Four Downs: Keys to beating the Packers (09/25/11)

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

Aaron Rodgers will make the Bears pay if they have to take defenders out of coverage in order to blitz him.
Aaron Rodgers will make the Bears pay if they have to take defenders out of coverage in order to blitz him.

1. Apply pressure without blitzing

After Henry Melton’s two-sack — and six quarterback hits — performance against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1, he disappeared completely against the Saints, failing to even appear on the stat sheet. Some may attribute that to him facing a young, inexperienced group of interior linemen on the Falcons while going up against a much better pair of guards on the Saints. Whatever the case may be, he’ll need to play more like he did in Week 1 when the Bears face the Packers this week because the defense will have to try to generate all its pressure from the front four. That’s a tall task but a necessary one because Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the league at exploiting teams that blitz and making them pay. Additionally, the Packers have what is widely considered the best, and deepest, group of wide receivers in the league, to go with one of the most promising and physically-gifted tight ends in the league in Jermichael Finley. The Bears will need their back seven to drop into coverage as often as possible, so it’s incumbent upon the front four to collapse the pocket and make Rodgers uncomfortable.

2. Prevent the big play

It’s amazing that a defense whose No. 1 priority is to keep everything in front of it to prevent big plays got burned by a big play last week. It’s not as though Saints quarterback Drew Brees served up a jump ball on which a tall receiver went up and made a great play. That would be understandable and forgivable. That’s a play that cannot be stopped by any particular defensive scheme. What happened was safety Major Wright let a receiver run past him and break the last line of defense and all Brees had to do was lay it out there for Devery Henderson to run under and catch for a 79-yard score. For the second straight week the Bears will face one of the Top 3 quarterbacks in the league and one of the most potent offenses. Rodgers and the Packers will take their chances down the field and the Bears better be homed in on keeping everything in front of them.

3. Take the ball away

The second part of Lovie Smith’s defense after defending the deep part of the field and forcing the offense to check down is to take the ball away. The Bears only took the ball away once from the Saints when Charles Tillman punched the ball out of Mark Ingram’s hands and then recovered it. The play happened late in the fourth quarter, though, when the game was all but over. Say what you want about the Bears relying on the unpredictable as part of their core defensive philosophy, but it’s worked for Smith’s teams for years and his defenses are always among the best in the league at recording takeaways. Smith notes that if the Bears don’t take away the ball, the team’s chances of winning are greatly reduced regardless of how well the offense protects the football. The Bears have to keep the Packers out of the end zone at all costs and if they’re not forcing field goals, then they need to be forcing turnovers.

4. Shoot for 60%-40% pass-to-run ratio

Let’s be realistic: offensive coordinator Mike Martz will not completely abandon the pass in favor of a run-first offense. As great as a 50-50 game plan sounds because that would mean the Bears are having success running the ball, that kind of balance doesn’t occur in today’s pass-heavy league. A ratio of 35 passes to 25 runs — which is roughly 60% pass to 40% run — is a more realistic goal for the offense and it’s a formula that can probably lead to victory. That, of course, depends on the success the Bears have with those 25 rushing attempts. It’s important for Martz not to panic no matter the game situation. I think he noticed against the Saints that, aside from Matt Forte’s 42-yard run on the first carry of the Bears’ second possession, the run game was getting stuffed in the first half and he assumed — incorrectly — that the Bears could get more done through the air in the second half. Unless the Bears trail by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, there’s no reason to abandon the run before that.

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