The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers will continue the longest rivalry in the NFL this evening on Monday Night Football. The two teams have met 186 times, including the postseason, with the Bears holding a 92-86-6 advantage in the all-time series – although the Packers have won six straight. It will be the 11th meeting on MNF, with the two clubs splitting the 10 previous games.
The Bears are currently third in the NFC North at 4-3, while the Packers sit atop the division at 5-2.
CB Charles Tillman (knee) is probable and expected to play, although he hasn't finished a game in more than a month. LB Blake Costanzo (knee), S Major Wright (knee) and WR Joseph Anderson (abdomen) are also probable.
The Packers have again ruled out TE Jermichael Finley (neck) and OLB Clay Matthews (thumb). OLB Nick Perry (foot) is doubtful and not expected to play. WR James Jones (knee) is questionable and will be a game-time decision.
Bears on Offense
Chicago's offensive rankings
Points Scored: 2nd (30.4)
Total Offense: 11th (367.7)
Rushing Offense: 14th (112.9)
Passing Offense: 11th (254.9)
Green Bay's defensive rankings
Points Allowed: 16th (22.6)
Total Defense: 11th (331.1)
Rushing Defense: 4th (83.6)
Passing Defense: 21st (247.6)
Turnover Ratio: 20th (-2)
Matchups to Watch
WR Brandon Marshall vs. CB Tramon Williams
Tramon Williams hasn't intercepted a ball in 23 games, not since Week 2 of last season when he snatched two Jay Cutler passes intended for Brandon Marshall. As he did last year, Marshall this week dared Packers coordinator Dom Capers to cover him one-on-one with Williams. If Capers bites and spreads coverage around, Marshall has to step up and have a monster game. And if coverage rolls to Marshall, then Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Earl Bennett need to take advantage of the open space. One way or the other, Chicago's passing attack has to be lights out tonight.
RB Matt Forte vs. LB A.J. Hawk
The Packers will again be without their two best pass rushers, Matthews and Perry, yet they've found a way to pressure quarterbacks in the absence of their starting outside linebackers. Capers will want to do the same against Josh McCown, hoping to rattle the journeyman quarterback and force him into some hurried throws. If McCown is smart, he'll utilize Forte on underneath routes to counter the exotic blitz packages he's sure to see. Getting Forte in space can lead to big gains. If Forte can routinely beat Hawk, who is having one of his best seasons as a pro, it will nullify the pass rush and force attention up front, which could open up room down the field.
Keys on Offense
-Despite the loss of Matthews and Perry, the Packers have had three or more sacks in three straight games. Capers has been creative in dialing up unconventional blitz packages that use a variety of personnel. Chicago's offensive line has given up the second fewest sacks in the league (11), so it's doubtful Green Bay will be able to pressure the quarterback they way they've done in the past. Yet the area in which Chicago's front five has struggled the most, particularly the rookies on the right side, is against the blitz. If McCown is hurried all over the field and gets happy feet, it could derail the passing attack in a hurry. Up front, the Bears have to be sound and give McCown the opportunity to have the game of his career – which is what the team needs to have a chance in this one.
-No one has been able to run on the Packers, which boasts the fourth best run defense in the league. The Bears are an average rushing team and have really struggled at times this year, so expecting Forte to light it up on the ground is a bit much. This will put a lot of pressure on McCown's shoulders. If he's not up to the task and turns the ball over, the game could get ugly in a hurry. McCown must play like he did two weeks ago against the Redskins – calm, accurate and in charge of the offense – or else the Packers will win going away.
-The secondary options in the Bears' passing game will be crucial tonight if Capers doubles Marshall, which is likely. GM Phil Emery drafted Jeffery and signed Bennett for just these occasions, when it's likely an opposing defense will go out of its way to shut down Marshall. Jeffery has risen to the occasion this year – he leads the team in receiving yards (560) – but in two games against the Packers last year, he combined for just one catch for 7 yards. If he disappears, then Marshall will see even more double teams, which would be too much for the offense to overcome. A career game by Jeffery gives the Bears a shot at a victory.
Bears on Defense
Chicago's defensive rankings
Points Allowed: 29th (29.4)
Total Defense: 27th(391.0)
Rushing Defense: 24th (117.3)
Passing Defense: 27th (273.7)
Turnover Ratio: 4th (+7)
Green Bay's offensive rankings
Points Scored: 3rd (30.3)
Total Offense: 2nd (438.9)
Rushing Offense: 4th (141.4)
Passing Offense: 5th (297.4)
Matchups to Watch
CB Charles Tillman vs. WR Jordy Nelson
The Packers will be without Randall Cobb, who is on IR with a knee injury, as well as Finley. Additionally, James Jones may not suit up for the third week in a row, and even if he does, he won't be 100 percent. That leaves Nelson as the last man standing out of Green Bay's top four pass catchers. In the same situation last week, he caught 7 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns. If Tillman can shut down Nelson, that would severely hinder the Packers' passing attack. Coordinator Mel Tucker would be wise to roll safety help in Nelson's direction and force Green Bay's fifth and sixth pass catchers to beat them.
RBs Eddie Lacy & James Starks vs. LBs Jon Bostic & Khaseem Greene
The Packers boast the fourth-ranked rushing attack in the league due in large part to rookie Lacy, who has added a physical element to the offense. Lacy rushed for a league-high 395 yards in October and Starks is also dangerous. This means Chicago's two rookies – Bostic and Greene, who are starting together for the first time ever – must be sound in filling their gaps and maintaining leverage against blockers. Missed assignments and false steps will give Lacy and Starks momentum, which would open up the passing game for Aaron Rodgers, which would then spell doom for the Bears.
Keys on Defense
-Stephen Paea and Corey Wootton started together at defensive tackle for the first time last week and the Redskins piled up more than 200 yards rushing. There were gaping holes between the tackles all day. If these two can't hold their ground and/or penetrate into the backfield, it's going to make life miserable for the rookie linebackers and could result in a huge day for Green Bay's ball carriers.
-Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin have 1.5 sacks combined this year. If you want know why the defense has been so bad this year, beyond the injuries, look no further. These two have been invisible off the edge, which has given opposing quarterbacks the time they've needed to carve up Chicago's secondary. The Packers have allowed just 17 sacks this year, 8th fewest in the league, so getting after Aaron Rodgers won't be easy. But if Peppers and McClellin again fail to show up, Rodgers will have a career day and the Packers will outscore the Bears by 20-plus. If there was ever a time for Chicago's starting defensive ends to show up, it's tonight.
-Tim Jennings will get a healthy dose of Jarrett Boykin tonight. Boykin has shined in two starts replacing Cobb, catching 13 passes (on 16 targets) for 192 yards and 1 TD. He's a big-bodied wideout (6-2, 218) who will pose a major threat for Jennings (5-8) in the red zone.
-The safeties, Major Wright and Chris Conte, have to show up tonight. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Wright ranks as the second worst safety in the league (out of 85 qualifying players). He's missed 10 tackles (second most at the position) and opposing quarterbacks are completing 77.8 percent of passes thrown at him, good for a cumulative 135.2 QB rating. He's also allowed three touchdowns and has yet to defend a pass. Conte has been marginally better (he ranks 75th according to PFF) but that's not saying much. If these two again lay an egg on Lambeau Field, Rodgers and Green Bay's passing attack will go hog wild.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.