Packers vs Bears: 10 Keys to the Game for Green Bay
If the Pack come away victorious, they will clinch the NFC North division and secure a spot in the upcoming playoffs. All they will have left to figure out is which seed they will hold at the end of the season.
On the other hand, if the Bears best Green Bay, the NFC North will remain wide open possibly up until the final game of the season. With the Minnesota Vikings still very much in the hunt, the division could go to any of the top three teams if the Packers lose.
Obviously, Green Bay fans and players would prefer to simply sew up the division as soon as possible. In order to do that against an opponent that is also fighting for its playoff life, the team will need to execute a near perfect game. Keep reading for ten factors that the Pack must control in order to earn the victory they need to clinch the NFC North this Sunday.
Pressure Jay Cutler
Jay Cutler has never been strong against the Packers defense, a trend that needs to be kept up on Sunday.
Although the defense has been decimated by injuries, there has been incredible resilience and depth. Better yet, some of the starters are returning to the lineup.
Of particular note is that Clay Matthews is back, which should make a huge difference in penetration. Even if Matthews doesn't come away with big numbers, the double-team he will command will open the door for his teammates to make plays.
Shut Down Brandon Marshall
If Brandon Marshall wants to talk a big game and demand single coverage in a man-to-man showdown, that’s fine. The important thing is that the Packers defense ignores him and sticks with the game plan that helped shut him down in Week 2.
It is vital for the defensive players to ignore the temptation to give in to Marshall’s taunts and for no one to try to prove himself the better man. Green Bay can keep Marshall under control as a team, but individually they will have a rough time getting the job done.
Put Points on the Board
It’s been painful to watch the Green Bay offense trundle along during the majority of the season, with a stuttering passing game and mediocre running shutting down drives before they reach the red zone.
Couple that with the slump that Mason Crosby has experienced for the past couple of months that has been preventing the offense from reliably scoring long field goals, and you have a formula that has translated to low scoring games—at least in the context of the high octane offense Green Bay is capable of running.
If there was ever a game where the offense needed to function more efficiently and score on the majority of their drives, it is this one.
Protect Aaron Rodgers
The Packers have struggled all year to field consistent play from their offensive line. In their last matchup against the Detroit Lions, they showed signs of perhaps finally coming together—maybe.
Rookie Don Barclay gave a solid performance in his first NFL start, which surely caused everyone to breathe a little bit easier. Despite that bright spot, there are still plenty of concerns.
The players who will take the field on Sunday and who will line up where are still a cloudy situation as we head into the weekend, and many of the starters have been consistently outmatched when it comes to protecting Aaron Rodgers.
In order to succeed against a staunch Bears defense—even one without the formidable Brian Urlacher—the offensive line must be at the top of its game no matter who is playing where.
Stick with the Run
The running game has enjoyed surprising success over the past few weeks, a trend which must continue for the offense to move down the field on Sunday.
With Alex Green gaining confidence, Ryan Grant back on the field and unexpected rookie DuJuan Harris offering a burst of speed, the Packers have options this week that should help them keep the defense honest and open up the passing game.
It’s a bonus that there is almost no 2012 tape for the Chicago defense to study on either Grant or Harris, which gives the Packers a bit of an edge in utilizing those two.
Mike McCarthy must use those factors to his advantage and continue to stick with the run, even if it is not immediately successful.
Practice Offensive Patience
Aaron Rodgers has been doing a pretty good job of exercising patience in the passing game by throwing a lot of safer short passes instead of playing the gunslinger and trying to force a big play.
It’s been frustrating at times to watch an offense as primed for a big play as Green Bay’s take smaller steps down the field, but it has largely worked.
Against the Cover 2 defense that Chicago likes to play, he will have to continue to practice patience and wait for the defense to make a mistake before reaching for the big play.
Strong Special Teams Performance
The Packers have put together an excellent campaign with their special teams this season with the notable exception of Mason Crosby’s slump.
When it comes to coverage on kickoff and punt returns as well as punting averages, things are looking really good for Green Bay. In fact, Tim Masthay is poised to compile the first 40.0 yard average punting season that the Packers have had since that statistic has been tracked in 1976.
Between that and the shutdown return coverage, the Packers should be able to neutralize return threat Devin Hester.
Wear Down the Chicago Defense
The Chicago Bears' defense was a force to be reckoned with in the first half of the season, forcing turnovers and putting points on the board that helped to offset offensive struggles that have plagued the team for much of the season.
That previously dominant group hasn’t scored off of a turnover since Week 10 and the impact is staggering for the Bears: Chicago is 1-4 since then.
By executing long, sustained drives and wearing down the Chicago defense, the Packers can continue to shut down the Chicago defense. With the renewed life that has been breathed into the Green Bay running game, this should be entirely possible as long as the Pack practices good ball security.
Get the Green Bay Defense off the Field
Last week, it was disheartening how frequently the Green Bay defense managed to get the Lions into third down situations only to give up first down yardage.
The defense is worn incredibly thin at several positions. Staying on the field longer is never a good thing, but for players who are already stepping up to cover for injured starters, it will be exhausting.
Fortunately, having Clay Matthews back should help enormously in helping get the defense off the field. The pressure he can create and the general havoc he is capable of wrecking even when he is double-teamed will open up the avenue for sacks and other big plays against Chicago’s relatively weak offensive line.
Positive Turnover Ratio
When the defense generates more turnovers than the offense gives up, the team has an edge. It’s not a hard concept, but it’s a good rule of thumb.
The Packers' defense has been excellent at sniffing out turnovers, but so is the Bears defense—even if they are in a bit of a slump.
Practicing good ball security on offense and making the most of the mistakes the Bears make will be the biggest key of all to coming away with a win and the division on Sunday.