Bears/Packers keys to the game

The Bears will head to Lambeau Field on Sunday to face off against the Green Bay Packers. We go over everything Chicago must do on both sides of the ball to pick up a win on Christmas.

DEFENSE

Packers offensive rankings
Points scored: 1st (34.3)
Total offense: 4th (397.8)
Rushing offense: 25th (99.7)
Passing offense: 4th (298.1)

Matchups to watch

SS Craig Steltz vs. TE Jermichael Finley
Steltz started in the Week 3 matchup between these two teams, when Finley caught seven passes for 85 yards and 3 TDs. Much of that production came against Steltz, who had no answer for the big tight end. With WR Greg Jennings out for this contest, QB Aaron Rodgers will look Finley's way early and often – he led the team with 10 targets last week. The Bears would be wise to bracket Finley with Steltz over the top and a cornerback or linebacker underneath. If Chicago can take Finley out of the game, Green Bay's passing attack could struggle.

DE Israel Idonije vs. RT T.J. Lang
The Packers lost both of starting offensive tackles, Bryan Bulaga and Chad Clifton, last week. Their No. 3 tackle, rookie Derek Sherrod, is on injured reserve. That means Lang, typically a guard, will start on the right edge for only the second time in his career. The Bears will be relying on the front four to pressure Rodgers, meaning Idonije must take advantage of this matchup. In 15 career games, he's never earned a sack against the Packers. That will need to change on Sunday if Chicago hopes to pull this one out.

Keys


DE Julius Peppers
Scott Boehm/Getty

-On the other side of the offensive line, the Packers will start Marshall Newhouse. The second-year player has started 11 games this year, with mixed results. He struggles against elite pass rushers on the blind side. DE Julius Peppers should be able to work over Newhouse and get consistent pressure on Rodgers. If he cannot win this one-on-one battle on a regular basis, Rodgers will pick apart Chicago's secondary.

-The Bears will not be able to blitz much in this game, as it won't do any good. Rodgers this season has the highest passer rating in the league against the blitz (131.6). He has completed 67 percent of his passes, and thrown 11 of his 40 total TDs when opponents bring an extra rusher. Essentially, the only thing blitzing accomplishes is crippling the secondary. As such, pressure will have to come from the front four. With Green Bay banged up at tackle, it's a safe bet they'll use a lot of chips and double-teams on Peppers and Idonije. This will offer plenty of one-on-one matchups in the middle of the line. Chicago should get DT Henry Melton back from injury this game. If he and DT Amobi Okoye can penetrate and collapse the pocket in Rodgers' face, it will go a long way toward limiting their passing attack.

-Green Bay gets RB James Starks back this week, which will be a big boost to their rushing attack. He's the team's leading rusher and his power style will come in handy in the cold weather. It's likely the Packers will want to give their top runner numerous reps and get him back into form heading into the playoffs. Chicago's front seven cannot sleep on Starks, or RB Ryan Grant. Stopping Rodgers is nearly impossible when Green Bay's running game is rolling.

-With Jennings out, WR Jordy Nelson becomes a priority. He's 14th in the NFL in receiving yards (986) and third in receiving TDs (10). When Chicago uses man coverage, expect Charles Tillman to line up across from Nelson. Tillman must keep him in check.

-In defeating the Packers last week, the Kansas City Chiefs ran mostly press coverage and manned up on the wide receivers. Yet Chicago's cornerbacks are not as adept at man coverage and likely won't have as much success with that strategy. As such, expect the Bears to fall back on their bread-and-butter Cover 2 zone, which should take away the deep pass and force Green Bay to work the ball methodically down the field.

-The Bears will be using a pair of new starters in the secondary this week. FS Brandon Meriweather will replace the injured Chris Conte, while CB Zack Bowman takes over for the ineffective Tim Jennings. If Bowman and Meriweather expect to be re-signed this offseason, they must show they deserve it in these final two contests.

OFFENSE

Packers defensive rankings
Points allowed: 14th (21.2)
Total defense: 31st (397.8)
Rushing defense: 12th (108.4)
Passing defense: 31st (289.4)
Turnover ratio: 2nd (+20)

Matchups to watch

LT Lance Louis vs. OLB Clay Matthews
Louis has hit a wall. After performing so well during Chicago's five-game win streak, he has regressed dramatically. His technique has broken down and it's obvious his confidence is shot. He needs to snap out of it quickly, as he facing one of the best pass-rushing linebackers in the league this week in Matthews. If Louis continues his poor play, Matthews will eat him for lunch and completely disrupt Chicago's offense.

C Roberto Garza vs. NT B.J. Raji
With QB Josh McCown starting his first game since 2007, the Bears will be looking to lean heavily on the run. If RB Kahlil Bell is going to have any success on the ground, Raji must be contained. He has outstanding size (6-2, 337), strength and quickness in the middle and is tough against the run. Garza, as well as guards Chris Spencer and Edwin Williams, must corral Raji and get him out of the running lanes. Otherwise, Bell will be in for a long afternoon.

Keys


RB Kahlil Bell
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire

-The Chiefs were effective against Green Bay's defense last week using the screen pass. The Packers' like to get up field quickly, making them susceptible to delayed screens. Their defensive coordinator, Dom Capers, will also likely bring a number of blitzes to pressure and confuse McCown. The best way to counter this scheme is drop easy screens behind the rush, with blockers out in front.

-The Bears have lost their top receiver in Johnny Knox, and Devin Hester is limited, so the team will be lacking a true deep threat in this game. This means the short passing game must be on point. McCown needs to take the easy passes when offered to him and utilize his check downs. Bell has demonstrated good hands out of the backfield. McCown shouldn't be afraid to drop it off to him and see if Bell can make something happen after the catch.

-LB Desmond Bishop will return from injury this week. He's the Packers' hardest hitter and best run-stopping linebacker. Spencer and Williams must be aware of him at the second level, as should FB Tyler Clutts when leading into the hole.

-Don't throw Charles Woodson's way. Plain and simple. CB Tramon Williams and NB Sam Shields have nowhere near the cover skills of Woodson. Pick on those two and stay away from one of the best play-making corners in the NFL.

-If McCown wants to move the ball through the air, he needs to throw it to Earl Bennett, who was inexcusably ignored by Caleb Hanie. Bennett is the best route runner and pass catcher on the team. McCown's best shot at success is throwing his way.

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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