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Epicenter of Humanity: Bears' pass defense

1/20/2011

We all know the numbers by now. In the four games since he returned from a Week 15 concussion, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a 126.4 passer rating. He has completed 72.7 percent of his passes for 1,179 yards, 11 touchdowns and one interception.

That streak has justifiably made Rodgers the most-discussed player of the 2010 playoffs. But if you're expecting another monster 300-yard performance in Sunday's NFC Championship Game, you should at least understand Rodgers' career history against the Chicago Bears.

We first broached this topic prior to the teams' Week 17 meeting. Rodgers has a 4-2 career record against the Bears, but those games have veered notably from his career trends. Against the Bears' defense over the past three years, the Packers have shifted into a short-range passing team and rarely hit the big play on deep passes.

As the chart shows, Rodgers has only one career touchdown pass against the Bears that has traveled more than 10 yards in the air. (It was a 50-yard game-winner to receiver Greg Jennings in Week 1 of the 2009 season.) Overall, Rodgers has a 66.2 percent passer rating on those throws and has done most of his damage against the Bears on passes of 10 yards or fewer.

The easy answer to this dichotomy is the Bears' long-time "Tampa 2" defense, which makes a priority of taking away outside routes and offers most of its opportunities close to the line of scrimmage. But coach Lovie Smith reiterated this week that the Bears have incorporated a number of other approaches with that scheme, and Rodgers agreed.

"We're labeled as a team that plays Cover 2 every snap," Smith said. "If people watch us a little closer, they'll see that there is a time and a place for you to double-cover receivers, and Cover 2 gives you the best opportunity to do that. ... We do believe in it -- like we believe in some other things."

In fact, Rodgers said the Bears have used more "single-safety" schemes against them than the traditional Cover-2, which puts both safeties back deep.

"They do a great job running their scheme," Rodgers told reporters in Green Bay. "I think it's almost a misnomer now. A lot of the 'Tampa 2' teams are running more single safety stuff. So if you just go by the computers they're more of a single-safety team, but 'Tampa 2' is a defense they like to use in long-yard situations and also when they're ahead in the game. They've run that for a number of years. ... That's something they do well. But like I said, not as much as you might think."

If anything, the Packers have made these adjustments in response to the Bears' pass rush and/or run defense. You'll remember, for example, that Rodgers took four sacks in that brutal Week 1 game last season. In the teams' Week 3 matchup this season, the Bears stuffed the running game early and forced Rodgers to use the short-passing game as its replacement. In the end, he attempted a season-high 46 passes. None of his 34 completions went for longer than 28 yards.

"It's probably the best defense we've played to date," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Just fundamentally sound in the way they're playing... They're definitely better than the first time we played them. ... They're running their system, their schemes, and more [single-safety] probably than two, but a lot of that has to do with the opponent and the score of the game."

So with our date at the Epicenter of Humanity just three days away (!), we can say this much: Rodgers hasn't had much downfield success against the Bears' defense in his career, and it's not just because he takes what Cover-2 defense gives. Every game stands on its own merits, but in six games over three years, the Bears' defense has done a pretty nice job limiting Rodgers' big-play opportunities.