World's Best Preview: Pressure Everywhere

How have the Packers made up for the loss of Clay Matthews? How big of a problem is Chicago's receiver corps? What's especially impressive about the Bears' offense? Plus one bad note on the Packers' offensive line and much more in our 20-point, 3,700-word preview that is filled with information you won't find anywhere else.

The Green Bay Packers' defense hasn't just survived without Clay Matthews.

It's thrived.

Matthews broke his thumb against Detroit in Week 4. He'll miss his fourth consecutive game on Monday night against Chicago. Without him, the Packers allowed a total of 61 points in victories against Baltimore, Cleveland and Minnesota. That total is inflated by the Vikings' two garbage-time touchdowns last week.

A big reason for the defense's success has been a surprisingly strong pass rush. The Packers have 11 sacks over the last three games. Six players have contributed those sacks: A.J. Hawk and Mike Daniels with three, Jamari Lattimore with two, and Nick Perry, Micah Hyde and Tramon Williams with one each.

For the season, Green Bay has gotten at least one full sack from 12 players. That's third in the league behind Cleveland (15) and Oakland (13).

That's standard operating procedure under defensive coordinator Dom Capers. The Packers had 14 players with a sack in 2009 and 2010 and tied the team record with 15 sacks in 2012.

"I think we've always been (that way)," Capers said. "Our style of play lends itself to bringing different people from different places. Over the years, I think that the number of guys that have sacks in this defense is normally higher than most people because most people don't bring their defensive backs as much as we do. Our linebackers come from all different angles. Our defensive line, we're in a four-down look some, we're in a three-down look some. Guys get opportunities. They get opportunities to come and pressure in our defense."

Of course, part of it's by necessity without Matthews and, to a lesser extent, Perry.

Hawk had his three-sack game against Baltimore, and Lattimore had a sack against Cleveland and Minnesota, giving the inside linebackers five. At defensive back, Hyde also had a sack against Baltimore and Williams had one against Cleveland. For the season, the Packers have four sacks from defensive backs — Davon House and M.D. Jennings have the others — one behind Oakland but equaling the franchise record.

"It's good to see other guys pick it up and kind of fill that void if you lose a pass rusher like Clay," Capers said.

The one player who's really picked it up is Daniels, who had two sacks last week and one against Cleveland. He's got a team-high four sacks and is second with seven quarterback hits, according to the coaches' count. He's taken 154 pass-rushing snaps, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Last season, he had two sacks and six quarterback hits in 145 pass-rushing snaps.

That's impressive production at what typically is not a featured position.

"There are a lot of defenses that just line up four defensive linemen and rush the (passer), but we don't do that," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "You can see by how many different players have sacks for us. There's a lot of little things that go into rushing the quarterback here that's different from most places. There's a lot to learn and just the experience he has and the time — he's a diligent study guy. He really studies his opponent, so that really helps him out."

2. GIANTS OF THE MIDWAY

The Bears will challenge the Packers' defense with some big targets.

Tight end Martellus Bennett is 6-foot-6 1/8. Receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are 6-foot-4 1/2 and 6-foot-2 7/8, respectively.

With an asterisk, that's the tallest starting trio in the league, at a combined 19 feet, 1 1/2 inch. (Detroit, with 6-foot-6 Kris Durham replacing injured 6-foot-1/2 inch Nate Burleson, checks in at 19 feet, 4 3/8 inches. With Burleson joining Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew, the Lions are at 18 feet, 10 7/8 inches).

New Orleans' trio of Marques Colston, Nick Toon and Jimmy Graham stands 19 feet, 1 inch, followed by Denver's Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas at 18 feet, 11 inches, Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Jim Dray at 18 feet 10 5/8 inches, and Cleveland's Greg Little, Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron at 18 feet 10 5/8 inches, as well.

"Receivers come in all sizes. We happen to have some big ones," Bears coach Marc Trestman said during a conference call on Thursday. "We're not the fastest group in the world but we do have guys who are good technicians and have good length and a catching radius, which helps. You can see around the league that quarterbacks are doing it with a lot of different kinds of receivers, and Aaron (Rodgers) does it with different kinds of receivers – has done it with a lot of different kinds of  receivers with all the injuries that they've faced up there. We've got guys with very, very good football intelligence that love the game, that work real hard and they happen to be big guys. It certainly doesn't hurt."

Jeffery ranks 18th with 561 receiving yards and Marshall is 21st with 540 yards. Only Denver (Thomas, Decker and Wes Welker) and Cleveland (Cameron and Gordon) have two players in the top 21.

