A look at four keys for the Bears to beat this week’s opponent.
1. Play 60 minutes of disciplined, mistake-free football
Probably the most important task awaiting the Bears this week in their Sunday night showdown against divisional rival Green Bay is not losing their cool in a hostile environment. The Bears have claimed that Game 3 of the preseason against the Denver Broncos when Jay Cutler returned to face his former team and was booed mercilessly was a good warmup for this Packers game. To some extent, they were right. They began their first two drives deep inside their own territory and had two three-and-outs to start the game. But they protected the ball, re-established field position, and made successful drives to take the lead. Against the Packers, the Bears will probably hear even more noise considering it’s a regular season game and there will be more fans in attendance than there were in Denver. No matter what else happens, protecting the football and eliminating stupid penalties will at least help the Bears stay in this game until the final buzzer.
2. Make Aaron Rodgers as uncomfortable as possible
Everybody remembers last year’s embarrassing 37-3 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field and how running back Ryan Grant rushed for 145 yards on 25 carries for a 5.8 average. Stopping the run is always important in any football game, but it’s not as important in this game as containing the guy taking snaps. Rodgers has a great ability at feeling pressure and moving around the pocket — inside and out — to avoid getting sacked. He also is not as reckless as former Packers quarterback Brett Favre, who would often force things down the field just to avoid taking a sack. Rodgers will throw the ball away or take a sack if necessary to avoid turning the ball over. The Packers’ running game will get their yards, and it’s likely that they’ll top 100 on the ground. But the Bears must prevent Rodgers from getting into a rhythm and connecting with receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. To do this, they’ll need their front four to put pressure on him and never let him feel comfortable in the pocket.
3. Win the field position battle
Imagine being on the road, backed up near your own end zone and the crowd noise coming down on you so loud that it was hard for you to communicate with your teammates, much less get the play call from your offensive coordinator. You don’t have to think too hard; just look back to the Broncos preseason game. Cutler handled that pressure magnificently, and instead of trying to force something that could have resulted in a turnover, the Bears’ special teams and defense helped them out of the jam. It’s imperative that special teams plays well and try to force the Packers to begin every possession from inside their own territory. If a turnover happens or the defense is pushed on its heels during a long drive, the offense will have a long ways to go to get into scoring range and it’ll be that much more difficult to keep up on the scoreboard. Devin Hester and Danieal Manning will have to field punt and kick returns, respectively, and get positive yardage from them. The offense will have to move the chains, and at the very worst, give Brad Maynard sufficient space to punt the ball away. As for the coverage teams, they’ll have to be top notch and not miss tackles on returns.
4. Chew up the clock with a consistent run game
Simple fact: only one offense can be on the field at a time. The longer that the Bears’ offense is on the field, the less of Rodgers’ group we’ll see. It’s not a difficult concept to grasp, but it can be difficult at times to achieve. What concerns me the most about not only the Packers game but every other game on the schedule is the lack of depth at running back. Garrett Wolfe is a guy that you want to use in passing situations where he can get the ball in space and try to make defenders miss. He’s not the type of back whom you can insert into the lineup for an entire series at a time and expect the offense to continue its momentum. This likely means more work for Matt Forte and increased punishment. The Bears will have to move the chains and take large chunks of time off the clock to help keep their defense fresh and the potent Packers’ offense on the sideline. Running the ball effectively is always the surest way of doing that.