Game Breakdown: Packers at Bears (09.27.10)

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Bears offense vs. Packers defense
Through two weeks, the Bears have the No. 5 offense which includes the No. 3 passing attack, averaging 316 yards per game through the air. Due to a pedestrian 69.5 rushing yards per game, which ranks them fifth-worst in the league, the Bears are well on their way to becoming a one-dimensional offense. It’s not only possible but it’s quite realistic that if not for a bad offensive line, the Bears would be the top-ranked passing offense in the league because they only trail the Indianapolis Colts by a mere 18.5 yards per game. What this all means is that the Packers should be able to zero in on attacking Jay Cutler and forcing the Bears to try to beat them with the run. The Packers clearly present the Bears their toughest challenge to date. They have solid players at every level of the defense. Dom Capers is in his second season as defensive coordinator and his 3-4 defense gives offenses fits, especially those that can’t handle the blitz pressure, such as the Bears. Linebacker Clay Matthews leads the league with six sacks, but he’s only one of the many talented linebackers the Packers have including Nick Barnett, Brandon Chillar, and A.J. Hawk. Behind them plays a talented secondary led by the reigning NFL defensive player of the year, Charles Woodson. Woodson seems to get better with age and is fourth on the team in tackles. Nick Collins is a two-time Pro Bowl safety. Up front the Packers feature a lot of beef in ends Ryan Pickett and Cullen Jenkins and nose tackle B.J. Raji. The Packers have the No. 3 passing and overall defense. Mike Martz’s creative play calling and ability to adjust makes this matchup close, but the Packers have the slight edge.
Advantage: Packers

Bears defense vs. Packers offense
I’m fairly confident that the Bears’ run defense is the real deal. They’re currently ranked No. 1 in the league while allowing just 28 yards per game on the ground, and while they may not finish with the top ranking, they should be among the league’s best as long as they stay healthy. The reason why they’re so effective is because of the play of their linebackers. Because Brian Urlacher is back healthy and Lance Briggs is playing as good as he’s been, the linebackers are attacking the line of scrimmage and even dropping ball carriers in the backfield. For Pisa Tinoisamoa to be the third best backer of the corps, that speaks volumes. Tinoisamoa is an underrated player who may not make the headlines but always seems to be around the football. Through two weeks, Julius Peppers may not have made too many plays but he hand a strip sack in Week 1 and he’s been holding his ground against constant double teams. It’s up to the other defensive linemen to take advantage and they haven’t done as well a job as they should. Backup Matt Toeaina has been a pleasant surprise and has applied pressure when given an opportunity. I’d like to see more out of Israel Idonije, Mark Anderson, and Anthony Adams. Of course, No. 91 is still lying in the weeds. The secondary has had its ups and downs so far this season and that’s what I worry about most in this matchup. Their performance could be the key to the game. Aaron Rodgers is one of the top quarterbacks in the league and he can extend plays with his feet, making it more difficult for the defensive backfield to sustain its coverage. With Major Wright out for a while, it’ll be incumbent upon Chris Harris and Danieal Manning to stay fresh and make plays. Cornerback D.J. Moore had two interceptions last week, albeit off tipped or deflected passes. But give him credit for being in the right place and maintaining the concentration to complete the picks. Charles Tillman is still in rare form with his uncanny ability to punch the ball out of receivers’ hands and Danieal Manning is playing surprisingly well at strong safety and is fifth on the team in tackles right now. Unfortunately in this matchup, Rodgers has too many weapons all over the field with perhaps the best receiving corps in the league led by Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and James Jones, and one of the up-and-coming tight ends in Jermichael Finley.
Advantage: Packers

Special Teams
The Bears’ Robbie Gould and Packers kicker Mason Crosby have both converted on all four field goal attempts that they’ve attempted this season. Crosby has a long of 56, though, where as Gould’s long was from 40 yards away. I’ll take Gould’s 86.2% career average over Crosby’s 78.7% with the game on the line, though. Gould also has improved the depth on his kickoffs this year as he has three touchbacks through two games whereas he only had eight touchbacks all of last season. He’s also put a few more kicks into the end zone that were brought out by kick returners. Brad Maynard has downed five punts inside the 20 compared to zero from Packers punter Tim Masthay. Masthay has punted four less times, though. Masthay possesses a better average and net average. Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson is a good kick returner, averaging 31 yards per return on seven attempts, ranking him fifth in the league. Johnny Knox has just one kickoff which he returned for 42 yards on the opening kick against Dallas. The combination of Knox and Danieal Manning is still more dangerous than Nelson. The Packers’ Tramon Williams averages 8 yards per punt return and also has made the most fair catches. There’s been plenty of griping this week about Devin Hester’s returns but I’ll still take him back there over almost any other punt returner in the league. The Bears need to shore up their kick coverage after allowing a punt return touchdown last week against Dallas but the Bears still have one of the league’s best special teams.
Advantage: Bears

The Packers are right where everybody expected them to be after two weeks, minus their starting running back for the season. The Bears, meanwhile, have turned some heads with the way they’ve played and yet there are still question marks as to whether they’re the real deal. Both head coaches, Lovie Smith and Mike McCarthy, have received their share of criticism over the years and there’s not a distinguishable difference in the level of competence between the two, although Bears fans would argue otherwise. The Packers have a good football mind at defensive coordinator in Capers but the Bears counter it with a more intelligent offensive mind in Martz. The amount of football knowledge the Bears have assembled on their coaching staff can’t go unnoticed and it’s one of the primary reasons they beat Dallas last week. They’ll need every inch of game planning to help them beat the Packers on Monday night. Home field advantage will also aid the Bears. Ultimately, what I think the game will come down to is turnovers and execution, the two most obvious keys to winning. Can the Bears hold onto the football and not fumble as much as they did in Week 1? Can the defense force three turnovers like they did in each of their first two games? Can Cutler maintain his poise and good decision making and shed this curse he has with night games? If they can do that, they can overcome almost any execution the Packers passing attack has against the Bears’ secondary. They have enough other factors working in their favor to win the game, but I haven’t seen enough from the secondary to allay my concerns.
Advantage: Bears

Final Score: Green Bay 23, Chicago 20

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