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Five Things To Watch For: Bears-Packers

9/26/2010

Here are five things to watch for when the Chicago Bears host the Green Bay Packers on Monday night.

Performance on third down

It's vitally important on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the Bears could make the contest easier for themselves by keeping the ball away from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The best way to do that is to convert on third down. The club currently converts just 28 percent on third down, which isn't a statistic indicative of an offense ranked fifth in the NFL. So that needs to improve. Defensively, the Bars need to do a better job of getting off the field on third down after allowing a 46-percent conversion rate last week against the Cowboys. Rodgers is much more accurate than Tony Romo, so it's imperative for the Bears to not allow Rodgers to get into a rhythm by cutting his drives short.

The rushing attack

The Bears need to make Green Bay utilize its base 3-4 package more than it has so far this season (just 15 snaps out of 114). Chicago's best shot of doing that is getting the running game on track with Matt Forte and Chester Taylor, who currently average 2.9 and 2.7 yards per carry, respectively. By getting the running game going, the Bears can enhance the passing attack by forcing Green Bay to take its extra defensive backs out of the game. Jay Cutler completed 63 percent of his passes against the Packers' base 3-4 last season with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 2 to 0. When Green Bay went into nickel and dime looks, Cutler completed 54.8 percent of his attempts with a TD-to-INT ratio of 1 to 5.

Performance from outside receivers

Count on the Packers mixing up their coverage to confuse Cutler by dropping cornerback Charles Woodson into the slot to create basically a 4-2 front that features five defensive backs. We've already covered how Cutler performs against Green Bay's nickel and dime looks. So with Woodson expected to lock down the slot on some passing downs, the Bears need to do some damage on the outside with Devin Hester and Johnny Knox, who have averaged 15.6 and 23.6 yards per catch in outings against the Packers. Cutler and the outside receivers have dealt with a few communication issues in the past, but can't afford those sorts of setbacks against the Packers, who rank third in the league in passing defense (allowing just 116.5 yards per game).

Coverage in the secondary

Take a second to digest these statistics: in two games last season, the Bears sacked Rodgers seven times and lost both outings. The year before, the Bears failed to sack the quarterback and split the seasonal series. So basically, it doesn't matter whether the Bears sack Rodgers. What's most important is the coverage on the back end, which likely has to be held a second or two longer this week against Rodgers because of his mobility and accuracy. Snuffing out the run should help the Bears because Green Bay relies on it to set up the playaction and drop-back passing games. Because of the Packers' inability to run consistently through the first two games, they've struggled through the air and rank 16th in the NFL (211-yard average). Nickel corner D.J. Moore faces yet another big test against Green Bay's slot receivers, while the safeties and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher face a major challenge in limiting the big-play ability of Packers tight end Jermichael Finley.

Combination of schematics and protection

Chicago struck the perfect combination of schematics and protection with its early adjustments against the Dallas Cowboys. The Bears may find themselves seeking a similar balance between the two in attempts to neutralize Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. It's likely the Bears start off by sending a tight end to Matthews' side or chipping the linebacker with running backs. But if that doesn't work, the Bears need to be prepared to adjust Cutler's drops so he can get the ball out quickly, or roll the pocket to the side opposite Matthews. Similar to what Dallas did last week, the Packers will throw confusing personnel packages and coverages at the Bears, and send the house to pressure Cutler. But like last week, Chicago just needs to weather Green Bay's initial surge, and trust in the staff to put the protection and receivers in the right positions to succeed.