New-Look Bears Offense Gives Packers Fits

Bunched formations. Stacked wide receivers. A backup quarterback. The Bears' offense imposed its will on the Packers' defense despite being a heavy underdog. In particular, the defensive backs had a tough night, with an old nemesis – missed tackles – playing a role.

Jay Cutler has just one win against the Green Bay Packers over eight games spanning the past four seasons.

On Monday night, his backup - making his first start in almost two years - equaled that win total.

Josh McCown, filling in while Cutler recovers from a groin injury, did his part to help the Chicago Bears upset the Packers, 27-20, at Lambeau Field. Both teams are tied at 5-3, with the Detroit Lions, atop the NFC North.

McCown last made a start for the Bears in the 2011 season finale. He also started the two games prior, one game of which was a Christmas Day clash against, coincidentally, the Packers.

"Coming into the game, I told some of the guys in the meeting room, ‘Now, don't take this guy McCown for a joke. He's been a starter in this league for a while, he's just been playing the backup role for a few years now,'" said Packers veteran cornerback Tramon Williams. "But I knew this guy could play. He came out and did what he had to do today."

In the end, backup quarterbacks became the compelling story of the 187th meeting of the NFL's oldest rivalry. The Packers' Aaron Rodgers, unable to return with a shoulder injury after the game's first series, was replaced by Seneca Wallace. McCown was looking to build off a strong effort in relief of Cutler against the Washington Redskins before the Bears' bye last week.

While Cutler has been dreadful against the Packers in his career (completing just 60 percent of his passes twice with 16 interceptions against just nine touchdowns in nine career games), McCown charted a steady course. He completed just 22 of 41 passes (for 272 yards), but did not commit a turnover and was sacked just once. He got rid of the ball when necessary and got it in the hands of his primary playmakers. On two touchdowns – a 23-yarder to Brandon Marshall and a 6-yarder to Alshon Jeffrey, McCown gave his receivers a shot against tight man coverage. Size won out.

"In this league, things go like that. Guys make plays," said Packers cornerback Sam Shields. "They're some big, good receivers. This is the NFL. They're going to catch balls and they're going to make plays. But our thing is just that we've got to get off the field on third down and just try to get takeaways however we can so we can help the offense out."

In a tight game the whole way, the Bears converted 6-of-14 third downs to the Packers' 1-of-9. But it was the Bears' final offensive drive that stung the most. Leading 24-20 with 9:48 remaining, the Bears chewed up 8:58, all but ending the Packers' chances. They converted two third downs on the drive and one fourth down on a gutsy call by coach Marc Trestman. At the Bears' 32-yard line, running back Matt Forte went around left end for 3 yards on a fourth-and-1, eluding tackle attempts of A.J. Hawk and Morgan Burnett in the backfield.

"It was a tough angle for me but in my opinion I feel like I still could've got him," said Burnett of his tackle attempt. "There was a lineman coming to block me and it was a tough angle but I just tried to sell out. But in my opinion, I'm hard on myself, I feel like I could've got him. It could have been a big spot for our team."

Instead, the Bears used the conversion to chew up more time on the clock. The result was an 18-play, 80-yard drive ending in a field goal. The Bears ran 12 times on the drive.

Forte, who finished with 125 yards on 24 carries, challenged the Packers' fourth-ranked run defense.

"Defensively, we didn't do a very good job of stopping the run," said head coach Mike McCarthy. "The tackling to me, without seeing the tape, it looked like we had a lot of missed tackles and also in the passing game. The way the fourth quarter went was disappointing. It's kind of been a disappointment for our football team as the year has moved on. It's a situation where we continue to focus on and try to improve on it but it did not happen tonight."

The defensive backs took their share of the blame in run defense as overmatched physically as they were. They saw as much action trying to avoid wide receiver blocks on the outside as they did trying to cover them in pass defense. As Packer Report reported in its World's Best Preview of the game, the Bears feature the tallest starting trio of receivers in the league (tight end Martellus Bennett, Marshall, and Jeffrey). Trestman used that size to his advantage by throwing bunched and stacked receiver sets at the Packers throughout the game.

"It's kind of hard for us because it's just one of those things that you've got to fight through," said Shields. "Just fight through that bunch and things like that. They try to pick you and rub routes and that's kind of hard for us as DB's when guys get in a bunch, a tea cup. That comes from film, knowing what formations they're in, knowing what they run out of those formations things like that. Like I said, they made some good plays. We've just got to get off on third down and give it to the offense."

After catching just eight passes for 80 yards in two games against the Packers last season, Marshall led the Bears with seven catches for 107 yards. All told, the "tallest" trio caught 16 passes, though it took 30 McCown targets to do so.

On the clock-milking drive in the fourth quarter, the Bears kept the Packers' smaller nickel package on the field by employing multiple receiver formations. It seemed to pay off on some deciding outside runs by Forte.

"We knew going in (they are) big, physical receivers," said McCarthy. "They did a good job blocking us, probably factored in their run game production. I can't be specific with that without looking at the video. They had separation on us in coverage and made a lot of plays. So, they had a lot of production on offense."

The Bears' 442 yards were the most surrendered by the Packers since Week 1 at San Francisco. Without Cutler and without Lovie Smith, the Bears are a much different offense than the Packers have seen in the series in quite some time. The man behind it all, Trestman, had the last word.

"Dom Capers threw it all at us tonight," said Trestman. "He brought it from different places and different coverages. Josh (McCown) did a nice job of managing and changing the protections when we had to. Overall, they just hung in there and kept playing. We wanted to come in here and play as hard as we could. We said that we might not be able to play harder than them, but we want to play just as hard and harder if possible and I think we did that tonight."


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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com


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