The Chicago Bears (3-5) will square off against the Green Bay Packers (5-3) at Lambeau Field on Sunday Night Football. The two franchises will meet for the 190th time, with the Bears holding a 93-90-6 advantage. Green Bay has won 12 of the past 20 contests, including seven of the past 10.
The two teams last met in Week 4, a 38-17 Packers victory in which the Bears were outscored 17-0 in the second half.
Following tonight’s contest, five of the Bears’ next seven games are at home. Including this evening, Chicago has five NFC North matchups left on the schedule. Next week, the Bears will host the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field.
Questionable for the Bears is TE Martellus Bennett, who hurt his ribs in practice this week.
“It was just kind of an awkward [play] on the practice field,” coach Marc Trestman said on Friday. “That’s kind of all there was. He twisted a little bit and we’ll see where he is. We’re hopeful he’ll play.”
If Bennett sits out, TE Dante Rosario will start in his place. Calling up Annen doesn’t bode well for Bennett’s availability.
The following Bears are probable:
Green Bay’s two starting guards – T.J. Lang (ankle) and Josh Sitton (toe) – are questionable. Neither player practiced this week. That could be a big blow to Green Bay’s offensive line, as both Sitton and Lang are very good interior blockers. They’ll both be game-time decisions.
Additionally, S Morgan Burnett (calf) was downgraded yesterday from probable to questionable. Burnett missed the team’s Week 8 game against the New Orleans Saints and he appears to have had a setback in his recovery. Last-second downgrades in designation are never a good sign.
Probable for the Packers are DE Datone Jones (ankle) and CB Sam Shields (knee). Also probable is QB Aaron Rodgers, who pulled his hamstring in the second quarter of the Week 8 contest. The injury isn’t significant and Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy said Rodgers is “ready to go.” Still, the Bears defense may not have to deal with as many rollouts, as it’s unlikely the Packers want to risk injuring the team’s meal ticket further.
With the Bears 3-5 and in last place in the NFC North, blame has been heaped on the coaches. Many critics firmly believe that Trestman, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis, and pretty much every member of the coaching staff should have received their walking papers last week.
It’s true that every phase of the team has underachieved. With collective failure at any level, the people in charge must always be held responsible.
Yet for my money, turnovers are the main reason the Bears are three games back in the division.
Jay Cutler leads the NFL with 12 turnovers – eight interceptions, four lost fumbles – and has turned the ball over at least twice in each of the club’s five losses.
In the Week 4 meeting against Green Bay, the offense tallied season-highs in total yards (496) and rushing yards (235). The Bears led by 13 minutes in time of possession and did everything they could to keep Green Bay’s offense off the field. It was a four-point game at halftime, yet Cutler came out and threw interceptions on consecutive drives in the third quarter and the Bears lost by three touchdowns.
The defense and special teams have struggled, but this team is built to win with offense. The defense was dead last stopping the run last year but are now ranked 13th against the run and 17th in takeaways. We all believed before the season that an average defense would be good enough in 2014 as long as the offense held up its end of the bargain. At 21st overall, Chicago’s defense is just below middle-of-the-pack.
Considering the defense continues to get pummeled by injuries on a weekly basis, they’ve done their part. With Cutler continuously killing drives with turnovers, the offense has not done its part. Currently, the team ranks 19th in points scored, which is entirely unacceptable for a unit that ranked 2nd in points last year and has twice as much cap space invested in the offense.
The Bears are still 11th in passing and 13th in total offense, so they are moving the ball, but the turnovers are killing their chances of getting victories.
That falls on Cutler, as the Bears have gone 3-0 this year when he’s had zero giveaways.
Such will be the case tonight. If Cutler has a clean game against the Packers, the Bears can pull off the victory. If he plays like he did in Week 4 and serves up two touchdowns on a platter in the second half, the Bears will again lose by three touchdowns.
No other factor in this game will have as big of an impact on the outcome as Cutler’s performance. It’s truly that simple.
|BEARS (NFL Rank)||PACKERS (NFL Rank)|
|22.5 (19th)||Points Scored||27.8 (6th)|
|353.6 (13th)||Total Offense||246.1 (17th)|
|102.5 (18th)||Rushing Offense||97.5 (24th)|
|251.1 (11th)||Passing Offense||248.6 (13th)|
|27.8 (29th)||Points Allowed||23.9 (19th)|
|372.4 (21st)||Total Defense||379.3 (25th)|
|110.1 (13th)||Rushing Defense||153.5 (32nd)|
|262.3 (23rd)||Passing Defense||225.8 (9th)|
|3 (T-19th)||Turnover Ratio||8 (3rd)|
BEARS ON OFFENSE
Matchups to Watch
WR Jordy Nelson vs. CB Kyle Fuller
Kyle Fuller – who left the Week 8 contest early due to a broken hand and a hip pointer – has had two weeks to rest, so he should be much healthier than he was against the Patriots. When healthy, Fuller has consistently shut down opposing No. 1 receivers, except for one: In Week 4, Jordy Nelson caught 10 passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
That doesn’t all fall on Fuller but in this contest, it’s likely the Bears will use more man coverage, as Rodgers systematically destroyed Chicago’s zone sets in the first meeting. Chicago spent a first-round pick on Fuller, so now is the time to let him earn it. If he can man up on Nelson and limit one of the best receivers in the game, the defense has a great shot at containing Green Bay’s offense.
