roughly the same 3-cone time as Toby Gerhart), but not powerful. He could catch lightning in a bottle again and have a decent game, but when Aaron Rodgers has the 2nd longest rush play this year (27 yards) that lends credence to my thinking that there isn’t a capable running back on the active squad (GB only has 3 total rushes of 20+ this year).

    Posted by Jason Marlo | January 20, 2011, 8:30 pm
  6. Creedence? Wouldn’t hold out much hope for the tape deck though… or the Creedence.

    Posted by Jason Marlo | January 20, 2011, 8:35 pm

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