Since entering the league in 2006, Marshall is third in the NFL with 658 receptions and seventh with 8,295 receiving yards. Since joining the Bears in 2012, he's tied with James Jones for third with 16 touchdown catches. They're 6-3 when he has a 100-yard game.

Jeffery had a team-record 218 receiving yards against the Saints, breaking Harlon Hill's 59-year-old record of 214. Among tight ends, Bennett ranks eighth with 32 receptions and 10th with 356 yards and four touchdowns.

"They've got big guys but we've faced big guys over the years," Packers cornerbacks coach Tramon Williams said. "You can't be overly aggressive with guys like that.  Those guys are looking for that type of challenge. It'll probably be a better outcome for them if you want to battle them around, knowing that they're bigger than you. You've got to feel them out, not be too aggressive. Obviously those guys present a challenge but, at the same time, we have our own intangibles, too. We'll stick to that."

It comes down to footwork, not strength, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said.

"You position your feet first," Whitt explained. "Everybody's talking about press and you press with your hands. No, you press with your feet first. You get your feet in position and then you bring your hands and you can control big-bodied guys if you're positioned well. Once they start to push and lean, now you have to fight pressure with pressure."

3. POINT-A-PALOOZA

What the Packers and Bears are doing on offense this season is remarkable.

Chicago, with new coach Trestman installing a new scheme, is No. 2 in the league with 30.4 points per game. Green Bay, with three of its top four playmakers in the passing game out with injuries, is No. 3 with 30.3 points per game.

With the Bears at such an early stage in Trestman's tenure, the belief is they haven't reached peak efficiency.

"Yeah, I think you hit it exactly right," Trestman said. "It's hard for us to feel like we've scratched the surface. We're still trying to figure out the best places to get people lined up and the best schematics to use during the course of the game and just how to use the talent that we have. It's challenging each and every week to try to spread the ball around because we do have good players at a lot of different positions. We're not extending ourselves in terms of trying to do it all right now. We're just trying to get better every day in practice, focus on our work ethic and building a foundation for something that could be great as we move forward."


The Packers lost a big edge with Matthews vs. Webb. Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports

The Bears are vastly improved on offense. Bennett adds a big threat at tight end and Jermon Bushrod is a major upgrade at left tackle as a free-agent acquisition from New Orleans. Last season, Matthews tallied 5.5 sacks in the two games against J'Marcus Webb. For Monday night, Bushrod is in and Matthews is out, which mitigates a big mismatch.

"They've really improved their offense," Capers said. "It's a lot different offense than what we've played against. You hit it right on the head right there: They've gone out and got a receiving tight end who's a big target. Jeffery has made tremendous improvement from Year 1 to Year 2. Marshall's always been a guy that is unique in his size and ability to catch the ball and very good with the ball after the catch — good at stiff-arming and making yardage after the catch. And then you add (Matt) Forte in there because Forte is one of the best all-around backs in the league."

THE OTHER SIDELINE

— 4. Lovie Smith might be gone and the defense might be giving up points by the bushel, but the Bears still know how to force turnovers. They entered the week ranked fifth in the league with 18 takeaways on a second-ranked eight fumbles and sixth-ranked 10 interceptions.

It's not just the takeaways, it's what the Bears do off of them. Chicago ranks second in the league with 69 points off of those turnovers, including four touchdowns by the defense.

Unbelievably, the Bears have 11 pick-sixes since the start of the 2012 season, including three this season. Only six teams have as many as five interceptions returned for touchdowns during that span. Chicago is 24-2 when scoring a defensive touchdown since 2005.

So much of the focus is on cornerback Charles Tillman — and for good reason. Since entering the league in 2003, Tillman ranks second with 41 forced fumbles and fifth with 36 interceptions. Of the top 12 fumble producers during Tillman's career, he's the only defensive back. Charles Woodson, for reference, has forced 20 fumbles since 2003.

It's not just Tillman, though. Tim Jennings leads the NFL with 12 interceptions since the start of last season, including a league-high nine last year. He has "only" three this season but that's still more than Green Bay's entire secondary. Jennings has a combined six interceptions, forced fumbles (two) and fumble recoveries (one), which is tied for No. 1 in the NFL. Plus, safety Major Wright ranks third among safeties with nine interceptions since he joined the starting lineup in 2011.

"We really do have some players that have a knack for taking the ball away," Trestman said. "We've seen that as we went through OTAs and minicamp. We hope it continues. We know it won't be easy against a quarterback and the team that we're playing on Monday night."

— 5. Another big-time turnover producer is Julius Peppers. Since entering the league in 2002, Chicago's star defensive end has forced 38 fumbles, good for fourth in the league.

