Bill Huber: It's Rivalry Week – not to mention NFC Championship Week. That Pittsburgh-Baltimore game, I don't know if it was hatred, but there was a lot of disdain on the field. I hate to disappoint people, but at least up here, this rivalry is really only among the fans. For the players, it's mutual respect. What's the feeling down there?
John Crist: My answer is no different than your answer from Part I, when I asked you a similar question and you gave me a similar response. The rivalry aspect of this game revolves almost entirely around the two fan bases, plus the print, radio and TV media's – both local and national – desire to hype it up as much as possible in order to sell more newspapers, get more callers and attract more viewers, respectively. With players moving around as much as they do these days, plus so many of them share agents and vacation together, the blood-and-guts hatred between the two teams so many fans live and die for really isn't there.
Reading between the lines at Halas Hall, I believe the Bears appreciate having to go through the Packers to get to Super Bowl XLV and think that's pretty cool, but I don't see any bounties being placed on the head of Aaron Rodgers.
BH: A few weeks ago, the Packers got into the playoffs with a 10-3 win over Chicago. Lovie Smith, true to his word, played his starters the whole game. Two-part question here: A) Did he do so in hopes of keeping the Packers out of the playoffs (fear factor); and B) should the Bears' offensive performance that day be a major cause of concern?
JC: My immediate response to the two questions is no and no. That was brought up again Sunday after the divisional-round win over the Seahawks. According to Smith, it really didn't cross his mind that beating the Packers in Week 17 at Lambeau Field would eliminate a team that could potentially come back to haunt him in the playoffs, so he played his starters all game long to keep them sharp and give them a chance to compete in a hostile environment – this squad has enjoyed some Bears-friendly road games in 2010. He says Chicago shouldn't need extra motivation to beat its oldest rival. Besides, it was far from a given that Green Bay would be able to defeat both Philadelphia and Atlanta on the road in the span of seven days.
As far as how the Bears played on offense in the finale, coaches and players alike are taking solace in the fact that they hung 38 on the Jets and 35 on the Seahawks, the games immediately before and after what was a meaningless 10-3 loss.
BH: Who is this Greg Olsen guy, who plays this new-fangled position called "tight end"? Wasn't he on milk cartons?
JC: We all knew that Mike Martz wasn't going to go out of his way to feature the tight end in the passing game, as he even chose to ignore a physical freak like Vernon Davis during his one-year stint in San Francisco, so nobody should be surprised that the 41 catches Olsen had this season barely topped the 39 he hauled in as a rookie in 2007. As a matter of fact, the former first-round pick caught one pass or fewer in seven of 16 games, including a two-week stretch in October when he was blanked, although he was targeted often in the red zone and led the Bears with five touchdown receptions. But just when Seattle forgot about him, Olsen reeled in a 58-yard TD catch on the opening series and finished the day with a career-high 113 yards on only three grabs.
Give him credit, as he talked before the Seahawks game about not having as big a role as a pass catcher and needing to find new ways to contribute, but Olsen is still a matchup problem for both linebackers and safeties because of his size and speed – I'm anxious to see if Green Bay puts Charles Woodson on him again.
BH: Honestly, I thought the Bears were going to be terrible this season. I figured Martz and Jay Cutler would join forces and get everyone fired. What's been the key to that relationship being such a hit?
JC: You're not alone, as I only predicted the Bears to go 7-9 this season and had a lot of friends in the media get similar readings from their magic 8-balls, and it's not like Martz and Cutler is the second coming of Martz and Kurt Warner or anything – this is still the 30th-ranked offense in the league. The scheme went from bad to worse when Chicago lost consecutive home dates to Seattle and Washington, dropping its record from an impressive 4-1 to a pedestrian 4-3 prior to their bye in Week 8. There was a meeting of the minds at Halas Hall to get the run-pass balance under control and that's exactly what happened, with Cutler's to TD-to-INT ratio going from 7-to-7 before the bye to 16-to-7 during a 7-1 stretch after, plus Matt Forte's yards-per-carry average spiked to a career-best 4.5.
While Martz reverted back to his air-raid nature in Week 17, because the result didn't mean anything to Chicago in terms of playoff seeding, I don't think that game plan will look anything like what he puts together for Sunday's contest.
BH: In the last four home games, the Bears have given up 29.8 points per game. Now, I realize some of that is skewed because the Seahawks scored three garbage-time touchdowns in the fourth quarter after a punt-a-thon for the first 40-some minutes. Still, Tom Brady and Mark Sanchez lit them up in December. What's the deal, and does the Bears' speed just get stuck in the Soldier Field sinkhole?
JC: I'm not a big believer in momentum, especially with the Seahawks coming to Soldier Field fresh off a 41-point outburst against the defending Super Bowl champion Saints but promptly having to punt on each of their first eight possessions against the Bears. Sure, if a Chicago fan didn't watch the game and simply read the box score the next day, he may not be happy with his team surrendering 258 yards passing and three touchdowns to Matt Hasselbeck. Still, the score was 28-3 Bears after three quarters and then 35-10 with less than five minutes to go in the fourth, so a couple of garbage-time TD drives when the Rush-and-Division crowd was already celebrating shouldn't be taken out of context.
Rodgers looked borderline flawless against both the Eagles and Falcons, but he's only produced 27 points in two games against the Bears this season and thrown just as many interceptions (two) as touchdowns. The Packers are really scary, no doubt, but Chicago's D has done as good a job as any slowing them down.
With regard to the turf, yes, it seems silly to build a defense based on speed only to play on what may be the slowest track in the NFL, but both teams have to deal with it and will no doubt be affected.
To read Part III of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where John and Bill highlight matchups and make final predictions, Click Here. To go back and read Part I, where Bill answered five questions from John, Click Here.
John Crist is the publisher of BearReport.com. Bill Huber is the publisher of PackerReport.com.
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Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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