Welcome to another edition of Opposition Research, where I’ll be taking a look at the next Packers opponent, the Chicago Bears. To be honest with you, this game feels a little like a high school reunion. Back in W1, we both thought we were cool, we both had primetime QBs and in-your-face defenses, and so we talked big games. Now, meeting again after such a long time, the Packers have the hotter date and a brighter future, while the Bears are muttering under their breath about how unfair life is. I’m not saying this isn’t a tough game for the Packers – it’s never easy to go back to a reunion without slipping into old (bad) habits – I’m just saying that this game will show just how far the Packers have come since the beginning of the 2009 season.
Programming note: I seriously considered writing only "What is there to say? The Bears Still Suck." But I won't.
Coming into this game, the Bears are… a team without an identity (kinda – shh!), despite coming off a crucial 17-6 win over the St. Louis Rams, breaking a four-game losing streak. (Even Deion asked, “Do we have to?” before committing 52 whole seconds to the game’s highlights.) I love how Chicago Sun-Times writer Rick Telander put it: “The low-fiber Bears going nowhere on cupcake-only diet.” Jay Cutler had 143 yds and 1 TD (131 yds in the first quarter), and Matt Forte (1 TD) and Khalil Bell added 126 yds on the ground. You remember back in the first Packers-Bears game, where the Bears thought they’d be cute with a fake punt? Well, they tried a fake FG this time…with the same result.
But, it’s a win? The glass is half full? It’s a start? We can salvage something? All these things. Also…man, this team’s a mess. There are red flags. They beat the worst team ever, and haven’t beaten a good team. And the Packers are better, they’ve made the strides the Bears should have made, they’re who the Bears should be:
Here's an example of the impact of good coaching in the NFL. When Capers came in, the Packers not only had new coaches working with players for the first time, they went from a 4-3 to a 3-4 -- not an easy transition. In their first four games, the Packers allowed an average of 335.3 yards per game. In their last eight games, they've allowed 242.1 yards per game. That's called progress.
The fans at home are…wondering where they went wrong this year, and have hopes of a memorable threesome in 2010. Like so many people at a reunion forced to talk to that person you knew you were better than at graduation, the Bears are a little embarrassed at the gap between the teams. But, at the same point, they have a chip on their shoulder – there’s no way they’re going to just smile politely and let the Packers prance into the playoffs. In fact, some fans are picking the Bears to win on Sunday “because there’s absolutely no reason they should.” And maybe, someday, when you’ve figured things out, seeing them at the next reunion will have more meaning.
The Rodgers-Cutler debate seems to be over. Jay Cutler has turned out to the mercurial player that fans in Denver and elsewhere in the NFL knew him to be. He has a habit, not only of racking up interceptions, but also whining to officials (and others). While there’s no penalty for the former, he’s already been fined $20,000 for abusing game officials, and folks in Chicago are getting sick of it (players, too). Some fans, however, think he should continue to “let the refs know when they goof.” Others blame the shoddy O-Line. Go figure.
On second thought…maybe Cutler, with his body language and attitude, is a perfect fit for Chicago.
Something to chew on… it seems a foregone conclusion that Bears OC Ron Turner will be fired at season’s end. After all, why else would ex-Notre Dame HC Charlie Weis come out and say he’d relish the opportunity to work in Chicago? Why else would ex-Lions OC Mike Martz come out and say he’d “love to work with Jay Cutler”? Turner might already have his bags packed.
It’s not surprising the Bears are a little jealous of how far the Packers have come – with the exception of one (glaring) thing, the Packers seem to do everything better. It’s bad enough that they’re the #6 offense (#10 pass, #7 rush), while the Bears sit at #29 (#25 pass, #31 rush). Even worse, they’re the #1 defense (#2 pass, #2 rush). The Bears defense? That vaunted unit that got the team to the 2006 Super Bowl? They’re at #18 (#16 pass, #20 rush). On every chart, the Packers seem to have the advantage. (Although, ESPN gives the Bears the edge at OL, LB, and ST.)
Now, in that one area…both Danieal Manning and Johnny Knox have shown great skill in the return game, and Chicago is #4 on special teams. Is this another team where the kicker/punter is the MVP? Maybe. Robbie Gould is almost perfect inside 50 yards.
