Bears-Packers preview and game breakdown (12.16.12)

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A preview and breakdown of the matchup between the Bears and Packers on Dec. 16, 2012.

Bears offense vs. Packers defense
The first time these two teams met back in Week 2, the Bears could not get anything going offensively. Jay Cutler completed just 11 passes for 126 yards and threw four interceptions. Matt Forte rushed for just 31 yards before exiting with an ankle injury. And Brandon Marshall caught just two passes under tight coverage by the Packers secondary. The Bears talked a big game leading up to that contest, with Marshall saying he welcomed physical coverage and Cutler telling the Packers secondary “good luck” in stopping the Bears’ tall receivers — Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffery. It was just Mike Tice’s second game as offensive coordinator and we’ve seen him make progress throughout the season, specifically paying more attention to the run the past few weeks. The offensive line has also improved its pass blocking in that span, and they’re going to have to keep it up this week against a tough Packers pass rush. Linebacker Clay Matthews is probable for this game after battling a hamstring issue. Matthews has nine sacks in nine games played this season but he terrorized the Bears offensive line in Week 2 to the tune of 3.5 sacks and countless other Cutler pressures. It’s not just Matthews that brings the pressure. The Packers rank sixth in the NFL in sacks and will blitz their safeties, too. Free safety Morgan Burnett has two sacks, leads the team in tackles, and also has a pair of interceptions. The Bears won’t have to worry about facing veteran safety Charles Woodson, who almost always has a big game against them. Woodson is still out after breaking his collarbone earlier this season. Until the Bears can prove consistency on offense, it’s hard to give them any sort of edge in this matchup.
Advantage: Packers

Bears defense vs. Packers offense
The Bears laid a foundation in Week 2 for how to attack and pressure Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. In Rodgers’ career, he’s had a winning record (8-2, I believe is the count at this point) but Rodgers hasn’t really put up huge numbers against the Bears as much as he does against other teams. One of the reasons is that the Bears’ zone coverage takes away the big plays. Another reason is that the Bears have been attacking Rodgers in waves and not giving him time to set up in the pocket. Rodgers was sacked five times by the Bears in Week 2 and knocked down a number of other times. It’s that kind of constant pressure that will be required if the Bears want any shot to win this game. The Green Bay run game has been in a constant flux this year starting with Cedric Benson early in the year to James Starks to now Alex Green. Green leads the team with just 429 yards on 122 carries, an average of 3.5 yards per attempt. The Packers aren’t going to beat you with their ground game, though. But given how poorly the Bears defended Vikings running back Adrian Peterson last week, don’t be surprised if the Packers try grinding it against the Bears — at least early on. Everybody on defense has to play better than last week, but the Bears particularly have to shore up the pass rush and maintain gap responsibilities. It’s important for the Bears to force the Packers in third-and-long situations and avoid getting beat by the big plays.
Advantage: Packers

Special Teams
The Bears are going to need a big effort from their special teams in this one to make up for some of the deficiencies they have elsewhere. Field position will play a pivotal role in a close game like this. The biggest story line entering this game in the special teams department is how new Bears kicker Olindo Mare will handle kicking at Soldier Field, one of the more difficult places to kick. Mare won a tryout this week, in part, because he converted on all his field goals. But the 39-year-old kicker doesn’t have much strength left in his leg and I don’t trust him as much as I did Robbie Gould to make good on a last-second, game-tying or game-winning field goal. The Bears also have to worry about the production of Randall Cobb, one of the top young kick returners in the league. He’s averaging 10.2 yards per punt return and 25.8 yards per kickoff return. The Bears have had struggles having any kind of consistency in the return game with Devin Hester and Eric Weems. Still, the Bears are ranked higher in special teams, and despite the Packers’ fake field goal for a touchdown in the teams’ Week 2 matchup, I trust Dave Toub’s guys in this one.
Advantage: Bears

My, how far the Bears have fallen since midseason. From 7-1 to 8-5. They maintain control over their playoff destiny but the outlook for a potential Super Bowl doesn’t look particularly good, especially with the rash of injuries they have suffered, and to key players no less. Brian Urlacher could be done for the season but even if he’s back for the playoffs, he’s not the same player he once was. Julius Peppers has been battling plantar fasciitis all season and is not having the impact he has in previous years. Starting defensive tackles Henry Melton and Stephen Paea have both battled injuries. Safety Chris Conte has been banged up in recent weeks. On offense, Jay Cutler has suffered a concussion, a neck injury, and now a sprained knee. Matt Forte and Michael Bush have both had problems staying healthy. Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, and Alshon Jeffery have all missed time. Brandon Marshall has been the one constant on the team and the MVP of the ball club, but he can’t do it alone. This week has a playoff feeling to it. It’s a big-time game, and if the Bears win they almost certainly will make the postseason. If they lose, they still have a shot at the playoffs, but it leaves you asking the question: what’s the point? And will they do anything when they get there? Those two questions have kind of been the focal point as the Bears have dropped four of their last five games. Sadly, I see it becoming five of their last six games unless they come out and play differently than they have during that stretch.
Advantage: Packers

Final Score: Green Bay 27, Chicago 20

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