Aaron Rodgers' two least-productive outings so far this season have come against the Bears, and the latest total of 180 passing yards is his low mark for 2009. Rodgers also didn't have a touchdown throw for the first time in 20 games, although he hooked up with Greg Jennings for a two-point pass in the fourth quarter to decide the final outcome after Ryan Grant's game-winning touchdown run. The Packers had two big turnovers in the passing game, on fumbles by TE Jermichael Finley and Rodgers (who actually fumbled twice on his play) in Chicago territory. Rodgers, who was 16-of-24 throwing, was sacked twice. He had no chance to escape a blitzing Lance Briggs after RT Mark Tauscher allowed Adewale Ogunleye to collapse the pocket. Rodgers, though, held onto the ball too long on a coverage sack by Tommie Harris, who worked off LG Daryn Colledge. Save for the turnover, Finley (five catches for 70 yards) continued to be the most lethal downfield target the Packers have in their suddenly sputtering receiving corps — he had a clutch 12-yard reception on third-and-11 to set up a first-quarter field goal. A scrambling Rodgers converted a fourth-and-3 play with a 9-yard run. The Packers squandered points, however, when Jennings dropped a would-be touchdown on a questionable call in the back of the end zone and Rodgers misfired on a laser to an open Donald Driver in the middle of the end zone. Situational back Brandon Jackson had a third-down drop late in the game that probably would have created a more manageable distance for Mason Crosby on the field-goal attempt he missed.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A
Grant's explosive 62-yard touchdown run on Green Bay's first play from scrimmage had been a long time coming — his most recent mega-play burst was 57 yards in the 2008 season opener, and before that a 66-yard touchdown run at Soldier Field in the Packers' loss to the Bears on Dec. 23, 2007. Grant's rarely seen breakaway speed on a choppy turf stood out on his initial touch Sunday, but three big blocks sprung him to the outside on the inside-zone play that amazingly worked with Chicago having nine men in the box. FB John Kuhn took out LB Hunter Hillenmeyer to create the running lane off the left side, while C Scott Wells sealed off NT Marcus Harrison on the back side and Colledge pushed down on Briggs, who was tardy in getting a hand on Grant as he busted loose. Grant was on his way to having almost 100 yards by halftime, and he finished with 137 yards in 20 carries — his second-highest rushing output of the season. Grant, who had two touchdowns for the first time this season, was running with authority late in the game, as evident by a 17-yard run to the outside that drew a roughness penalty as he went out of bounds. The Packers piled up 146 yards on the ground, although Ahman Green and Jackson weren't all that effective in spelling Grant with a combined seven carries for 15 yards.
PASS DEFENSE: B
Clay Matthews gets one of the three sacks.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
RUSH DEFENSE: A
SS Atari Bigby, who hasn't been much of a playmaker this season, rose to the occasion at an opportune time. Bigby (game-high seven tackles) broke through the line to stuff Kahlil Bell for no gain on a third-and-1 run off right tackle. ILB Nick Barnett also was in on the key play, which forced the Bears to punt in Green Bay territory as they were nursing the 14-13 lead late in the third quarter. Even without run-stuffing NT Ryan Pickett, who was held out of the game because of a hamstring injury, the Packers remained effective in choking off the opponent's run game. The Bears averaged all of 3.5 yards per attempt, totaling 59 yards. Lead back Matt Forte had 12 carries for 51 yards, but 13 of those yards came on a fourth-quarter juke up the middle as Woodson missed a tackle past the line of scrimmage. The Packers plugged up the middle with rookie B.J. Raji as a first-time starter in place of Pickett, and Jolly.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus
As effective as Crosby was in mixing up deep and short kicks to keep the Bears from doing damage on kickoff returns, the struggles persisted for the Packers kicker on field goals. He drilled close-range attempts 33 and 26 yards to help stake Green Bay to the early 13-0 lead, but with the Packers trying to build on their newfound 21-14 lead in the fourth quarter, Crosby was wide right from 42 yards. Fortunately for Crosby, the miss didn't matter in the final result. The Packers' maligned coverage units were solid, benefiting in part from Crosby's line drives and squibs into the middle of the field that limited dangerous return men Knox and Danieal Manning to one touch apiece. The Bears averaged only 18.6 yards on kickoff returns and had a minus-1 yard average on Earl Bennett's two punt returns. Jeremy Kapinos atoned for putting two punts in the end zone by booting a 51-yarder with good hang time deep into Chicago territory, and the Bears were faced with a long field to traverse in a last-ditch, two-minute drive to try to get a score-tying touchdown, to no avail. Jordy Nelson provided little to no punch on returns, averaging 6 yards on punt runbacks (long of 11) and 17.5 yards on kickoffs.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has been pulling out all of the stops in the second half of the season to lift his unit to No. 1 in total defense. His latest stroke of genius was unveiling his so-called "Psycho" alignment, utilizing only one lineman with five linebackers and five defensive backs to create confusion for and ramp up the pressure on the opposing offense. Capers' frequency of well-timed blitzes, especially the corner blitzes, worked more often than not Sunday. Head coach/play-caller Mike McCarthy couldn't have asked for a better start in his desire to establish the run, thanks to Grant's 62-yard touchdown on the first play. However, as the Packers inch closer to securing a playoff berth, McCarthy in the final three games of the regular season needs to remedy what's being called and how it's being carried out in the red zone, as the offense is imploding by not scoring touchdowns. Along with that, special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum has damage control on his hands as the field-goal misses by Crosby pile up. Kudos to McCarthy and Slocum, though, for getting the Bears out of sorts with a fake-field-goal formation on fourth-and-3 that prompted a Chicago timeout and gave the Packers time to get the offense back on the field and run the play that resulted in a first down on Rodgers' keeper.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.