The Bears and Packers will renew their rivalry Thursday night at Lambeau Field in a Week 4 NFC North showdown.
The Packers, who were preseason favorites by many to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, will take on the Bears, who were considered by many to be in rebuilding mode and not likely to put up a fight for the division crown.
After the first three weeks, the talent gap between the two clubs is still distinguishable but it’s clear that Green Bay has played noticeably worse than expected and Chicago has performed somewhat better — save for their embarrassing Week 2 defeat to Tampa Bay.
With the Packers still heavy favorites to win the game, this is yet another opportunity for the Bears to score an upset victory, similar to the one they snagged last week against the Steelers.
But how do they do it?
Despite the Packers’ — and Aaron Rodgers’ — dominance over the Bears in recent years, there is, in fact, a way to defeat them. Here are a number of things that need to happen to help the Bears triumph against their rivals.
1. Crash the end of the Packers’ offensive line with pressure. Green Bay is ailing along the offensive line, specifically at the tackle positions where both starters are out for the game. The only way to take down a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, who has good escapability in the pocket, is to constantly move him off his spot. That is, don’t let him get comfortable and into a rhythm. This game is an opportunity for Leonard Floyd to have his coming out party. He has been relatively quiet this season and he needs to flash what he can do in prime time.
2. Control the clock and the tempo of the game with the dual-threat backfield. The Bears feature one of the top running back duos in the league with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, and they need to utilize both tonight. Howard has been battling a shoulder injury but he gutted out a terrific performance against the Steelers in Week 3. Given that the Bears are on a short week, I’d expect a lot more Cohen tonight to help alleviate the workload on Howard. Between the two backs, they’ll keep the Packers’ defense on its toes trying to contain the “thunder and lightning” styles that they bring to the table.
3. Go vertical and test the Packers’ secondary. You may think this sounds contradictory to #2, but it actually works hand in hand with it. The Packers know the Bears are going to run the ball. The entire league knows it. Hell, all of the prime time audience tuning into the game is aware of it. Which is why the Bears need to keep the Packers’ defense honest to avoid facing too many stacked boxes. Yes, the Bears are hurting at wide receiver. They don’t have a lot of options to go deep. But even the threat of throwing downfield to speedsters Markus Wheaton and Deonte Thompson will prevent the Packers from constantly bringing a safety up toward the line of scrimmage to challenge the run game. And one complete pass in the secondary could have a profound effect on the Bears’ run game.
4. Give Mike Glennon a clean pocket. We all know of Glennon’s problems taking care of the ball, and we know that he doesn’t have the best receivers at his disposal. But we’ve also seen signs of him performing like an adequate game manager when he doesn’t have bodies in his lap and he can afford to step up in the pocket and make his throws. He’s not going to set the world on fire, but he can move the chains with his throws.
5. Take care of the ball. No more turnovers, Glennon. That’s it. You can’t turn the ball over like you did against the Buccaneers. More often than not, the team that wins the turnover battle will win the game, and those percentages seem to increase in favor of the home team. It’ll be difficult enough trying to keep the Packers out of the end zone; how much more so trying to play catch-up if they get buried early due to turnovers?
6. Stay disciplined and focused. There are two ways the Bears could wind up tripping over themselves in this one. First, the pre-snap penalties. Rodgers has a nasty hard count that draws defenders offsides and gives the Packers free plays from time to time. The defensive linemen — and the rush linebackers — need to watch the ball and turn off their ears. Secondly, the Bears can’t have breakdowns in the passing game just as they’ve had the first few games. If you recall Week 1, a blown coverage allowed Falcons tight end Austin Hooper to score an 88-yard touchdown. And last week, on the Steelers’ first offensive play of the game, wide receiver Martavis Bryant slipped past the secondary and nearly had what would have been a monster touchdown to open the game. Stay focused and maintain technique and that will help force the Packers to earn every inch of what they get.
I’m not declaring a Bears victory tonight. I certainly think they have a shot, particularly given the Packers’ injuries along the offensive line and how much trouble their defense has had at stopping opponents this year.
But a big win at Lambeau is not impossible. In fact, it’s already happened in John Fox’s tenure with the Bears. They just have to play smart, disciplined and fundamentally sound football to make it happen.