In case you haven't heard, there is a rather interesting football contest taking place this Sunday at Soldier Field between the Packers of Green Bay and the Bears of Chicago. Apparently, these teams have played a lot over the years, but rarely has their games had this much meaning. The winner, I guess, will have the chance to play in another game called the Super Bowl. I don't know about you, but I think that sounds kind of cool. I may even try to watch this match-up on my television.
Ok, enough of the snarkiness. Holy crap, the Bears and Packers are playing in the NFC Championship Game! Let that sink in for a minute. First of all, no one in their right mind saw the Bears having this much success this season. But, to top it off, not only are they one game away from the freakin' Super Bowl, but they also have the chance to get there by beating Green Bay, who, besides being our mortal enemies, were the chic Super Bowl pick this year by everyone and their sister. And it all takes place by lake at Soldier Field in Sweet Home Chicago. If you are not out-of-your mind, Alonzo Spellman-crazy, Mike Ditka-fired up for this game then you should hand in your Bears fan membership card.
Packers vs. Bears Preview
Protecting the quarterback, not turning the ball over, special teams, and the running game are all obvious factors that will impact the outcome of this football game. But, they are also obvious factors that impact almost ALL football games. So, I won't spend much time on these. In fact, I won't really be spending any time at all on the Packers strengths or weaknesses. Instead, I will focus on what I think are the important issues the Bears need to address in order to win this football game. Some of these still might be obvious, but, hey, I'm just a fan. No one has ever paid me to play, coach, or analyze professional football.
1. Red Zone Defense
It will be imperative that the Bears keep the Packers out of the end zone at the end of long drives. I think I'd have to be delusional to think we're going to completely shut down this Packers offense. They are going to move the ball to some extent. But, once they get inside the 20, the Bears will need to tighten up the space in their zones, force Rodgers into his 3rd or 4th read, and be aggressive at playing the football in the air. And, the defensive line can't be caught getting upfield and out of their gaps in case Green Bay decides to run weak-side draw plays under the defensive end. Any field goal given up inside the 20-yard line is a HUGE victory for the Bears.
2. Jay Cutler's Eyes
The Packers play an aggressive form of bump-and-run, man-to-man coverage. In his four games against this defense, Jay has looked befuddled most of the time. He needs to use their aggressiveness against them. There have been numerous times where he has stared down a receiver and thrown it late down the middle of the field only to see two, three, even four Packers defenders converge on the football. This can only happen when a quarterback is staring at a receiver or into an area far too long. Jay needs to use his eyes to move defenders to one area and then throw to the area they have vacated. I haven't seen him use many pump fakes, which may not be built in the Martz offense. But, that could also be an invaluable tool against a Packers defense that thinks it can pick off every pass he throws.
2a. Jay Cutler's Roaming Eyes
I hate to sound like such a Ron Turner, ball-control wimp, but I think Cutler (and Martz) should reverse the reads this week in their offense. I'm pretty sure most teams, and especially a Martz offense, have the quarterback read the defense from back to front (deep to short). The Packers pass rush and coverage is too good to wait for long developing pass plays. I think Jay should look for the underneath routes first and get the ball out of his hand to Forte, Taylor, and Olsen, especially early on in the game. This will help build confidence and, hopefully, frustrate the Packers blitz.
3. Forte and Taylor
I think Martz should put Matt Forte and Chester Taylor on the field at the same time for 12-15 plays. This will give them a myriad of run/pass options as well as showing Green Bay something that the Bears really haven't done much this year. If both players can chip on the ends/backers and then get into the flat, I think it will provide the outlet options Cutler will need.
The Bears have run on a few misdirection plays this year, and have had some success. I think they need to do this a few times early in the game to get the Packers thinking, which will slow down their pass rush. This is what offenses do to the Bears because their ends can get up field so fast. We should be doing it to other teams.
5. Zone Blitz
Ok, so this one might be a bit far-fetched, but I would love to see Marinelli call a handful of zone blitzes where D.J. Moore comes off the slot and Peppers drops back into coverage. While it may be insane to take Peppers out of what he does best, he is too athletic not to use him in a variety of ways to try and confuse the Packers. Plus, I would love to see Julius get a pick-six on a pass intended for Donald Driver.
6. Defensive Line Hand-Play
Finally, the entire defensive line should be aware of the clock in Rodgers' head. If on a given play the defensive line was unable to get much penetration, they MUST get their hands up in hopes of deflecting a pass. The Bears used to be really good at this during the Jauron years when they had very little pass rush. If the defense can get two or three balls tipped up in the air, good things will happen.
If the Bears can do some of these things plus, you know, protect the football, run it well, get a special teams score, and get a bunch of turnovers, the Bears will win big. I don't really think you can count on all of those happening in the same game, especially in the NFC Championship Game against a familiar opponent that is playing as well as the Packers. But, the defense has shown it can limit the Packers offense this year, and the Bears offense has shown some signs of life towards the end of the season. This should be a really close, relatively low-scoring game. Since the Bears are at home, and I'm a huge homer Bears fan, of course I think they'll win...but it will be close enough to cause a huge increase in Maalox consumption during the 4th quarter and, yes, overtime. So, pack your bags Bears fans. Your trip to Dallas awaits you. Bear Down!!!
Bears 23, Packers 20 (OT)