He'll be a big-time challenge for rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari, who shut out Minnesota's Jared Allen last week. Allen ranks first in the NFL with 121.5 sacks since 2002. Peppers is third with 112.5, though he has just one this season.

A few weeks ago, offensive line coach James Campen said Bakhtiari was growing with every week because of the different body types he had seen, ranging from explosive Aldon Smith, to powerful Brian Orakpo and Terrell Suggs, to rangy Charles Johnson.

"Julius Peppers is kind of his own guy," Campen said on Friday. "He's a powerful man that has exceptional quickness, excellent length, very strong, savvy — obviously been in the league a long time and is playing at a high level. It's a different challenge. This will be a new one for him to put in there and build his library."

Bakhtiari hasn't allowed a sack in any of his last three games, though his five holding penalties are second-most in the league.

"I think he's got his own book," Bakhtiari said. "He mixes in being a veteran player with the size, with the speed, with the strength. It's going to be a great test. I'm going to have to put all my books together for this guy."

— 6. Matt Forte is one of the game's best all-around running backs. Now in his sixth season, Forte ranks in the top five in franchise history in yards from scrimmage per game (second; 103.0), games with 150 yards from scrimmage (second; 13), rushing yards (third; 5,860), 100-yard rushing games (third; 15), receiving yards by a running back (third; 2,587) and yards from scrimmage (third; 8,447). Barring an injury, Forte will move past Neal Anderson for second place in rushing (8,929) and yards from scrimmage (6,166) this season. Since Forte entered the league in 2008, he ranks fourth in the league among all players in yards from scrimmage behind Adrian Peterson (9,461), Chris Johnson (9,079) and Ray Rice (8,589), and his 302 receptions trails only Rice (335) and Darren Sproles (330) among running backs.

"Forte is one of those guys that you can't ever relax on," Capers said. "He's had a 50- and a 55-yard run. Very smooth. One of the best receiving backs, I think, in the league. He does a great job, he can run routes. You've got to be careful playing good leverage on him because he has the ability to break away."

With that said, the Packers have done well against him. In nine career games against the Packers, he has rushed for 465 yards, averaged 3.4 yards per rush and scored one touchdown

"He can do everything: Power, speed, agility," Lattimore said. "Whatever you want, he's got it. What more can you say? He can run away from you. All-around, complete back."

— 7. Chicago's Robbie Gould is the gold standard for kickers. He ranks third in NFL history with 85.9 percent accuracy — a remarkable figure considering the challenges of kicking at Soldier Field. Gould has connected on 12 consecutive attempts from 50-plus yards — tied for the longest streak in NFL history — including a 58-yarder against Cincinnati in the opener. Among kickers with at least 10 career attempts from 50-plus, Minnesota's Blair Walsh is a best-ever 92.3 percent, followed by George Blanda (80 percent; 8-of-10) and Gould (78.9 percent; 15-of-19).

NOTEWORTHY NUMBERS

— 8. The onetime Monsters of the Midway, who gained acclaim as defensive demons with the likes of Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher at middle linebacker, are fielding a monstrosity of a defense. The Bears rank 29th in the league with 29.4 points allowed per game. They've allowed 40-plus points twice, including a 45-41 loss at Washington before the bye.

It's a different cast of characters, obviously, without linebackers Urlacher (retired) and Lance Briggs (shoulder), but the Bears have given Rodgers problems. Green Bay has averaged 22.8 points per game in Rodgers' 11 starts against the Bears. His overall output of 28.25 points per start is tops in NFL history.

— 9. Green Bay's clutch drive to open last week's game gave it 23 opening-possession points this season. That ranks fifth in the league and is already more than its 25th-ranked 21 points last season.

— 10. With its 44-31 victory over Minnesota on Sunday, Green Bay snapped an eight-game losing streak when allowing at least 30 points. The Packers are 5-22 when allowing 30-plus points under coach Mike McCarthy.

— 11. As you might expect from offenses ranked second and third in the league in scoring, the Bears are No. 1 with 6.81 yards per first-down play while the Packers are No. 4 with 6.28 yards on first down. The Packers, with their injuries, and the Bears, with their lack of explosive playmakers, have shown that slow and steady can win the race. Green Bay is tied for second with 17 touchdown drives of 60-plus yards. The Bears are sixth with 16.

