Four Downs: Keys to beating the Packers (01/23/11)

January 19th, 2011 - 9:25 am

A look at four keys for the Bears to beat this week’s opponent.

1. Keep Aaron Rodgers in the pocket and collapse it on him
There are several keys for the Bears to win this game but perhaps none more important than this one. If they accomplish nothing else, preventing Aaron Rodgers from beating them will prevent the Packers from winning the game. The Bears need to prepare for Rodgers as they prepared for Michael Vick. While certainly not as fast as Vick, Rodgers does have the mobility to move around in the pocket and also make plays with his feet. If he feels the pressure coming, he can escape the pocket and either hit the open receiver or pick up yards with his legs. Rodgers was third among quarterbacks behind Vick and Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman with 356 rushing yards in the regular season. He averaged 5.6 yards per attempt and scored four rushing touchdowns. The blueprint for containing him is simple; the execution of the plan is anything but easy. One might think Julius Peppers has to have a monster game, which would definitely help, obviously. But the pressure applied from the defensive tackles will be the key. Tommie Harris benefitted with two sacks in the Seattle game thanks to outside pressure from Peppers and Israel Idonije. If Harris, Anthony Adams, Matt Toeaina, and Henry Melton can get upfield in a hurry, they’ll push Rodgers into the waiting arms of Peppers and Idonije.

2. Protect Jay Cutler and adjust the hot routes
The Bears did a good job of protecting Jay Cutler throughout the second half of the season, a major reason why they went on a five-game win streak. But despite a marked improvement, the Bears did allow Cutler to get sacked six times by this Packers defense in the regular season finale. The Packers finished second in the league in the regular season with 47 sacks and they will bring a lot of pressure on Cutler. How well the offensive line — and the running backs and tight ends — can protect the blitz from getting to Cutler will go a long way toward determining the outcome of this game. Toward the end of that Week 17 game, the Packers were sending Charles Woodson on a cornerback blitz almost consistently. When Cutler attempted to dump the ball off to his hot read, Woodson jumped to bat the ball down. It’s hard to win a game when you can’t set up in the pocket and get into a rhythm, so the Bears better have a great protection plan in place.

3. Take advantage of the special teams edge and accentuate it
The Packers and Bears have two of the best defenses in the league with no discernible edge between them. The Packers offense is more consistent and explosive than the Bears offense and is a better unit even when the Bears play the way they did last week against the Seahawks. However, the biggest discrepancy between two units comes in the third phase, where the Bears have a huge edge in special teams. The Packers’ special teams ranked near the bottom of the league whereas the Bears rank perennially near the top. The game can hinge on field position and the Bears will have to use their weapons to make the jobs of Rodgers and the Packers offense that much more difficult. Devin Hester returned a punt for a touchdown in Week 3 on Monday night against the Packers, which opened the floodgates for his return to prominence. If he and Danieal Manning can provide the offense with a good starting position, it’ll help go a long way.

4. Win the turnover battle
It’s a simple key that is the same in every football game, but it’s a necessary one in what could be an extremely tight game. Even one ill-timed turnover could turn the tide of the game and the Bears need to win this battle. Lovie Smith’s defense thrives on turnovers and the goal is to record three takeaways per game. But it’s not enough for the defense to have a goal; the offense needs one, too. And the offense’s goal should be zero, as in don’t give up the ball at all. An interception or fumble can negate the huge advantage the Bears have on special teams and give the Packers a short field with which to work. The Packers have one of the top scoring defenses in the league and the Bears are not likely to put up big numbers on them. Hence, the more turnovers the Bears have, the easier it’ll be for the Packers to put up points and make it harder for the Bears to catch up.