W2W4: Bears vs. Packers
CHICAGO BEARS (8-5) vs. GREEN BAY PACKERS (9-4)Noon Sunday at Soldier Field on FOX
|Jay Cutler's mildly sprained knee shouldn't hinder his movement significantly, and if forced to throw on the move that shouldn't be a problem. Against the Packers, Cutler has thrown for eight touchdowns and 15 interceptions for a passer rating of 60.5 in seven career games. So it's clear Green Bay knows how to defend Cutler. Aaron Rodgers, meanwhile, ranks fourth in the NFL in completion percentage (66.9) and isn't often affected by pressure. Rodgers has completed 75 of 110 for 992 yards and 14 TDs with three interceptions against the blitz through the first 14 games with a passer rating of 122.0.|
|Despite Matt Forte's paltry numbers (834 yards rushing), he's still one of the NFL's best running backs. Coming off the first game he's rushed for more than 70 yards since Nov. 4, Forte seems to be heating up at just the right time. The staff thinks he's on a roll and wants to make him a more significant part of the offense. If the Bears can't accomplish that against the Packers they'll be in trouble. Injuries to Packers running backs Cedric Benson, James Starks and fullback John Kuhn have resulted in a total of 15 missed games. Expect Alex Green to get the majority of carries against the Bears.|
|Collectively, Green Bay's Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones are a much more formidable group than Chicago's receiving corps. All three have gained more than 550 yards receiving, in addition to scoring at least six touchdowns apiece while averaging at least 10.9 yards per reception. Chicago's Brandon Marshall will be the best receiver on the field. But the Packers limited him to two catches for 24 yards in the teams' Week 2 meeting. Marshall challenged Green Bay's secondary earlier in the week. But the truth is the players opposite Marshall such as Alshon Jeffery and Devin Hester need to make more plays for the Bears to be successful in this game.|
|Green Bay lost tackle Bryan Bulaga for the season with a hip injury, and the Bears lost guard Lance Louis due to a torn ACL. So injuries have definitely hurt both teams' offensive lines. Jeff Saturday, like Chicago's Roberto Garza, provides leadership and consistency at the center position. Chicago left tackle J'Marcus Webb struggled in the first matchup against the Packers. So the Bears will do all they can to protect him. But when he's placed in one-on-one situations, it's imperative he wins. Undrafted rookie James Brown is expected to get the start at left guard for the Bears.|
|Defensive end Julius Peppers finally flashed signs of life last week with a season-high three quarterback pressures and four tackles. He's been slowed all season with a foot injury. In fact, the majority of Chicago's defensive line has been hampered by injuries. Defensive tackle Henry Melton suffered a shoulder injury last week and is out. The starter opposite Melton, Stephen Paea, missed last week's game because of a foot injury. Green Bay defensive ends Ryan Pickett and C.J. Wilson have combined for 93 tackles while NT B.J. Raji anchors the inside of the team's 15th-ranked rush defense.
|Clay Matthews registered 3.5 sacks against the Bears in the first game between these teams, and he returns to the lineup after missing four games because of a hamstring injury. Matthews leads the Packers with nine sacks, while A.J. Hawk leads the team in tackles (115). Brad Jones and Erik Walden have produced 68 and 56 tackles, respectively. With Brian Urlacher out, Nick Roach mans the middle linebacker spot for the Bears, and despite early struggles last week at Minnesota, there hasn't been much of a drop off. Lance Briggs comes off his second 10-plus tackle game in three weeks, while Geno Hayes fills in at Roach's position on the strong side.
|Strong safety Morgan Burnett ranks No. 2 in tackles for Green Bay with 113 stops, but he's also registered two sacks, in addition to picking off a pair of passes and breaking up 12 more. Cornerback Tramon Williams (2 INTs) is the club's most consistent cover man, and will spend most of his time lined up on Marshall. Charles Woodson is out for Sunday's game. Sam Shields lines up opposite Williams. M.D. Jennings helps over the top at free safety. Chicago's Tim Jennings leads the NFL in INTs (8), but he won't play because of a shoulder injury. Charles Tillman has been hobbled with a foot and shoulder injury. Safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte provide a consistent playmaking element the Bears haven't had in recent years at the position.|
|Head coach Lovie Smith even acknowledged that return man Devin Hester is going through a slump, and the group as a whole is banged up. The team placed kicker Robbie Gould on injured reserve and signed Olindo Mare earlier in the week. The Bears also placed special-teams ace Sherrick McManis on the injured reserve with a knee injury. So Green Bay will field a better special-teams group led by return man Randall Cobb, the only player in the NFL with 750 yards receiving or more, 900-plus kickoff return yards, 250-plus punt return yards and more than 125 yards rushing. Punter Tim Mashtay's career gross punting average (44.4 yards) is the main reason the Packers rank No. 3 in opponent average starting field position (25-yard line) and punt return average (4.94 yards).|
|For the third consecutive season, the Bears have faded down the stretch and Smith seems to be receiving heat locally for the team's latest skid. Smith is 5-9 against Mike McCarthy and 8-10 against the Packers throughout his tenure as Chicago's head coach. McCarthy meanwhile, has led the Packers to a 21-9 regular-season record in December and January since 2006, which ranks fourth in the NFL over that span behind New England, San Diego and Philadelphia. Green Bay has won a franchise-record 11 consecutive division games, including four in a row on the road against the NFC North.|
|This game should be closer than the Week 2 matchup in Green Bay, but it probably won't be because the Bears are fighting through several injuries and seem to be fading. Even with their playoff hopes on the line, the Bears seem to be in a funk they probably won't come out of this week at home. The Packers know they can clinch the NFC North with a win at Soldier Field. So they've got plenty of incentive to play hard. The key for the Bears is to establish the running game with Matt Forte because the Packers will do all they can to take away Marshall and put heat on Cutler. If the Bears can get contributions from Jeffery, Bennett, Hester and tight end Kellen Davis in the passing game and establish the run with Forte, they can win this game. Recent history, however, tells us that won't happen.|
|PREDICTION: Packers 26, Bears 17|
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ABOUT THIS BLOG
Dickerson is a Bears beat reporter and weeknight host on ESPN 1000. He's been covering the Bears since 2004.
Michael C. Wright
Wright joined ESPNChicago in April 2010 after spending the previous four seasons covering the Jaguars. He also covered the Redskins for two seasons. A native Texan, Wright was a four-year football letterman at West Texas A&M University.
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