The Packers’ Offense vs. The Bears’ Defense
The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Even if both teams were out of postseason contention, this game would still be circled on the calendar. Fortunately for fans of both teams, their squads will not merely be playing for bragging rights; when the Packers and Bears meet on Sunday, both teams will be fighting for postseason possibilities. For the Bears, it’s about obtaining a higher seed and a bye week, whereas the Packers simply need to win to get in. And when the NFL made the decision this year to fill week 17 with a full host of divisional games, it made the end of the season much more intriguing.
Led by Aaron Rodgers, John Kuhn, and Greg Jennings, the Packers’ offense is rolling. After piling up 45 points and over 500 yards of total offense against the Giants last week, the Green and Gold will enter week 17 brimming with confidence. And despite giving up 34 points to the Jets last week, the Bears’ defense stiffened when they needed to, and helped Chicago come away with a victory.
The heart of the Bears’ defense is the Cover 2, a defensive style that stymied Aaron Rodgers and company early in the season. Epitomizing the bend-but-don’t-break philosophy, the Cover 2 is predicated on the idea that no one will get behind the defense’s 2 deep safeties. It allows the offense to make short, underneath passes in hopes that eventually the offense will fail to execute or get impatient and force a throw into deep coverage resulting in a defender making a play on the ball.
In order to overcome the Bears’ defensive style, the Packers will need patience. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers did a fantastic job of taking what the Bears’ defense allowed him in their first meeting, but 18 penalties ultimately doomed his team’s chances of leaving Chicago with a win. Part of Rodgers’ success was also attributed to Jermichael Finley’s presence in the middle of the field. Finley finished the day with 9 catches for 115 yards, but without a legitimate tight end this time around, the Packers’ offensive options will be far more limited.
The tight end is an integral component for defeating a Cover 2 scheme. Without it, look for the Packers to deploy 3, 4, and 5 receiver sets. In the Bears’ defense, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher covers the deep-middle portion of the field. Teams look to exploit this matchup with a fast, physical tight end. If that’s not an option, teams will use a tall, speedy receiver in the slot to work the middle of the field. For the Packers, this means that wide receiver James Jones will most likely play an integral role in this week’s game plan. Jones hauled in 5 catches for 55 yards the last time he faced the Bears, but a careless fumble left a bitter aftertaste on an otherwise solid performance. I expect the Packers to go back to Jones this week, but to also sprinkle in a healthy dose of receiver Jordy Nelson over the middle of the field.
Another wrinkle for head coach Mike McCarthy’s offense will be the running game. A simple and effective method of beating the Cover 2 is to keep the defense out of it. If the Packers can find success running the ball, it will force the Bears’ defense to line up in run-stopping formations, thus allowing Rodgers to audible to a pass and find single coverage on his receivers.
If the offense is to find success in the running game, the offensive line will have to perform much better than the previous meeting. Back in week 3, the Packers rushed for 63 yards, with 20 of those yards coming from quarterback Aaron Rodgers. With the emergence of short-yardage specialist John Kuhn, the Packers’ offense needs to keep the down-and-distance manageable. In other words, the Packers need to take what the Bears’ defense will give them and play penalty-free. As of late, the Packers’ running game has shown it can convert short first downs, but 3rd-and-long situations cater to the Bears’ defensive strengths.
If the Packers are able to be patient, create any sort of running attack, and keep the penalties down, they should be able to defeat the Bears and lock up the 6th and final playoff spot. For the Packers, it’s that simple: Win and you’re in.