Game Preview Notes: 21 Things You Don't Know

In a pass-happy NFL, the Packers have found something resembling offensive balance. Also, the Bears are going to throw the ball against the Packers' last-ranked pass defense. Or, maybe they'll run it. That and more in the best game preview anywhere.

While quarterbacks around the league are piling up astronomical numbers, the Green Bay Packers have found balance with the running game.

It's only two weeks, but the Packers rank 11th in the NFL with 113.5 rushing yards per game. It's a stark contrast to last season. The Packers rushed for 132 yards against Philadelphia in Week 1 but followed it up with 91, 63 and 92 yards over the next three games, giving them a four-game average of 94.5 rushing yards per game. For the season, the Packers averaged 100.0 per game.

The difference is obvious. Last season, the Packers lost Grant for the season in the second quarter of the Philadelphia game and didn't find a running game until James Starks burst onto the scene in the playoffs. This season, Grant is healthy but it's been Starks who has been outstanding. Among running backs with at least 20 carries, Starks' 6.8 yards per carry trails only the 6.9 of Atlanta's Michael Turner.

"It's just executing," standout right guard Josh Sitton said. "It's guys getting their blocks done, and we've got a couple running backs that put their head down and hit the hole — one cut and go and run hard. I really like the running back tandem we've got back there."

Stability on the offensive line hasn't hurt, either, with the only change from last season being at left guard, where T.J. Lang replaced Daryn Colledge. Lang has added a much more physical presence to the line.

"I don't know if it's just me being a difference," Lang said. "I think it's a matter of everybody taking more pride in the run game. You see receivers flying out of nowhere and blocking safeties for extra yards. I think everybody is taking more pride on this team. We want to be a more balanced offense instead of a pass-heavy type of group. I think Daryn and I are different players. There's a lot of things that he did well and some things that I might do better, but my goal is not to live up to the player he was or do anything better than he did. I'm just going to go out and help this offense win. I think the mind-set around here has been different. After the first two weeks of running the ball effectively, we realize that we can run the ball and pass the ball. The more balance we have, the more dangerous we are."

Speaking of the running game

What will be the Bears' approach to offense?

That's the million-dollar question.

The Packers rank 32nd in the league in pass defense, so attacking would seem to be the common-sense approach. All week, however, the Bears have lamented their play-calling from last week's game at New Orleans – specifically the second half, when the Bears threw it 29 times and ran it just twice. Moreover, this team was reconfigured during the offseason to be more of a running team. That's why the Bears traded pass-catching tight end Greg Olsen and signed big Matt Spaeth away from Pittsburgh. Plus, they have a fullback on the roster after going without last year.

"I think last year when we played them, they didn't play as many personnel groups as they are now," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "They'll go three wide receivers with two backs in there, where a year ago it was all three wide receivers with one back and a tight end back there. So, that gives them a little more flexibility."

Or, maybe they won't run it

Then again, there is that Packers pass defense …

While Green Bay hardly is immune to giving up big passing games, the numbers are stunning. Last season, the Packers ranked fifth in the NFL by allowing 224.8 net passing yards per game. This season, they rank 32nd with 400.0 per game.

Broached with the theory that the lockout took away valuable practice time at such a technique-driven position, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said his players actually are scoring better on technique this season.

So, what's the problem?

"It's less of what other teams have done to us and more of what we've done to ourselves," Whitt said. "The opponent really doesn't matter. We've got to handle our business. We've got to play football the way that we play. We've got to communicate together. We have to carry routes; we can't drop coverages. We've got to take care of Packer business because the opponent doesn't matter."

Lies, damned lies and statistics

What's interesting is nobody seems overly concerned about the Packers' pass defense. Other than the fans, of course.

"I'll say this, as long as we win the game, (Jay Cutler) can throw for as many yards as he wants to," Capers said. "As a defensive coach, you'd always rather be 3 to nothing than 43-40. The key is making the plays, whatever it takes to win the game."

