Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE
The Chicago Bears have struggled against the run as of late, and this has not been helped by the move of Nick Roach to MLB because of the injury to Brian Urlacher. Can Alex Green and the Packers take advantage of this and continue to use their improved running attack?
We could talk all day about match ups the Packers have on defense with the Bears offense, it would make us all feel good. The problem with this approach is that it ignores the real core of the talent on the Bears’ team….their defense. The Bears defense has been the main reason why the Bears have been the consistent contender in the division for the past few years. It’s also the part of the Bears that has suffered the most significant injuries, the most notable may be the hole left by future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher. It has been suggested that the Bears are better off without Urlacher, but make no mistake, the Bears miss Urlacher and there are areas to exploit as a result of his absence.
Jermichael Finley seems to be the mouthpiece for those who advocate the position that Urlacher’s injury is a blessing in disguise for the Bears. His point is legitimate. Basically the argument states that Urlacher has been a shadow of himself, he can’t run sideline to sideline anymore, and he is becoming a liability in coverage. This isn’t wrong…but it might miss the point a bit. For this argument to get real footing there needs to be an assumption that the Bears have a deep core of LB talent to draw on to have the next man up philosophy come through. They don’t.
This compares similarly to the replacement plan that the Packers had for Bryan Bulaga and the tackle position at the beginning of the season. In short, there really wasn’t one. Instead the Packers kicked T.J. Lang out to RT because the only backup offensive lineman on the team ready to handle the rigors of regular snaps could only play C or G (Evan Dietrich-Smith). Now this sounds nice on paper, but as we found out, until the unlikely rise of Don Barclay, it doesn’t work. By doing this form of reshuffling the team ends up weakening two positions rather just having the one weaken position you started with.
In a sense that is what has happened here the Bears. After the injury, Nick Roach moved to the inside position and Geno Atkins came off the bench to fill in for Roach. Like the Packers’ offensive line, this left the Bears with two weakened spots in their linebacker unit, and as a result they were vulnerable to the running attack of the Minnesota Vikings. Yes, it’s Adrian Peterson…yes he’s unnaturally good, but the Bears defense was simply not the same, and Nick Roach was a big part of it. This was noted by PFF when they graded him at a -2.4 for the game.
The Packers need to take advantage of this weakness through the running game as well. The Bears were one of the first teams in the league to stop the Packers offense using a two deep zone in order to slow down and frustrate the high flying Packer passing attack. The running game is an essential ingredient in order to break the defense out of this look and open up more of the big passing plays. If the Bears defense is vulnerable to the running attack with Roach in the lineup then the Packers will have to capitalize and effectively run the ball on Sunday.
The player this should fall on the most is second year running back Alex Green. Green has put together an impressive two game stretch and has become the primary back carrying the ball with injuries to James Starks and Cedric Benson. Yes, the Packers will be splitting carries with Ryan Grant and DuJuan Harris. Yes, Mike McCarthy will ultimately go with whoever of these three has the hot hand that night, but expect Green to carry the bulk of the burden…if only initially.
Green has come a long way over the past month. At the beginning of Green’s time as the primary back he struggled to find his way. This shows in his average yards per carry numbers in his first three starts (@Houston 3.0, @St. Louis 1.8, and vs. Jacksonville 2.5). During this time Green often went down at first contact and failed to find holes and cut back lanes for the Packers. While he was struggling many Packer fans wondered if Green would only become a third down back…meaning he was not equipped with the vision and patience to be an every down back for the Packers. Recently this has started to change. Green has been running with more power and able to shed tackles. More importantly he has displayed patience in his running and waiting for the holes to open up and then hitting those holes with power. This is reflected in his average yards per carry over his past three games (@NYG 3.0, vs. Minnestoa 4.8, vs. Detroit 5.3).
If Green can keep this up then the Packers should be in good shape to challenge a struggling Bears defense. If not then expect Roach and company to sit back in their zones and let a respectable Bears pass rush to test the Packers rebuilt offensive line.
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