The Bears are hoping that DE Adewale Ogunleye will reprise his fantastic W1 performance again, though they know RT Mark Tauscher isn’t Allen “Turnstile” Barbre. (Still, Ogunleye took a shot at Tausch: “I don't think he's in shape yet, honestly. I think on Sunday that'll be a match-up that we are looking to win.”)
Other than Ogunleye, most players are looking to improve on their opening day numbers. TE Greg Olson, despite likely having Charles Woodson in his future, is looking to recapture the 2007 glory, when he had 9 catches for 106 yds and 2 TDs against the Packers. The team as a whole wants nothing to do with Charles Woodson, and both Lovie and Cutler have great respect for him. Meanwhile, TE Desmond Clark, who cracked a rib early in W1, is just hoping to play.
What We’re Up Against: Lovie Smith came to Chicago with the primary goal of beating the Green Bay Packers. Well, Lovie, here’s your chance to get it done. The Bears will be fighting for pride and to keep out of the NFC basement. Sunday’s game looks to be a no-brainer, and some (cited in Pete Dougherty’s scouting report) have come right out and said it: The Bears are bad, and getting worse. Keep your eyes on SB Nation’s pre-game stuff, Bob McGinn is always a good read, and additional previews will follow.
A few things about Cutler – only 3 of his 20 interceptions have come at home. He has a 98.9 average rating in the cold (Sunday’s forecast calls for 35 degrees w/ light winds at gametime). Good things, right? Well, here's another nugget - he tends to play worse against a team the second time he faces them - by a considerable margin, too. While in Denver, none of his 2nd games against Oakland or San Diego yielded a passer rating above 75. Considering his 43.2 rating in W1…limbo lower now?
FO’s Doug Farrar had this to say about RB Matt Forte:
He's not an opportunistic back and he doesn't really explode through holes. He's more of a glider. You need a specific kind of power line to make that style work, though I don't know how ANY running game would work behind this sucktacular line.
(Please recall that ESPN rated “this sucktacular line” ahead of Green Bay’s OL.)
The Bears are shuffling both their secondary and their offensive line. They moved Kevin Payne to SS for the Rams game, but are thinking about moving Al Afalava back to that spot. 2008 draft pick Chris Williams replaced Orlando Pace at LT, and they’re debating making it permanent.
Along with Woodson, CB Charles Tillman is one of the league’s best strippers. You heard me.
Chicago’s Jeff Joniak’s keys to the game for the Bears include getting Tramon Williams to commit PI penalties, taking the defense’s weakest point (third downs) and beating the Packer’s strongest point (third downs), and capitalizing on the Packers sieve-like special teams units. He goes on to note that Lovie is 11-1 in the cold and the Bears have won their last 6 December home games.
The Bears are also beat up. WR Devin Hester and MLB Hunter Hillenmeyer missed practice on Wednesday, though Hillenmeyer returned on Thursday. If Hester doesn’t go on Sunday, look for Earl Bennett to be Cutler’s main target.
- This is a pretty amazing video documenting the 89-year and 177-game Packers-Bears rivalry. A must-watch.
- A Pittsburgh Steelers fan takes a drink offered by a Bears fan while in Chicago for the Week 2 Bears-Steelers game. He goes blind. Poison? A bad decision to drink pure grain alcohol? Probably both.
- HC Lovie Smith has many facial expressions.
So, maybe you didn’t get my reunion theme. That’s ok - here's the gist. The Bears’ season is just about over – even if they win out, a 9-7 record won’t get them to the playoffs. Their biggest game of the season comes this Sunday, against a team that they love to hate, but secretly wish they could match. They will fight and claw their way through the game, and the Packers have to be prepared to match that intensity or deflate it entirely by scoring early and often.
Now, Packer fans would do well to remember 2007, where 2 of the only 3 losses by the Packers came against the Bears. Whether those losses can be attributed to Brett Favre, swirling winds, bitter cold, or other non-2009 Packers factors…we’ll see on Sunday. It’s a clear trap game for the Packers, but I think they can avoid it, since they know the Bears always play them tough. Your thoughts?
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