Senior writer jclombardi previews Packers keys & game plan to beat Bears.
Keys to the game: As red-hot as QB Rodgers is, playing the Bears in Chicago introduces several factors he didn’t have to deal with on the fast indoor surface in Atlanta last week. First is Soldier Field, which has tenuous footing and often a biting freezing wind in January. Second is the Bears’ Cover-2 defense, which will focus on eliminating big plays and forcing Rodgers to orchestrate lengthy scoring drives. Chicago wants to stuff rookie RB Starks so it can aggressively rush Rodgers, who will have mismatches downfield. Bears QB Cutler is coming off a strong postseason debut, but the Packers’ defense sacked him nine times during the two regular-season meetings. The Bears’ offense has been far more efficient since offensive coordinator Martz made a concerted effort to be balanced in his play-calling coming out of the team’s Week 8 bye. But he largely abandoned the run in the Week 17 loss as Chicago attempted to move the ball through the air too much on first down. Expect RB Forte to get plenty of early touches on the ground and through the air. The Bears don’t want Cutler forcing the issue against the strength of Green Bay’s pass rush and ball-hawking secondary. Game plan–If head coach/play caller Mike McCarthy can help it, the Packers will continue to be the two-dimensional offense that in the postseason has belied their pass-happy reputation. McCarthy puts more stock in quantity of carries than quality. The Packers are 7-1 when they have at least 30 rushing attempts, but they didn’t come close to hitting that benchmark in the two previous games against the Bears. McCarthy probably learned his lesson and won’t be so quick to forget about the run, especially if Rodgers endures a cold spell throwing the football in freezing conditions. Rodgers’ counterpart and friend has a good idea what he’ll be seeing from the Packers defense. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers was relentless with his pressure schemes in the second meeting, leading to six sacks of Cutler and only three points. The Packers have sacked Cutler nine times this season. Don’t look for Capers to tinker with the aggression-fueled success, but the threat of Bears running back Matt Forte could be an equalizer.
THINGS TO WATCH: MEN INSIDE: Cullen Jenkins appears to be almost fully recovered from a calf injury. That could bode ill for LG Chris Williams, who had never played guard until mid-October. “This is a great matchup for Jenkins,” a scout for a recent Bears opponent said. “Jenkins can really move this guy. Bull rush him. I think (Williams) is soft. When I think of mismatches, I think inside. This is where the Packers can win, with (B.J.) Raji and Jenkins against (Olin) Kreutz and Williams.” RUN GAME: If you add the “Rating the Packers” football totals from the two regular-season meetings, running back was by far the Packers’ worst position. “Starks is kind of the X factor,” one scout said. “If they can run the ball, now they’ve got the Bears in trouble. You want to talk about keys to the game, it’s 44 (Starks). The Packers didn’t have anything going (rushing) the last time they played. The Bears forced them to be one-dimensional.” When the Packers run, the scout said they should run right at Brian Urlacher.” CAT AND MOUSE: The Bears’ defense as coordinated by Rod Marinelli tries to confuse opponents. “The biggest thing they do is disguise their coverages,” one scout said. “That’s the No. 1 thing they’ve done this year. But Green Bay has a feel for them. The Packers hold the play clock. When Aaron Rodgers passes, it was going down to 3, 4, 5 seconds left. In the run game, you want to go on quick counts. That will get them out of their disguise. You want to get in and out of the huddle, and you want the quick counts in the run game because they can be a man short. If the Bears have an eight-man front call with the safety coming down (late) in the box, if you’re running they ball they’ll be a guy short if you quick-count.” BEAR FRONT: The Bears will rotate seven defensive linemen. “I truly believe the defensive line is why they’re winning,” one scout said. “I think there’s a powerful influence there by that coordinator on that line. They are very, very well-coached. They’re going to be around Rodgers. Those are two premier defensive ends, and if the Packers don’t find a way to do something about that they can suffer.” MAN UNDER CENTER: Jay Cutler is 1-4 as a starter against Green Bay. In chronological order, his passer ratings were 95.7, 43.2, 74.9, 82.5 and 43.5. “Tice is probably the most valuable coach on their staff,” one scout said, referring to the Bears’ first-year offensive line coach. “Even more so probably than Martz. Because he has been able to give that guy (Cutler) confidence.“