HISTORY LESSONS

— 12. Chicago will be going without Jay Cutler, but is that a big loss for the Bears? Including one game with Denver in 2007, Cutler is 1-8 against the Packers. He's completed 60 percent of his passes just twice, and thrown nine touchdown passes against 16 interceptions. In his eight games against the Packers as a member of the Bears, Cutler never threw more touchdown passes than interceptions. For this season, Cutler's 64.0 percent accuracy is by far the best in franchise history; Jim Harbaugh (1993) and Brian Griese (2007) are next at 61.5 percent.

— 13. Though Chicago leads the series 92-88-6, Green Bay has won six in a row. Those games haven't been particularly close, either, with the Packers owning an average margin of victory of 9.8. One of those games was Christmas 2011, when Monday's starter, Josh McCown, started and threw for 242 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in a 35-21 verdict. McCown also started against Green Bay while with Oakland in 2007, going a woeful 7-of-15 for 110 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in a 38-7 romp.

"I think that our team feels very good about Josh," Trestman said. "He's a guy who transcends our locker room. He has great leadership qualities, as well, just like Jay does, so I think the team feels — certainly coming out of the Washington game — that he gives us an excellent chance to go out and move the football and have success."

— 14. Williams is sixth in the NFL with 15 interceptions (including playoffs) since the start of 2010. However, much of that production is old news. He intercepted two passes last season — both against Chicago in Week 2 of last season. He hasn't had one since, meaning he hasn't intercepted a pass in 21 consecutive games.

— 15. Against Minnesota last week, the Packers didn't punt for the first time in almost a quarter-century. The opponent? Against the Bears on Dec. 17, 1989. Green Bay won that game 40-28 on an 8-degree day at Soldier Field. Don Majkowski threw for 244 yards with three total touchdowns (two rushing) and Keith Woodside had 116 of the 217 rushing yards.

FOUR-POINT STANCE

— 16. The Packers have had a problem closing out games, so if it's close in the fourth quarter, they might be in some trouble. Green Bay has been outscored 80-43 in the fourth quarter while Chicago has outscored its opponents 68-29 in the final stanza. In fact, the Bears have outscored their foes in six of seven fourth quarters (and tied them in the other game).

By contrast, Green Bay has been outscored in six of seven fourth quarters (exception being 14-7 against Cleveland in Week 7). The Packers have given up 80 points in the final quarter, including five games with at least 13 points allowed, compared to 78 in the first three quarters.

"We've done a nice job in the first half," Capers said. "Of the seven games, people are averaging just a little over six points against us in the first half. If we can match that in the second half … The encouraging thing to me is if you can do it in the first half, you can certainly do it in the second half. We just have to do it consistently in the second half. That's kind of our goal as we head into Monday night."

— 17. Chicago opened the season by beating Cincinnati, Minnesota and Pittsburgh to start 3-0. Since, it's lost to Detroit and New Orleans, with a victory over the Giants before a loss to the Redskins. Of the four victories, the Bengals are 6-3 but the Vikings, Steelers and Giants are a combined 5-17.

— 18. The Packers' offensive line has played beyond expectations in leading an attack that ranks third in rushing, fourth in rushing and fifth in passing. The one black mark, however, has been a 31st-ranked 17 penalties for offensive holding, according to league data. Of those, 11 have been charged against the line: the aforementioned five by Bakhtiari, three by left guard Josh Sitton, two by right tackle Don Barclay and one by center Evan Dietrich-Smith.

"Yeah, very much so," Campen said of being aware of the penalty total. "Don't like them at all. Obviously, we need to get better at that. We need to release more. Some people might say, ‘Well, that's a bad call' but I'm not into that crap. If it's called, it's a hold. If you have your arms inside and your hands are inside and you're moving your feet, those things don't happen. It certainly is something that we have to clean up. We've had a few more this year than I would have liked and we do need to clean that up. You're 100 percent correct."

— 19. In situational football, Green Bay has the edge on third down and the Bears have the edge in the red zone. On third down, the Packers are third on offense (46.4 percent) and 10th on defense (35.8 percent) compared to 21st on offense (36.1 percent) and 28th on defense (44.3 percent) for Chicago. In the red zone, the Packers are tied for 18th on offense (50.0 percent touchdowns) and 32nd on defense (72.7 percent) compared to fifth on offense (65.4 percent) and 11th on defense (50.0 percent).

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Or, the best thing that was said that we couldn't work into a story this week.

— 20. Capers, on the challenge it would be stopping Green Bay's newly balanced offense: "I think it's the toughest thing in football. Part of our plan normally is to try and make the game as one-dimensional as we can. If you can do that, it certainly aids you in terms of if you only have to play the pass or only have to play the run. When you're playing somebody that does both and does both efficiently, that makes it double tough."


Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.


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.


Packer Report Top Stories