Ravens-Packers MNF provides preview for Bears

December 8th, 2009 - 7:01 am

Monday night’s game between the Baltimore Ravens and Green Bay Packers provided Bears fans with a glimpse of what is to come in the next two weeks. The Bears will host the Packers this week at Soldier Field before traveling the following week to Baltimore.

It was not one of either team’s best performances of the season, that’s for sure, as the combined 310 penalty yards tied the second-highest single-game total in NFL history.

Aside from the miscues, there are plenty of reasons to fear both teams.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is one of the top quarterbacks in the league and has incredible numbers on third down. His ability to extend plays with his feet and allow his receivers time to get open is one of the main reasons why he’s able to prolong drives. I shudder to think just how good Rodgers can be if his offensive line was only half as bad as it currently is at protecting him. He’s been sacked a league-high 45 times, part of which is his fault for holding the ball too long, but most of it has to do with his protection.

Rodgers and Jay Cutler figure to have a long, healthy rivalry if and when the Bears decide to surround Cutler with the weapons with which Rodgers has to work. The Packers have one of the best receiving corps in the NFL, maybe second to Arizona. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson have combined for 151 receptions, 2,237 yards and 15 touchdowns. They also have a talented duo of tight ends in Jermichael Finley and Donald Lee, who have added 65 receptions for 645 yards and 4 touchdowns.

By comparison, the Bears’ top four receivers — Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, Johnny Knox, and Devin Aromashodu — have totaled 137 receptions, 1,712 yards and 8 touchdowns. Tight ends Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark have combined for 60 receptions, 540 yards and 6 touchdowns.

Perhaps what will be most perplexing to the Bears when they face the Packers next week is Green Bay’s defense. Since Lovie Smith took over as head coach, the Bears have been one of the league’s best at forcing turnovers. What they’ll find against Green Bay is a team with a league-leading plus-18 turnover ratio, thanks to takeaways generated by the league’s No. 1 defense. Four of those takeaways came on opening night when the Packers intercepted Jay Cutler four times.

Baltimore, meanwhile, doesn’t have the passing attack that Green Bay does, but they will beat you in a different manner. Running back Ray Rice is small in stature but is difficult to bring down. He averages 4.8 yards per carry and is No. 11 on the list of the top rushers. Quarterback Joe Flacco is more of a caretaker for the offense while he hands the ball off to Rice and allows the defense to close out games. It’s a formula that has worked in Baltimore for many years, and it has also worked for the Bears when their defense and run game were both a lot better than they are now.

The Bears generally have played the Packers tough with Smith as head coach, last year’s 37-3 drubbing at Lambeau Field notwithstanding. And because the Ravens don’t put a lot of points on the board, the game against them should be close, even if it is in Baltimore. After those two games, a Monday night date with the Vikings awaits followed by a Sunday afternoon game in Detroit.