Being stuck in Cheeseland (I live in Wisconsin) makes it hard sometimes to enjoy the football season, especially when the Bears are struggling. I've lived here for 13 years, so I've had to endure much of Favre's career, which usually involved destroying the Bears. Now, the Packers have moved into the Aaron Rodgers era, which looks like it could give the Bears just as many problems as the Favre era! Cheeseheads have found another great quarterback. Yeesh. Can't they have a few bad years between good signal callers? Where is their version of Rick Mirer or Peter Tom Willis or Rex Grossman? At least it appears that we've found our own franchise quarterback in Jay Cutler. Let's hope he stays healthy and cuts down on the inexcusable throws like he's avoided since late last year. Then, maybe, Packer fans can whine about the Bears always having a great quarterback!
PACKERS vs. BEARS PREVIEW
Monday night's game between the Packers of Green Bay and the Bears of Chicago will be the 180th meeting all-time between these two storied franchises. The Bears lead the series 91-82-6 since they started playing in 1921. The Bears dominated in the 40s and 50s and the Packers dominated in the 60s. The 70s were pretty equal, but the Bears started dominating again from 1983 through 1992 when they won 15 out of 20, including eight in a row from 1985 through 1988. But, the Packers dominated from late 1992 until 2003 when they won an astounding 20 out of 23 games, including a stretch of 10 in a row during Favre's vicodin-induced, womanizing--sorry, I mean, "heyday". I swear, I am not bitter. Well, maybe just a little. Since, 2004, the series has been pretty even, with the Bears leading 7-5.
After this preseason ended, it looked like these teams were headed in different directions. The Packers first team, second team, and third team dominated opponents during their exhibition games. Even before the preseason began, they were the chic pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. After the preseason, they were EVERYBODY'S pick to get to the title game. The Bears, on the other hand, looked awful in the preseason and most thought they'd be a 3rd or 4th place team (yours truly included). Lo and behold, both teams are 2-0 and tied for first place in the NFC North heading into Monday night. Are you ready for some football?
The Packers have an explosive passing game led by one of the game's best quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers is smart, mobile, and deadly accurate with the football. He has a top flight receiver in Greg Jennings and a solid number two in Donald Driver, even if he has lost a step or two. But, their most dangerous weapon so far this season has been tight end Jermichael Finley. He's leading the Packers in receiving yards, and he's averaging 18.8 yards per catch. Did I mention that he's a TIGHT END? He has freaky skills. The Bears will need to corral Finley and punish Jennings and Driver in order to stop this potent attack. Their running game took a big hit when they lost Ryan Grant for the season. Brandon Jackson is a capable backup, but they struggled to run the ball effectively last week because the Packers offensive line is a bit of a question mark. It sounds like veteran left tackle Chad Clifton is out with an injury, so rookie Bryan Bulaga will be protecting Rodger's blind-side. I don't know about you, but I can't help but smile when I hear "rookie" and "blind-side" in describing the player responsible for blocking Julius Peppers. Urlacher and Briggs should be able to shut down yet another running game. The Bears are giving up only 1.4 yards per rush this year, which is just over four-feet. That is the equivalent height of your average third grader.
The Packers defense has some ball-hawking cornerbacks in Charles Woodson and Nick Collins. They are aggressive players who are willing to take chances. That can lead to a ton of headaches for Jay Cutler, but it also provides ample opportunity to exploit them. They also have some explosive, play-making linebackers. Clay Matthews leads the NFL with six sacks. Yes, I said SIX. They've only played two games. If my math is correct, Matthews is on pace for 419 sacks. That's a lot. The Bears offensive line will need to play well for the Bears to be successful (stop me if you've heard this before). If Chris Williams is still out at left tackle, then Frank Omilaye will have to start where he left off against Cowboys.
This is the game that I think the Bears will finally get their running game going. They should be able to have some success against the Packers front seven. The Bears are averaging less than four yards per carry this year. You can win a few games throwing the ball on every down, but you can't do it consistently. Forte and Taylor need to average four yards per carry if the Bears are going to keep winning. Cutler has looked like a machine this season, but this team will need balance to take some pressure off of him. I don't think he'll ever completely lose the gunslinger mentality, but an effective running game behind him would certainly help. I don't blame the offensive line for all of the problems in the running game, though. Forte needs to hit the hole quicker, and stop tip-toeing up to the line of scrimmage. At times, he reminds me of Herschel Walker. Not good. The Bears would be smart to run some zone-blocking, cutback plays that were so successful a few years ago. The Packers are aggressive. Why not use that aggression against them?
If the Bears can beat back-to-back teams that had real Super Bowl aspirations heading into the season, what does that say about their own potential? I'm not sure, but I'm damn excited to find out.
Bears 24, Packers 20