Five Things to Watch Sunday

Bear Report is covering the Sunday afternoon matchup in Week 16 between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field, and here are the top five things to be on the lookout for that could have a major effect on the final score.

1. How will the defense slow down the 'Big 5' wide receiver package?
The Packers lead the NFL in yards after the catch, partially because they do a tremendous job of stretching out the defense with four and five receivers. Their 'Big 5' formation has given opponents trouble all year long and allowed young wideouts like Greg Jennings and James Jones to develop into reliable playmakers. Veteran Donald Driver is still the team's leading receiver and has topped 1,000 yards for the fourth consecutive year, but Brett Favre is once again one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the league because the likes of Koren Robinson and Ruvell Martin are also capable of making big plays in the passing game.

The Bears have not played very much nickel defense lately because the coaching staff is down on Ricky Manning Jr., but asking Hunter Hillenmeyer to cover whomever lines up in the slot all day long is a mismatch waiting to happen.

2. Can Orton have more success against man-to-man than he did against zone?
Making his first start in close to two full seasons, Kyle Orton did little more than complete checkdown throws to Adrian Peterson out of the backfield last week at Minnesota. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner wanted to take more shots downfield against a poor Vikings pass defense, but they played a ton of Cover-2 and forced Orton to keep hitting his second and third read most of the evening. The Packers, on the other hand, play as much man-to-man coverage as any team in the league since they have a pair of Pro-Bowl caliber cornerbacks: Al Harris and Charles Woodson.

Orton will certainly need solid protection up front first, and he should be able to hit a couple of deep throws if he gets it because neither Atari Bigby nor Nick Collins is considered to be a great cover guy from the safety position.

3. Will Urlacher keep the ball rolling after an incredible effort in Week 15?


LB Brian Urlacher
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
There have been whispers all season long that the arthritic back condition currently bothering All-Pro middle linebacker Brian Urlacher could mean his best years are in the rearview mirror, but he was all over the field Monday night in Minnesota. The former Defensive Player of the Year had two sacks, intercepted one pass and knocked down another one, although his late surge did not earn him a trip to the Pro Bowl. Nevertheless, if well over a hundred tackles, five sacks, three INTs, and eight passes defensed is considered a down year by Urlacher's standards, that only goes to show how amazing he's been over the course of his eventual Hall-of-Fame career.

The Bears will need another Herculean effort from their defensive captain Sunday at Soldier Field because they Packers are twice the team offensively that the Vikings are these days.

4. Is the offensive line capable of patching things up for a full game?
Things have gotten so bad along the offensive line for the Bears this year that John St. Clair, who has been nothing but a tackle for eight professional seasons, started at left guard at Minnesota instead of the totally ineffective Terrence Metcalf. Fred Miller should have been benched at right tackle long ago thanks to a brutal combination of poor blocking and penalties in recent weeks, but there is simply nobody left on the roster to replace him at this point. Even center Olin Kreutz, normally a shoe-in for the Pro Bowl once the ballots are handed out, has not played very well in 2007 and will be paying his own way back to his native Hawaii after the season.

Green Bay features three solid defensive ends in Cullen Jenkins, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, and Pro Bowler Aaron Kampman, plus defensive tackle Corey Williams has had a great year getting after the quarterback.

5. How much does this bitter division rivalry really mean to the players?
Sunday will be the 175th meeting between the Bears and Packers, arguably the most intense rivalry in the NFL and one of the best across the entire sports landscape in this country. However, do the players feel the same way about Chicago vs. Green Bay as the fans do? The Bears are a 5-9 football team right now and going absolutely nowhere, while the Packers are 12-2 and still in the hunt for home field advantage in the NFC, so would a season sweep really mean that much to the Midway Monsters?

Don't look for the Bears to take solace in moral victories after such a disappointing campaign, although the Grabowskis will relish any bragging rights they can scrape from their Cheesehead adversaries this year.

John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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