The Chicago Bears travel to Lambeau Field in a crucial divisional game against the Green Bay Packers in Week 9. A Chicago victory would create a three-way tie atop the NFC North, while a Packers win would give them a one-game lead.
Both teams are reeling from all the injuries they’ve sustained in recent weeks, and some of the best players for each side are missing.
Here are the keys to the game that will dictate which team comes out on top.
Green Bay's Deep Passing
Aaron Rodgers throws a beautiful deep ball. In fact, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) has him as the second-most-accurate quarterback in the league on passes that travel more than 20 yards downfield.
Unfortunately for Chicago, ESPN.com indicates that the Bears are currently allowing opponents to complete 57 percent of their deep passes, which is the second-worst mark in the league.
The Bears’ secondary has not been as strong as it was last year and faces a tough test in Rodgers. If it can prevent him from completing some big plays, it’ll give the team a better chance to win the game.
If Chicago can’t stop the deep ball, however, it will be a long night for its defense.
Which Team Is Better on the Ground?
This factor is much more important for the Chicago Bears, since they’re down to their backup quarterback, but both teams have been very effective running the ball this season.
The Packers have had an 80-yard rusher in each of their last six games—the longest streak in franchise history. The addition of Eddie Lacy has given their offense some balance and it is imperative for the Bears defense to shut down the run if they want to win this game.
On the other sideline, Matt Forte has been very good for the Bears offense despite not breaking the 100-yard barrier yet this year. He’s averaging 4.6 yards per carry while catching five passes per game.
Forte’s success will be necessary for a Chicago win because it needs to keep Rodgers off the field and give Josh McCown all the help he can get.
Can Chicago’s Defense Keep Up With Aaron Rodgers?
The Bears are missing two of their starting linebackers, and two rookies will take their place. Chicago’s defense had trouble keeping up with the no-huddle offense of the Washington Redskins in its last game, and Rodgers will definitely test the Bears with a high tempo.
If Khaseem Greene and Jon Bostic are familiar enough with the playbook to make the correct calls at the line of scrimmage, the Bears will be in good shape.
If they struggle to keep up with the fast pace, however, Rodgers will take advantage of it and make them pay.
Who Can Pressure the Quarterback?
Both of these teams are uncharacteristically struggling to rush the passer. According to PFF (subscription required), they are both among the five worst teams in the league at getting pressure on the quarterback.
The Packers are sorely missing Matthews, their pass-rushing specialist, whereas the Bears' defensive ends have been disappointing this year.
If either team can consistently get pressure on the opposing signal-caller, it will greatly help its defense out.
Big plays from a special-teams unit can be the difference in a game. In their last game, the Packers gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown. Meanwhile, Devin Hester is coming off a punt return touchdown.
The matchup of Green Bay’s coverage teams against Hester will be an important factor in deciding this battle—if he even gets the chance to return.
He may not score another touchdown, but Hester can give the Bears great field position, which would be a huge help to McCown and the offense.
Whichever team can get the edge in each of these categories will leave Lambeau Field with an important divisional win.