Thursday night at Lambeau Field was supposed to be different.
The Chicago Bears offense was re-tooled and confident. The Green Bay Packers still couldn't stop a nose bleed. Chicago was more physical. Green Bay had just been punched in the mouth.
Yet it was mostly the same story in the Packers' 23-10 throttling of the Bears Thursday night.
The Packers (1-1) beat Chicago for the fifth-straight time at Lambeau Field and fifth-straight overall, turning Jay Cutler over four times and sacking him another seven. Green Bay held the Bears (1-1) under 170 total yards for the first time in over 20 years.
With the win, Packers fans were able to take one giant step back from the imaginary cliff they had created following a disheartening Week 1 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
After taking a second and third viewing of the game this morning, here's the break down of my notes from Thursday night's win:
ILB D.J. Smith owned the Bears' first possession. His blitz on first down wasn't anything fancy, but he powered past Matt Forte at the point and threw Cutler to the turf. On second down, Smith attacked down hill aggressively and helped blow up a stretch play to the strong side. On third down, Smith was credited with the tackle on Forte's give-up draw call. Impressive start after getting engulfed by the 49ers in Week 1.
Mistakes killed both of the Packers first two drives. Nelson's drop on 3rd-and-short put a halt to the first, and a holding call and sack made quick work of the second, more promising drive. The official called T.J. Lang for the hold, but it was clearly on Marshall Newhouse. One play later, Newhouse couldn't contain Shea McClellin's speed on an otherwise well-set up screen play. At 3rd-and-26, 99 percent of drives are over.
Stretching it out
The Packers best running plays Thursday night were stretch plays to the outside against seven-man fronts. The Bears ran two safeties deep with seven in the box on probably 90 percent of plays, and Benson was able to find seams and cut-back lanes when the Packers pushed the action to the edge. When Green Bay needed to run against soft fronts, they mostly did it Thursday night. Big change from last Sunday.
Matthews the man
It's almost unfathomable how long the Bears allowed J'Marcus Webb to block Clay Matthews one-on-one. Webb simply couldn't handle Matthews' combination of speed, power and violent hands while on island at left tackle, and quarterback Jay Cutler paid for it. When the Bears did double Matthews, others stepped up to collapse the pocket.
Overall, the Packers probably generated as much pressure Thursday night as they did during entire four-game stretches in 2011. Matthews was the catalyst for it all. Hard to think of a better overall performance from Matthews during his four-year NFL career than the show he put on Thursday night.
Tramon Williams joined Matthews as MVPs of this win. The work he did on Bears receiver Brandon Marshall was fantastic, even if the Packers did play with a bracket safety for most of Thursday night. Remembering back, Marshall chewed up Williams for 10 catches and over 100 yards back when he was with the Dolphins in 2010. By the time this game was out of hand, Marshall had just one total target for zero yards.
The Bears weren't creative in getting Marshall the football, but the Packers also schemed to take away the slants, digs and posts by using Williams in a trail situation. Cutler couldn't find Marshall with anything underneath because Williams was in his back pocket.
Charles Woodson said post game that this was the "same old Jay." He was spot on. When the Packers broke down the Bears' protection and Marshall was taken away, Cutler's footwork disappeared as he attempted to force plays under duress. He went to his back foot and threw up prayers to his third and fourth options as the pressure kept coming. That's a recipe for disaster for any quarterback, but especially Cutler. The Packers were in position to make the mistakes hurt.
Randall Cobb's pitch play in the first half worked so well because Jermichael Finley held the edge and Bryan Bulaga kicked out the linebacker. Execution up front was perfect, leaving Cobb with an open lane to get up field. Safety Chris Conte didn't have a chance getting him to the ground once he broke into the second level. Easy 28 yards.
Speaking of execution, the Packers couldn't have done the fake field goal any better. Tom Crabtree joked after the game how anyone could have scored that touchdown, and he's right. There was no one in the area code once he broke the line of scrimmage but a bevy of blockers.
The Packers upgraded their pass defense the second Jarrett Bush was left on the sidelines for the opening series. They may have to think about doing the same with D.J. Smith, who looked overmatched in man coverage for the second straight game. Smith can play early downs, but he may need to be replaced in passing situations. He committed a pass interference penalty, should have had a holding call on a third-down play and gave up two other plays (including a touchdown) down the seam.
Good for Donald Driver on his touchdown catch. You can bet it's been a difficult couple of days for the veteran after playing only a handful of snaps against the 49ers as an injury sub. While it was all Aaron Rodgers' arm in busting the two-high safety look, Driver probably let out one long exhale while he was river dancing in the end zone.
Not as sharp
Rodgers wasn't sharp again Thursday night, but he got very little help from his receivers. Nelson dropped a couple big plays, James Jones let a touchdown go off his hands and Finley should have caught Rodgers' laser beam down the seam. Overall, the receivers left a ton of yards on the field. Still, this wasn't a 2011 performance from Rodgers, who held the ball too long on most of the sacks and made a couple more awful decisions with the football.
Lance Briggs really should have intercepted Rodgers in the first half when he forced a ball into a heavy zone. Briggs' drop saved three points for Green Bay. Tim Jennings' interception in the fourth quarter was equally on Jones' terrible route, but the throw was still an iffy one. The passing game is still a work in progress.
James Jones didn't take advantage of his chance to start Thursday night. With Greg Jennings inactive because of a groin injury, Jones played a majority of the offensive snaps but caught just two passes for -1 yards (five targets).
He dropped a touchdown pass on a ball he's caught before, and the interception was at least half his fault. He broke off his route deep while Rodgers expected him to stay on course. Rodgers then let Jones have it after the play. He's great as a team's No. 3 receiver, but he was overmatched in a starting role.
A new way to win
For the first time in a long time, the Packers won by playing power football on offense and controlling the line of scrimmage on defense. Benson's 20 carries represented the first time in almost two years that a back has received that many touches in the running game.
Overall, most of what the Packers did on offense came off the run, which is completely opposite of how Green Bay's offense has been structured the last 18 months. The defenses are obviously dictating more runs, but the 2012 Packers may not be the same high-flying pass offense we've seen in the past.
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