Behind Enemy Lines: Inside the Packers

We begin our three-part preview of Sunday's game at Chicago with five questions from Bear Report's Jeremy Stoltz to Packer Report's Bill Huber. How will the Packers respond without Nick Collins? How will the Packers attack a Bears defense that has had its number?

Jeremy: The Packers have given up more than 400 passing yards in each their first two contests and are 30th in the league in total yards against. The secondary took a huge hit this week with Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins sustaining a season-ending neck injury. How does the team replace Collins and will Dom Capers have to adjust his defensive strategy against the Bears?

Bill: We'll get a better reading on this at Wednesday's practice, but for the most part, they'll insert veteran Charlie Peprah into Collins' spot and go from there.

Peprah was the primary safety opposite Collins last season after Morgan Burnett sustained a season-ending knee injury in Week 4. Peprah did fine, relying more on brains and film study than sheer athleticism. That generally worked, though he got lucky a few times — including the NFC title game last year, when Jay Cutler overthrew Devin Hester in the end zone after Hester had gotten behind Peprah.

Knowing Capers, though, he'll play a little mix-and-match. In that Chicago game, the Packers' starting secondary was Collins at safety and Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields at cornerback. So, they could go that route, too, with Burnett as the lone safety alongside the cornerbacks.

With Collins and Peprah, not much changed strategically. I'm not so sure the same can be said with Burnett and Peprah until Burnett shows he's got complete command of all the subtle adjustments that must be made on the fly in the heat of the moment. All the coaches say he's smart. Now he's got to prove he's up to the task or else Capers will have to put some of his playbook in mothballs.

Jeremy: The Bears' defense is one of the few in the league that has had any consistent success against Green Bay's high-powered offense. What are the keys for the Packers on offense this week in attacking Chicago's defense?


Rodgers surveys the Bears' defense
Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire
Bill: I asked you the opposite about what makes the Bears so successful against Green Bay's offense. Really, it's incredible that the Packers' high-powered offense scored 41 points (the defense scored the other seven) in three games against Chicago last season. The Packers scored 48 points against Atlanta in the playoffs and 45 twice in the regular season, to add some context.

Lovie Smith simply seems to have Mike McCarthy figured out. I thought maybe the tables had been turned in the NFC Championship Game when Green Bay dominated early, but Brian Urlacher's goal-line interception turned the tide and every first down became a struggle.

Now, can the Bears slow down an attack with four veteran receivers, an electric rookie receiver in Randall Cobb, a healthy Jermichael Finley and what looks like an honest-to-goodness running game? If Aaron Rodgers remains patient, I think his playmakers will make the plays to win the game.

Jeremy: New Orleans showed last week that getting pressure through the blitz can debilitate Chicago's offense. Do you foresee Capers dialing up a similar amount of blitzes as did Saints coordinator Gregg Williams and can they be just as effective?

Bill: No doubt about it. Look at the championship game last season and all the key plays that were made with the blitz, whether it was Shields' strip-sack or Shields' blitz that wound up being the pivotal pick-six by B.J. Raji. Or, look at the must-win Week 17 game at Lambeau, when Jay Cutler was sacked six times — including three by street free agent Erik Walden, of all people — and just performed miserably.

Besides, the Packers are having all sorts of problems covering people despite boasting the top-ranked pass defense in terms of quarterback rating last season. The secondary — especially as it moves on without Collins — could use the help.

Jeremy: After having virtually no run game last season, Green Bay is 11th in the league so far in rushing, using the two-headed attack of Ryan Grant and James Starks. Talk about how these two complement each other and what needs to happen for them to have success against the Bears.


Starks carries Manning
Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire
Bill: Unless Grant has a breakout performance, it's going to be a one-man show pretty soon. Starks has been superb. Among running backs with more than a dozen carries, Starks ranks second in the NFL with 6.8 yards per carry. He ripped off a 40-yarder out of the Packers' inverted wishbone against Carolina, and had a pounding 17-yard touchdown against New Orleans.

Physically, they're kind of the same guy: Both are about 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds. Grant doesn't dilly-dally; he sees an opening and goes. If he hits a hole on the fly, he's a potential home run threat. Starks is a bit more nimble, with a great ability to make himself small to slither through a hole. Starks has better vision and is the far better receiving threat.

The Packers' running game reminds me of the Saints in 2009. While everyone was focused on Drew Brees, they finished sixth in the league in rushing and tied for fifth in yards per carry. With Starks and with right guard Josh Sitton and right tackle Bryan Bulaga giving the Packers a powerful tandem, defenses are focusing on the pass at their own risk.

Jeremy: RB Matt Forte is by far the biggest weapon for Chicago's offense. How can the Packers corral Forte and stop him from beating them?

Bill: Shoot, why does Capers have to stop Forte? Isn't that Martz's job?

OK, OK ... The Packers have their work cut out here. Though they've done pretty well against Forte — 3.6 yards per carry and 7.2 yards per reception in six career games — he was running wild against Green Bay in the regular-season finale with 15 carries for 91 yards and eight catches for 60 yards. But, inexplicably, Martz had Cutler in the pocket 45 times in that 10-3 loss. Martz was better in the title game, with Forte getting 27 touches (including 10 receptions).

The Packers had no answers to Carolina's screen game last week, with Jonathan Stewart (eight for 100) and DeAngelo Williams (four for 23) combining for 12 catches for 123 yards. Without tight end Greg Olsen to worry about, I'd expect Capers to focus the game plan on Forte and hope that his struggling cornerbacks break out of their early-season funk.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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