Even after their bye week in Week 7, the Chicago Bears are in a tough spot, heading into a Monday night game with long-time rival Green Bay.
The last time we saw the Bears, they gave up 45 points, including a touchdown with under a minute left in a four-point loss to the Washington Redskins. As if the loss weren't bad enough, they suffered big injuries to quarterback Jay Cutler and linebacker Lance Briggs.
The Bears appeared to have finally figured out the offensive problems they've struggled with in recent years, but now their defense has taken a huge step back. The Bears rank second in the league, scoring 30.4 points per game, a 10th of a point better than the Packers. They're also giving up 29.4 points per game, however, the fourth worst rate in the league.
Now they travel to Lambeau Field where they take on a Green Bay team that appears to be hitting their stride. The Packers are 5-2 and in first place in the NFC North. They're coming off of a 44-31 road win over the Minnesota Vikings. Earlier this season, they topped Detroit 22-9, and they'll look to continue their dominance over the Bears this week.
For more information on this matchup, I reached over to Green Bay Featured Columnist Matt Stein.
Stein has been with B/R since May of 2011 and is a graduate of Wes Bunting's NFL Scouting Class. You can find his breakdown of Green Bay's game plan for this week's game here.
Bleacher Report: What is something you’re concerned about with the Packers facing the Bears?
Matt Stein: The one thing you always have to be concerned about is the Bears ability to create turnovers. While that usually isn't an issue with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, there have been a few games this season where Rodgers has struggled with interceptions. The combination of Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman are also fantastic at creating fumbles.
When the Packers lose the turnover battle, they usually lose the football game. Considering they've been one of the worst teams in the league at creating turnovers this year, they simply can't afford to cough up the football.
That's about the only thing the Bears have done well this season. When the Bears haven't gotten turnovers this season, they've been shredded, and I wish I could say there's reason to believe that will change.
Rodgers has seemed more prone to throwing the ball into coverage this year, although he's been better in recent weeks. Three of his four interceptions have come in losses, so if the Bears can force an interception or two, that could go a long way toward helping their cause.
B/R: What is one area you think the Packers can exploit in the matchup?
MS: For the first time in a long time, the area that the Packers can exploit is the run defense of the Bears. Rookie running back Eddie Lacy has been fantastic this year and his backups James Starks and Johnathan Franklin have also been able to provide sparks of offense from the bench.
However, the main reason the Packers can exploit this matchup is because the Bears have really struggled against the run this year. They currently have the second-worst run defense in the league according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). They're giving up nearly 120 yards per game right now, the eighth-most per game in the NFL.
With the Packers running the ball better than they have in recent memory and the Bears having difficulties slowing anyone down, this could be a huge advantage for Green Bay once the game is all done.
Again, I agree. The Bears run defense the past couple of weeks has been nothing short of pathetic. They are capable of being much better as they've held three opponents to 80 yards or fewer on the ground this season and held Adrian Peterson to under four yards per carry, even with a 36-yard run.
Against New York, the Bears didn't have the manpower, starting Landon Cohen—who began this season as a free agent—and Corey Wootton, a defensive end, at defensive tackle. Wootton remains and Cohen is still in the rotation, but they have Stephen Paea back.
The Bears were gashed by Washington's option plays as it seemed they struggled with assignments, particularly on outside runs. The Packers don't do a lot of option looks, but they could catch the Bears selling out on play action plays and it could get ugly.
If the Bears are going to have a chance to stop Green Bay's running game, they're going to have to stack the box and bench under-sized defensive end Shea McClellin. That, of course, could open up the deep passing game for the Packers.
B/R: Who do you think wins and why?
MS: I think you'd have to be foolish to think the Bears can win this game for a number of reasons.
For starters, Chicago is going to be without two of their best players in Cutler and Briggs. We've seen in years past how much the Bears have struggled without Cutler on the field, and there is no reason to think that will change this week.
Secondly, the game is at Lambeau Field, where the Packers have excelled and the Bears have struggled. In fact, the last time the Bears won at Green Bay was back in 2007 when they escaped with a 27-20 victory.
With injuries and history playing against the Bears, all signs point to the Packers increasing their lead in the NFC North come Monday night.
If you were to say it would be foolish to say the Bears will win, I might agree with you. There's no doubt in my mind that they can win, however.
Secondly, if Charles Tillman is near 100 percent, he and Tim Jennings can lock down Green Bay's receivers and Aaron Rodgers doesn't have a lot of other options. If safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte play like they did last year, that could put the Packers in big trouble. While he was able to tear up an awful Vikings secondary last week, the Bears—if they play up to their abilities—could give him a lot of problems.
Thirdly, Julius Peppers had 3.5 sacks against Green Bay last year, and he'll be going against rookie David Bakhtiari. Bakhtiari has been solid but not nearly as good as some seem to think as he's given up a hit, hurry or sack once every 16.5 snaps and has been called for six penalties, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Peppers hasn't played well this year, but this could be a good time for a breakout game. According to the scouts the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn spoke to, Peppers' play isn't about physical decline but rather motivation. He could be motivated on Monday night.
If the Bears' secondary can hold up, they could also throw a few blitzes in there and may be able to make Rodgers' life difficult. He's capable of making tight throws, but he doesn't like to do it very often. As McGinn wrote after their loss to the Giants last year, Rodgers is very mindful of his statistics and hates throwing interceptions.
On the other side of the ball, the Bears have physical advantages throughout the secondary and matchup nightmares with tight end Martellus Bennett. If Josh McCown can play like he did against the Redskins (remember he was a third-round pick who is now playing for a quarterback guru), the Bears could be in business.
I realize all of that is a lot to ask for and a seven-game sample should be enough to tell us it isn't going to happen. That's why I'm picking the Packers to win rather easily—38-20—but I wouldn't be shocked if the Bears made this a much closer game than you think.