The Bears travel to Lambeau Field on Thanksgiving to take on a Packers team that is coming off of an impressive victory over a good Minnesota Vikings team, 30-13. And, of course, it is "Brett Favre Night". While the Packers organization has what they call an "exciting halftime" planned for their old Bears nemesis, hopefully the Bears have an ass-whipping of their own planned for the Packers.
In what will be an NFL-record 192nd meeting between the bitter rivals, Green Bay has won 10 of the last 11. It's time to stop the bleeding and use that knife to cut the cheese.
Just Stop it Already
The past three weeks has seen opposing offenses slice through the Bears defense on their first possession like swiss cheese before settling down, so it would be helpful for the Bears to start the game off with a defensive stop. This would not only give them confidence, it would allow Jay Cutler and the Bears to run their game plan, which should include a lot of hand-offs to Jeremy Langford (and Matt Forte, if he plays as expected).
Behind a rookie QB, Denver marched down the field with ease on their first possession, covering 74 yards in just four plays (two runs, two passes) in just 1:34. The Rams drove 80 yards on seven plays (four passes, three runs) in 4:42 to a TD the week before. And the Chargers took eight plays to cover 63 yards in 2:59 to also score on their first attempt in Week 9.
It's a simple request, and I realize it won't guarantee a win, but it's something I'd like to see.
If they learned anything from the first game of the season, when the Bears were surprisingly competitive, it's that they need to keep the Packers offense off the field. To do that, they need to control the running game and run the ball. Green Bay rushed for 133 yards in their first contest and while Matt Forte is expected to return, Ka'Deem Carey will likely be out with a concussion.
To be sure, both teams have changed since the Bears 31-23 loss to the Packers. Nine Bears players who started vs Denver on Sunday were different than the starters they rolled out in Week 1.
Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers is not the same QB he was, as he has struggled at times. Even in Sunday's win over Minnesota, Rodgers was human. He was 16-of-34 for 212 yards though he did have two TDs and no interceptions. It was one of Rodgers worst games from a completion percentage.
This will be John Fox's first rematch as a Bears coach, so it will be our first experience watching the coaching staff adjust from a prior game. Granted, this is a much better coaching staff than the Marc Trestman-led Bears from last season, but Trestman's inability to make adjustments in the second meeting last season hastened his exit out of town, as the Packers embarrassed Chicago 55-14.
The play of the Bears secondary has improved since the first time they met. The Bears committed four pass interference calls in the first two weeks of the season for 114 yards, but have had only one over their last eight games.
Make Better Decisions
I'm not just talking about Fox's decision to go for it on fourth down with 10 minutes left, and passing up points that in hindsight would have been the margin of victory on Sunday. No, there were just enough bad decisions for that to play a role in the loss. In a close game, everything matters.
The play call on the attempted two-point conversion to end the game was abysmal. Granted, the play called for Jay Cutler to check into whatever he wanted to do and based on the defensive alignment, he felt they could gain yards up the middle. But like the Marx Brothers, "Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, this time I think we go through the middle," probably wasn't the smartest call of the afternoon.
After all, the Bears didn't have a horse and buggy to save them.
Cutler really can't be blamed for losing the football while being hit by Von Miller, but once again, he makes you scratch your head on the interception, though the gaffe did not lead to points. The difference between Cutler and Rodgers last Sunday? Mistakes, pure and simple. Rodgers wasn't much better vs the Broncos in their meeting but he didn't lose the football.
As for Fox, his reputation seems to be proving correct. During the week, he is an excellent coach. But his game and clock management can be questionable at times.
Find Success in the Red Zone
Four separate times the Bears offense were in the red zone last Sunday against the top-ranked defense in the NFL. That's good. But they failed to score a touchdown until the final time with 24 seconds remaining. That's bad.
Two other times ended with Robbie Gould field goals, and one time they score no points at all. Meanwhile, this has been a problem all seaosn for the Bears. Against a potent Green Bay team, that just won't do
Having Alshon Jeffery back should help. Still, Jay will need to be more accurate than he was on the Bears first two drives inside the red zone. On the first, he threw wide to Zach Miller, and on the second attempt he missed a short toss to Jeremy Langford and a deep ball to Marquees Wilson. Hey, Jeffery can go get the ball, but he isn't a magician.
There's no doubt that in a compressed area talent wins out. But even with Jeffery, the Bears have just a 38% success rate scoring TDs int he red zone this season, which is one of the worst in the NFL.
Do you know what the difference is between a field goal and a touchdown? Four points yes (including the extra point), but more than that it affects the way the opposing offenses respond and affects their play calls on the ensuing drive. They often feel like they need to get bigger chunks of yardage and may tend to move away from their game plan a bit.
It also affects your own play calling. For example, Fox likely doesn't go for it on fourth down with 10 minutes to go if the Bears had just scored one TD earlier in the red zone. Also, they obviously wouldn't have been in a position to try a two point conversion on their final score.
Is it simply a matter of preparation? Cutler seemed to suggest that possibility in his post-game remarks.
"It's not deflating; we just need to do better," Cutler said after the loss, when asked about the team's red-zone issues. "We have to figure out ways. During the week we have to work on it more, guys have to study more. I have to execute better and be more accurate. It's a challenge for all of us."
It's a short week with basically only one day to practice. Better make it count.
Big Test for the "New" Cutler
If Jay truly has changed, he will change his fortunes against the Packers. Historically, he has been awful against Green Bay, having lost 11 of 12 meetings. That kind of ineptness can eat away at a QB's confidence. And, as Matt Slauson pointed out Sunday, you can't let that happen.
“My experience is that when you are going up against a really good team, you can already lose the game before it’s even played,” Slauson said.
Cutler has thrown 23 interceptions vs the Packers. Now, I'm not suggesting that the Bears have to win the game to prove that Jay has grown as a QB. Even though the QB is often cited as the single most critical position in all of sports, it's sometimes unfair to pin a loss against the quarterback.
It's also unfair to always give the QB the win too. Heck, the Bears made it to the Super Bowl in 2006 with Rex Grossman at the helm. Grossman turned the ball over 25 times that season. Yet the Bears were good because of a very solid defense. That said, it's still hard not to think that how Jay goes is how the Bears will fare on Thursday.
Perhaps the key will be more up-tempo, no-huddle for Cutler, who openly prefers and and has thrived in that environment this season. Look, maybe Jay will be inspired by the birth of their third child and first daughter on Monday, Saylor James Cutler. Whatever the motivation, the Bears need Cutler to control forced errors, extending plays with his legs and his arm.
Photo credit: greenbaypressgazette.com
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