And that's what the Packers have done, with a third-ranked red zone defense that has seen them allow three touchdowns on 11 red zone possessions. Plus, they rank fourth with seven sacks and five takeaways.

"Last week, after a poor first series, we battled, did the same thing we did out here the week before, making key plays," Capers said. "The best thing we've done is play well in the red zone and take the ball away. Our goal is to keep them out of the end zone. I'm not going to get too hung up on all of the yardage. That's good talking points for everybody. But, obviously, we want to make progress there, but the key is we make the plays that enable us to win the game and improve as we go along. We've had real close, hard-fought games against these guys. I think we've played fairly consistent defensive games, and I expect our guys to go out and play well."

Low scoring?

While the Packers are 4-1 in their last five games against the Bears, it hasn't been easy. In fact, every game has been a backyard brawl of sorts, with the winning team scoring 21, 21, 20, 10 and 21 points.

The Packers beat the Bears 21-14 in the NFC Championship Game last season, with the offense scoring 14 of Green Bay's points. It sure didn't seem that way at the start.

Green Bay took the opening drive 84 yards on seven plays, with Aaron Rodgers hitting Greg Jennings for 22 and 26 yards and Jordy Nelson for 22 to set up Rodgers' 1-yard touchdown run on a bootleg. Green Bay took its fourth possession 56 yards on five plays to make it 14-0, with a 16-yard screen to Brandon Jackson, 12-yard run by Starks and 15-yard completion to Nelson setting up Starks' 4-yard scoring run. The Packers were in position to make it 21-0 on their first possession of the second half but Brian Urlacher intercepted Rodgers' end zone pass to Donald Driver.

After that, the Packers managed 52 yards on their final six possessions. Clearly, the Bears made the proper adjustments.

"We've played them a number of times," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "They kind of know us, we kind of know them, so in those type of games, it gets down to execution. Who can do their thing better? We're not going to invent a whole new plan to beat the Bears. Our study of them has told us that they believe in their defense and how they play it, and I think that they'll stick with what they do. We certainly aren't going to say we've got them figured out. It'll be a matter of execution."

Rodgers agreed with Philbin's assessment that it will come down to execution rather than scheme.

"Both teams the last five games or so, the team that makes the least mistakes is going to win," Rodgers said. "You look at the three games we played last year - the first game we had a lot of yards and 17 penalties and took points off the board. That's why we lost. The second game, they made more mistakes than us and we beat them 10-3. Third game, we made enough plays to win and they made a few more mistakes than us."

The Bears' game plan

Chicago's defensive plan is basically the same every week: Pressure the passer with its front four, play coverage with seven and eventually force the opposing offense to make a mistake.

That's especially true this week because of the way Rodgers has destroyed the blitz. Through two games, he boasts a league-best 144.6 passer rating against the blitz, with 20-of-29 accuracy for 352 yards and three touchdowns. Since the start of the 2009 season, Rodgers has a league-best 111.5 rating against the blitz.

Lucky No. 50

-- If you're a regular reader, you know that Rodgers boasts the best passer rating (99.5) and lowest interception percentage (1.9) in NFL history. On Sunday, he'll make his 50th career start. Rodgers, the league's second-ranked passer this season at a lofty 126.4, has posted 27 games of 100-plus ratings in his first 49 starts. At the 50-start milestone, Dallas' Tony Romo holds the record with 27 games of 100-plus ratings. Kurt Warner had 24 and Ben Roethlisgberger 23.

-- Rodgers has thrown five touchdown passes and is one of four quarterbacks with no interceptions. Over his last eight games (including playoffs), Rodgers has completed 68.7 percent of his passes for 2,347 yards, 19 touchdowns, three interceptions and a rating of 116.1.

-- Incredibly given the stellar quarterbacking history in Green Bay, Rodgers is the first Green Bay quarterback to open a season with back-to-back 300-yard games.

