When The Packers Have The Ball:
The Packers, as everyone knows, beat the Bears two out of three times they faced them in 2010, but all three contests were extremely close and all turned on two or three key plays. Today's game should be no different - that's just the way this series has gone since Mike McCarthy was hired in 2006. Lovie Smith got the better of McCarthy early on but that has started to change. The one thing that has not changed is Smiths' defense and its ability to give McCarthy's offense fits.
The Packers have looked good in spurts against the Bears Tampa 2 defense, but rarely do they put together a complete game. Even when they do, the Bears tend to force a turnover at the right time, or get a key sack when the Packers can least afford it. Of course, it doesn't help when the Packers are shooting themselves in the foot, which they did repeatedly down in Chicago last year. With the forecast calling for wind and rain, conventional wisdom says McCarthy should try to "establish the run" - but anyone who remembers the Packers' trip to Chicago in 2007 knows how obstinate McCarthy can be when it comes to sticking to his offensive guns.
The difference this time around is that the Packers have a better interior offensive line, especially in the run game, than they had in 2007 - or, indeed, in 2010. T.J. Lang has helped immensely with his ability to neutralize defensive linemen one-on-one, enabling center Scott Wells to get to the second level and attack linebackers. The single best way for McCarthy and company to dictate the action versus the Bears' Cover 2 is by running Ryan Grant and James Starks up the middle, attacking Brian Urlacher. The battles between Lang, Wells and Josh Sitton versus Urlacher, Lance Briggs and the Bears front seven should be a focal point all afternoon.
When The Bears Have The Ball:
For the second straight year the Packers catch the Bears coming off a game where they allowed an embarrassing amount of pressure on their quarterback. Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz is under scrutiny already for his playcalling after his offense allowed quarterback Jay Cutler to be pummeled in the teams game down in New Orleans last week. Making matters worse for the Bears is that their starting right tackle, rookie Gabe Carimi out of Wisconsin, will miss todays game with a knee injury. Taking his place will be veteran Frank Omiyale, a serviceable guard but a terrible offensive tackle.
The Bears' receivers weren't able to do much against the Packers' secondary last year and not much has changed to make one think that that will change this season. (Roy Williams? Seriously?) The key for the Bears, and the Packers defense, will be the play of running back Matt Forte. One of the most underrated players in the league, Forte is doing a passable Marshall Faulk impression in Martz' offense. If the Bears were ever to upgrade their receiving corps, even minimally, Forte would be supremely dangerous with the attention being paid elsewhere by defenses. As it stands now, Forte IS the Bears offense.
Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has had Jay Cutler's number since coming to Green Bay. Forte had a telling quote after last years NFC Championship game, saying that the Bears always seemed to take at least the first quarter, if not more, to figure out what Capers was doing. If the Bears can't jump out early, the way Carolina did last week, they will have little or no chance with Cutler leading the offense against a Packers defense with free reign to send Capers' wide-array of blitzes.
Enough Already, Who Wins?:
Unlike last season, the Packers have a functional running game this year. Look for McCarthy to get Grant and Starks going early, which will only make Rodgers and the playaction pass that much more dangerous. The Bears can never be taken lightly - Lovie Smith's team is always a tough test for McCarthy's Packers. Today will be no different. But Rodgers is simply much, much better than Cutler - and that will be the difference in today's game.
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