The Chicago Bears host their hated division rival Green Bay Packers in a game that will decide the NFC North crown. Here’s an in-depth preview on key matchups, schemes, Packers’ personnel and a score prediction:
This Sunday will be the biggest game in Jay Cutler’s career. Not only are the Bears’ playoffs hopes riding on his powerful right arm, but his future with the team could be too. A win or go home game against a defensive coordinator in Dom Capers who has had Cutler’s number throughout his career in a Bears uniform.
Not to mention Cutler is most likely going have to shoot it out with the best QB in the league in Aaron Rodgers. What’s going to be different this time around for Cutler are the weapons he has at his disposal compared to past years. Here are key matchups on the outside to watch in this contest:
WR Brandon Marshall vs. CB Tramon Williams
Marshall had a solid game against the Packers’ secondary in their last meeting, posting seven catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. With no pass rush and a suspect secondary, there’s an opportunity for Marshall to have another solid game.
Williams is the team’s number one corner, and he is an effective ball-hawking CB. He’s had great success against Cutler over the years; it doesn’t help that Williams will mostly be locked on Cutler’s favorite target most of the day (we know how Cutler can develop tunnel vision for Marshall). Cutler can’t be baited into throws by Williams, who has knack for jumping routes and getting his hands on the football.
WR Alshon Jeffery vs. CB Sam Shields
Like Marshall, Jeffery also had a solid game against the Packers’ secondary in their last meeting. The WR caught five passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. It will be interesting to see if Capers use the same blueprint the Eagles drew up, which is simply doubling the two big possession WRs. If they choose not to, Jeffery should have the favorable matchup against Shields.
Jeffery’s size should be able to overwhelm the smaller Shields on comeback routes, digs and slant routes, and if Shields want to come up in bump and run coverage, Jeffery has shown the ability to consistently beat press coverage. Jay needs to target Jeffery often Sunday.
An interesting matchup to watch is TE Martellus Bennett against rookie NB Micah Hyde. The Packers have used Hyde similar to how they used Charles Woodson when he was with the club last year. They use Hyde in some situations at safety and use his speed and athleticism to blitz and match up with slot WRs and TEs in the slot.
The best defense against this high powered Green Bay Packers offense is an offense that can convert third downs and put together long drives that result in points. An effective running game from the Bears’ offensive line and Matt Forte will certainly help an overmatched defense. In this zone-blocking scheme, the blockers not only need to be disciplined in their blocking assignments but also be violent at the point of attack (finish blocks) in order to spring Forte to some big runs.
The offense has to turn it up another notch to make up for the yards and points this defense is expecting to surrender Sunday. It’s time for Jay Cutler to prove to the doubters once and for all that he’s the QB to lead this team to a Super Bowl.
There’s a lot of talk and concern about Aaron Rodgers, but quite frankly I don’t see Rodgers as the number one concern for this defense. The rookie RB Eddy Lacy is the second coming of Marshawn Lynch. He runs violent and is a tough back to bring down. He’s not just a bruiser back either, as he has the quickness and speed to get to the outside and create a big play.
The Bears’ LB’s have been getting chewed up by o-linemen when they get to the second level, and when the LBs do have clean lanes to the RB, they often miss tackles, allowing RBs big gains after first contact. If LBs are missing tackles and getting sealed by linemen, it’s going to be a long day for this defense.
In order to make life easier for the LBs, the d-line has to dominate at the line of scrimmage, and here are two matchups I feel the Bears need to take advantage of in order to stop the Packers’ rushing attack:
DT Jeremiah Ratliff vs. RG T.J. Lang
The Chicago Bears need to dominate the line of scrimmage, and they will need a great performance from Ratliff against one of Green Bay’s better OL in Lang. Ratliff showed tremendous flashes of dominance over the past couple of weeks, but DC Mel Tucker will need him to put it all together.
Ratliff occupying blockers and getting in the backfield will help the second level of that defense to find the right lanes and stop Lacy and James Starks.
DT Stephen Paea vs. LG Josh Sitton and C Evan Dietrich-Smith
Like Ratliff, the defense needs a big performance from Stephen Paea. Paea has struggled with consistency all year mainly due to injury, as he’s been dealing with a turf toe. Sitton is the Packers’ most consistent OL and is always a tough draw for any DT that goes up against him.
C Dietrich-Smith is a dependable starting center, who has been effective for the Packers. Paea can’t allow himself to be single handily dominated by Sitton; he has to be so much of a force to where Dietrich-Smith is helping out often, which should allow a LB to get a clean lane at the ball carrier.
Rodgers is back, and I’m sure the Packers’ receivers are happy to return catching passes from Rodgers than Flynn. James Jones is one guy that has been effective in the loss of Rodgers the past seven games. Zach Bowman is likely to get the assignment on Jones throughout the game, but here’s a key matchup on the outside to watch this Sunday:
CB Tim Jennings vs. WR Jordy Nelson
Jennings has quietly had a solid season for the Bears. It goes unnoticed because of how porous this defense has been this year, but he’s made a case to be brought back next year no matter what scheme the Bears run on defense next year.
This Sunday, Jennings draws a very tough matchup against Jordy Nelson. Nelson is a dangerous player each week for a secondary, and with the Packers’ much improved run game, he’s an even more dangerous WR, specifically in the play action game.
Jennings has to be very disciplined as Nelson is effective on double moves. Jennings likes to be aggressive from time to time and jump routes, and while it can be effective at times, it’s a high risk to do that against this QB/WR tandem. The Bears need a big game from Jennings Sunday.
More bad news for the defense is that Randall Cobb could be returning this week for the Packers; giving this offense more fire power for the defense to deal with. NB Isaiah Frey will have his hands full if the explosive WR is cleared to play Sunday.
The Packers’ passing game can be minimized with an effective pass rush, and the Bears had great success pressuring the QB in their last meeting. The Bears are going to need a great performance from Julius Peppers against LT David Bakhatiari.
Corey Wootton will need to have his best game also against Marshall Newhouse, and Shea McClellin needs to come close to the same performance from the last outing in order to slow this offense down.
Even with the odds stacked against the Bears this Sunday, I’m picking Chicago to win this game. If Jay Cutler wants to prove that he’s the right guy to lead this team to a championship, the Bears need close to a flawless performance from him Sunday. All the resources are there for Cutler to get the job done and it will be interesting to see if he rises to the occasion.
4:25 p.m. can’t get here soon enough.
Score Prediction: Bears 34, Packers 31
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