Green Bay has been a glutton for giving up significant kickoff returns at critical times in close games during its seven-game swoon the second half of the season. Whereas they were obsessive about not letting Devin Hester hit them with a big runback in previous meetings the last three years, the Packers have Manning to worry about in Monday's renewal of the league's oldest rivalry. Manning was named the NFC's special teams player of the week on Wednesday after returning the opening kickoff 83 yards for a touchdown and adding a 52-yard runback in the Bears' win over the New Orleans Saints last Thursday. Manning is No. 1 in the league with a kickoff-return average of 29.5 yards. He could be a game changer in tilting the field in Chicago's favor, especially on the ragged sod at Soldier Field.
Packers run defense vs. Bears RB Matt Forte
For one of the few times this season, the Packers did a sufficient job in stopping the run when they rolled to the 37-3 win over Chicago at Green Bay five weeks ago. A two-touchdown hole at halftime forced the Bears to pass the final two quarters, and Forte had only one run to finish with 16 carries for 64 yards. The rookie is gimpy with a toe injury sustained in the Bears' last game, but Green Bay is making him priority No. 1 for containing on defense. The Packers are allowing an average of 138.2 rushing yards per game, which ranks 26th in the league. They haven't finished lower than 23rd at the end of the season since 1992.
No team in the past 40 games ran for more than the 200 yards the Packers piled up on the Bears on Nov. 16, so the defense knows its priority is to prevent another embarrassment like that. If the Bears do a better job containing Grant (145 yards on 25 carries in the first game), they believe they'll be able to put more pressure on QB Aaron Rodgers when he is forced into obvious passing situations, which he rarely was five weeks ago.
Hester, Lloyd and Davis caught just four passes between them at Green Bay in Week 11. The Packers' defensive backs challenged the Bears' wide receivers in that game by pressing them at the line of scrimmage, and that battle clearly was won by Green Bay. With the exception of Hester, none of them have done much since then. As a group, they're getting tired of hearing that they can't beat press coverage, but they're going to keep hearing the same criticism until they disprove it. The recent numbers provide a strong indictment of the group. Marty Booker, who's been slowed by knee and rib injuries, has three receptions for 28 yards in the past seven games, three of which he was unable to play in. Lloyd has six catches for 65 yards in his last five games since returning from a sprained knee. Davis has a total of six catches for 92 yards in the past six games.