Back to the site of the 2011 NFC Championship game. The 1-1 Bears will host the 2-0 Packers at Soldier Field on Sunday (3:15 CT), which is widely expected to be the premiere game of Week three. Last season at this time, the Monsters of the Midway had no losses on their resume as they welcomed an undefeated Green Bay brigade into the Windy City on Monday night (20-17, Bears). As they enter into this year’s meeting with their hated division rivals, the Bears, like the Packers, are injured in key areas.
For the home team, the offensive line will be missing two starters (Gabe Carimi, Lance Louis) and the secondary also may be without a pair of starters (Chris Harris, Major Wright) at safety. Speaking of safeties, the visiting club is without one of their integral secondary pieces, Nick Collins, who is out for the season with a neck injury. Nonetheless, there’s no room for excuse and definitely no reason for the NFL’s longest-standing rivalry not to produce another sensational showing Sunday at Soldier.
1. Differential in quarterback weaponry – Not only is Bears quarterback Jay Cutler at a disadvantage with an injured protection group, but he has nowhere near the amount of quality weapons that Packers signal caller Aaron Rodgers possesses. With Earl Bennett and possibly Roy Williams out, Cutler will have to rely upon running back Matt Forte and undersized wide receiver Johnny Knox, whereas Rodgers has the privilege of throwing to two of the best at their respective positions – Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley (9-115; last season Week 3 @ Bears). Not to mention the rising big-play threat Jordy Nelson, the Packers clearly have the edge when it comes to making plays on the offensive side of the ball. Which begs the question: will Knox, Devin Hester, or even Dane Sanzenbacher elevate their play to support a ravaged Cutler?
2. Woodson’s will – Surely, Packers All-Pro cornerback Charles Woodson is at the top of his game. Two interceptions and a fumble recovery last week in Carolina; the ’97 Heisman Trophy winner still has that “it” element. His play will speak volumes against a Chicago club that had troubling handling Saints safety Roman Harper last week. Playing in the “joker” role, close to the line of scrimmage, the Michigan product will certainly frustrate the Bears offensive front, and if Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji weren’t enough to entertain! The former Wolverine has the ability to shadow Forte, lockdown Knox or Hester, or even blitz Cutler, forcing him into erratic throws. With Collins out for the season, Woodson knows he needs (along with Morgan Burnett, who has performed admirably through two games) to pump up the jam – and is there any reason to doubt him?
3. More from Moore – Rod Marinelli has been consistently using third-year pro D.J. Moore as a blitzer at nickelback. So far, it hasn’t paid off like it did last season when he rushed Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb and came away with a “tip-six” to himself. The Vanderbilt corner has the potential to either be a key part of a successful Bears defensive plan or a hindrance to their operations against Rodgers’ renegades. I can see Moore getting the best of Jordy Nelson/Randall Cobb/James Jones at times or getting burned by one of the aforementioned trio of playmaking pass catchers. Could the former Commodore disrupt Rodgers and hurry a couple of throws similar to Woodson with Cutler? It could play a long way in determining whether or not the Bears defense can get off of the field on third downs. With starting safeties Chris Harris and Major Wright uncertain for Sunday, the Chicago secondary needs all the help they can get – and it could start or fail with D.J.
Prediction – In order for the Bears to come away with their second victory on the season, they have to control the clock and keep the potent Packers offense on the sidelines. Last season, in their 20-17 win over Green Bay at home in Week three, the Bears needed five penalties (team-record 18 penalties for G.B.) for first down to upend its NFC North rivals. In essence, the home squad needs an effective run game minus two starting linemen and more fortune from the “zebras”, all while likely playing short-handed in the defensive backfield against one of the NFL’s top aerial attacks to beat the Pack? Packers 26 Bears 21