Charles in charge

-- This should come as no surprise considering the number of defensive players who have won the Heisman Trophy, but Charles Woodson is the only Heisman winner to have picked off a Heisman winner – a feat he's done four times after bagging two interceptions against Cam Newton last week. Woodson also has grabbed passes from Matt Leinart (2006 and 2009), Vinny Testaverde (2007) and Carson Palmer (2009).

-- With 49 career interceptions, Woodson trails only Baltimore's Ed Reed (56) among active players. Only 36 players have notched at least 50 career interceptions. One of them right at 50 is Terrell Buckley, of all people. For a loftier pedestal, only 19 players have 55 interceptions.

Division and conquer

-- The Packers are 21-9 against NFC North teams under McCarthy. That's the best in the NFC, with his .700 winning percentage trailing only New England (24-7, .774); San Diego (23-7, .767) and Indianapolis (22-9; .710). Moreover, McCarthy is 9-6 in division road games.

"Division games are very important," McCarthy said. "It's something we emphasize, like I'm sure everybody else does, in the offseason. It seems to work for us. I don't really know what our record here compares to other teams. I still remember the ones that got away from us. We do a good job in preparation for our division opponents. We feel that we have an understanding on what they're trying to do and keep track on what we've done in those games. The biggest credit goes to our players."

-- Once upon a time, Lovie Smith held the upper hand over McCarthy and the Packers. However, with the win in the NFC Championship Game, McCarthy owns a 6-5 record against Smith – including a sweep in 2009 and a 2-1 mark in 2010.

Even with an entire offseason to plot against each other, McCarthy expects few of the unscouted looks that are prevalent during the first four games of each season.

"I don't think there will be a whole lot this week. There will be some," he said. "I'm sure their offense will have some concepts or plays for our defense that we haven't seen. They'll have something different for us defensively. But I don't think it will be far from the origin of how they play and how they line up as far as their base coverages and base fronts and pressures. No different with the special teams. I think this game will be more about the fundamentals, who takes care of the ball, who is the most disciplined team, as far as penalties. Those are what the statistics tell you in our past meetings."

-- Green Bay went 4-2 against division rivals last season, making McCarthy a perfect 5-for-5 in boasting a winning division record. Only New England can match that achievement.

History lessons

-- The Bears lead the series 92-84-6, including a split of the teams' two playoff games. However, the Packers have won 14 of the last 19 games at Soldier Field.

-- That the Packers are 2-0 is a good sign for their playoff hopes. Since the NFL went to its 12-team playoff format in 1990, 64.0 percent of teams that start 2-0 reach the playoffs. The Bears aren't in bad shape, with 40.8 percent of 1-1 teams qualifying for the postseason. Only 12.4 percent of teams that start 0-2 reach the playoffs.

-- The Packers are 6-0 under McCarthy in their first road game of the season. They're the only team to achieve that feat over the last six seasons, and McCarthy is the first coach since Chicago's Mike Ditka (1984 through 1991) to win six consecutive road openers with the same team.

Bears nuggets

-- Chicago is opening the season with games against Atlanta (13-3), New Orleans (11-5) and Green Bay (10-6). Their combined win total of 34 from last season is the most for the Bears in a three-game stretch to open the season.

-- The magic number for the Bears is 100 – as in Cutler's passer rating. Cutler's career record is 22-0 when his rating hits the century mark, including 12-0 with Chicago. For the record, Rodgers is 21-6 in his 100-plus games.

-- How good is Bears running back Matt Forte? Since entering the league in 2008, he ranks third in the NFL with 5,055 yards from scrimmage. Only Tennessee's Chris Johnson (5,720) and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson (5,588) have more. Only Forte and Baltimore's Ray Rice have 3,000 rushing yards and 1,500 receiving yards during that span.

Extra point

-- Plenty has been written about Driver passing James Lofton to become the Packers' career leader in receiving yards. Here's one more: With 9,666 yards, Driver ranks 37th in NFL history and is trying to become the 35th player to top 10,000 yards.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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