Tim Jennings also struggled in Week 4, a game in which Randall Cobb caught seven passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Jennings has not consistently played at a Pro Bowl level this year and must have his best game of the season in order to contain Cobb out of the slot.
The Packers have a leaky offensive line, a pathetic run game, no legitimate pass-catching tight end or No. 3 wide receiver. The Bears need only contain Cobb and Nelson to keep Green Bay’s offense in check. There’s no excuse to allow those two to beat you, as that’s all the Packers have. Double- or triple-team them on every play, bracket coverage with press-man up front and a safety over the top, do whatever it takes to force the ball into the hands of the other weapons.
Keys to the Game
-The Packers rank just 24th in the league in rushing and could be without their two best run blockers (Lang and Sitton). The Bears held Green Bay to just 56 total rushing yards in Week 4. The defense will need a repeat performance, as a two-dimensional offense with Rodgers in charge is impossible to stop.
-The biggest key to this game will be pressuring Rodgers. The Packers are 2-2 this year in games where Rodgers has been sacked three or more times, and needed miraculous comeback wins to pick up those two victories. When you collapse the pocket on Rodgers, he becomes mortal.
And that doesn’t necessarily mean blitzing a lot, as he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league at beating extra pressure. So the onus will fall mainly on the front four, particularly the defensive ends.
Willie Young started in Week 4 yet didn’t get a sack or a QB hurry, and Jared Allen has been non-existent for most of the year. Both of those edge rushers must find a way to get in the backfield on a consistent basis.
If they can, and the defensive tackles continue to push the pocket – Jeremiah Ratliff, Stephen Paea and Ego Ferguson have combined for 9.5 sacks this year – they can move Rodgers off his spot and force him to get the ball out early, which will be key to forcing much-needed turnovers.
BEARS ON DEFENSE
Matchups to Watch
RT Jordan Mills vs. OLB Clay Matthews
Clay Matthews has feasted on Cutler for more than half a decade, while Jordan Mills is struggling. The Bears experimented with Mills at guard this week but quickly slid him back outside. He’s allowed five sacks in seven starts and has looked very bad at times. If Matthews has success off the edge, Cutler will get happy feet and turnovers will commence. Keeping Cutler upright will be crucial for Mills and the offensive line.
WR Brandon Marshall vs. CB Sam Shields
Brandon Marshall is having the worst season of his career and it’s not even close. He’s topped 100 yards in just one game this year, while turning in six contests at 48 yards or less. In Week 4, he was held to two catches for 19 yards.
He’s been dealing with an ankle injury since Week 2, so it’s possible the bye has allowed him to reach full health. If he’s back to 100 percent, or somewhere near it, and can have a breakout game, the Bears will post a lot of points on Green Bay. The Packers have the ninth-ranked passing defense but that’s due in large part to opposing offenses pounding it down the throat of their turnstile run defense.
Sam Shields is coming off a knee injury that kept him out of the past two games. Marshall’s ability to beat Shields in man coverage and win the 50/50 balls will set the tone for this game.
Keys to the Game
-Matt Forte has been great against the Packers during his career. He’s rushed for 100-plus yards and gained more than 150 yards from scrimmage in each of the Bears' last three games against Green Bay, including 171 yards on 28 touches in the September meeting.
Yet the Bears lost that game by three touchdowns, despite the offense piling up 250 yards on the ground. Utilizing Forte to his fullest is great. He’s the best weapon the offense has. Unfortunately for the Bears, that won’t be nearly enough if they turn the ball over multiple times.
The Packers are willing to let Forte beat them. They’ll accept big chunks on the ground and multiple receptions underneath, for they know eventually Cutler will throw the ball right to the secondary, which will negate all the work Forte did to that point.
Forte will be a big part of the game plan tonight but he won’t be the deciding factor. This game falls on Cutler, the highest paid quarterback in the league this year. If the Bears are going to save their season on the road in a hostile environment on prime-time television, Cutler needs to earn his paycheck and play like an elite quarterback.
Otherwise, Chicago’s season will be over by midnight.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.