Packers vs. Bears Part 2: Behind Enemy Lines with Green Bay Columnist Matt Stein

Andrew Dannehy@@ADannChiBearsCorrespondent IDecember 27, 2013

It has come to this. One game for the NFC North with one of the longest-running rivalries in all of professional sports, as the Chicago Bears host the Green Bay Packers.

The Bears took the first game at Lambeau Field, and it was one that changed the Packers' season. On the first drive of that game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers led the Packers down the field before being sacked on third down from the 9-yard line.

On that sack, Rodgers injured his collarbone and hasn't played since. According to Pro Football Talk's Mike Wilkening, he is expected to be back this week, however, with their season on the line.

That game was also Josh McCown's first start with the Bears. It was a solid start for him, but the best would be yet to come. The Bears replaced him with starter Jay Cutler the following week, but Cutler suffered another injury, and McCown put up some impressive statistics in his absence. 

Two weeks ago, the Bears put Cutler back in the starting lineup. After a rough start, he was great against the Browns and never really had a chance to do anything against the Eagles, as the Bears fell behind by 21 points before he threw his second pass.

Many will judge the Bears' decision to go with Cutler over McCown on this week's game.

While both teams have their starting quarterbacks back, neither has much of a defense to support them. The Packers are 24th, giving up 26.7 points per game, while the Bears are 30th, allowing 29.7. 

They're both in contention because of their offenses, as the Packers have averaged 25.6 points per game—ninth in the NFL—and the Bears have scored 27.8, the third-best mark in the league.

On paper, it looks like it'll be a shootout. 

For more information on this big game, I reached out to Green Bay Featured Columnist Matt Stein.


What is one adjustment you’re expecting each team to make?

Matt Stein (MS): With news that quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be playing on Sunday, the biggest adjustment the Packers can make from the first game is to trust their passing game. Rodgers has quite a bit more talent than Seneca Wallace, who replaced an injured Rodgers in the first quarter.

The Packers will now be able to open up their playbook and take advantage of a Bears defense that has really been struggling in past weeks.

As for the Bears, they get Jay Cutler back at quarterback after he was injured in the first matchup between the two teams. Their adjustment will be to have a more balanced attack on offense, trying to take advantage of Brandon Marshall's and Alshon Jeffery's size.


My Take

I agree, Rodgers makes a big difference—especially compared to Wallace, who didn't look comfortable in that first game. 

That said, if the Bears are able to pressure the passer like they did in Lambeau Field, the quarterback will struggle. Regardless of who is under center, the Packers game plan should be to run the ball 35 times. If they're able to do that, they shouldn't have trouble topping 200 yards.

For the Bears, Cutler allows them to use the whole field. As well as McCown played, he wasn't a threat to stretch the field if there was a brisk wind. 


What is something you’re concerned about with the Packers facing the Bears?

MS: The biggest area of concern is obviously the Packers defense. The unit hasn't been able to stop anyone in recent weeks, and the Bears have a number of high-profile weapons on the offensive side of the ball.

What truly makes this a concerning game is that the Bears offense has the advantage in the aerial game and in the ground game. For example, if the Packers somehow figure out how to slow down running back Matt Forte, Chicago can still chuck the ball around to Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett.  That's a truly scary thought.

After giving up 38 points to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, it wouldn't be surprising to see a Bears offense that is much better drop 40 points on the Packers.


My Take

I actually think the Packers might be alright on defense. They're not great, but they seem to step up when they need to.

They gave up 38 points to the Steelers, but 14 were due to turnovers. They had an interception returned for a touchdown, and backup quarterback Matt Flynn fumbled, setting Pittsburgh up for the game-winning touchdown.

Before Pittsburgh's go-ahead score, the Packers had stopped the Steelers on three consecutive drives, including one turnover and a three-and-out. When the Steelers did score a touchdown, it appeared the Packers let them score to give themselves time to score.

While they'll be without Clay Matthews against the Bears, those three stops also came without him. Over the last three weeks, they've held Matt Ryan, Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger to passer ratings under 85. That's not easy to do.

The Bears may have more weapons than those three teams, but, as we saw last week, they can be limited. If the Packers are able to take Jeffery and Marshall away and get pressure on the quarterback, they can stop the Bears.


What is one area you think the Packers can exploit in the matchup?

MS: We haven't seen this in the past two months from the Packers, but with Rodgers back at the helm they now have the ability to make big plays. And that's ultimately the area the Packers can exploit in this matchup.

Look, the Bears aren't throwing the Steel Curtain out on the field on Sunday.  This is a team that gave up over 50 points to the Philadelphia Eagles last week. The Packers now have the necessary players on the field to make similar big plays on a consistent basis.


My Take

And that's something we saw the first time with Jordy Nelson getting a long catch-and-run on the first series with Rodgers.

I still think their biggest plays are going to come from their receivers and their running backs. When their offense is clicking, it's because they're getting big runs and big plays from Nelson or James Jones.

Rodgers' return may not be the most significant for the Packers as they could also be welcoming Randall Cobb back to the lineup this week.

The Bears defense has had issues with discipline all season. Whether it be staying in their gaps or making tackles, they haven't been getting the job done. Cobb could test that every time he gets the ball.


Who do you think wins and why?

MS: If you'd asked me last week, I would have said the Bears win in Soldier Field.  However, Rodgers literally changes everything, and the advantage has to be with Green Bay now.

Sure, the Packers don't have a great defense and Rodgers could be rusty, but with everything on the line I think the Packers bend while the Bears break.


My Take

I think it comes down to the better defense, and that gives the advantage to the Packers.

While the Bears continue to do the same things, despite struggling, the Packers have made lineup changes and gotten players healthy. The result has been improved play, or at least improved play when it matters the most.

The Bears struggles against the Eagles weren't a fluke. They simply can't stop the run, don't get consistent pressure and blow way too many coverages—especially after play action, which the Packers will likely use a lot.

I think the Packers get a big lead on the Bears early, eliminating Matt Forte as a threat and allowing their pass-rushers to tee off. 

Under that scenario, Cutler will struggle—as any quarterback would—and the Packers will win 38-17.


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