USA TODAY Sports
This week has been a bit different of a Packers vs. Bears week with all the trash talking and the high stakes nature of this game. If the Packers are going to live up to the hype of this game they are going to need these five players to have a good day.
So this week has been a bit different from the normal Bears week of recent history. Normally there is some talk about the history of the game and the players sharing about their mutual respect. Basically stuff like what Aaron Rodgers said about Brian Urlacher missing the game. It’s nice and mature and boring. But this week things changed for some reason or another. Brandon Marshall picked a fight with the entire secondary of the Packers over something he doesn’t remember, J’Marcus Webb joined in with his normal twitter nonsense, Jermichael Finleyalso needed to get his two sense in as well, and Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher each responded to Finley. Suddenly there is lots of trash talk to lead into the week. It’s quite refreshing.
The nice part about all the trash talk though is that the talk is grounded in real meaning for the game. The Bears have been reeling the last month or so and a loss could do serious damage to their playoff chances. Also adding to the pressure for the Bears is that this may be Lovie Smith’s last stand with the Bears. A loss ceding the division to the team’s oldest rival is not a good way for a coach to keep his job when there is a new GM in town, itching to bring in his own guy. For the Packers they want to wrap up the division and possibly make some hay in the NFC Playoff picture. The two teams above them in the standings (the San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons) each have tough games this week which they could both lose. Mix this with a Packers victory and suddenly the Packers could be a serious contender for a first round bye. All in all it’s going to be one of the more important Packers vs. Bears match ups in the regular season.
Here are five players to watch for this weekend who prove to have an interesting storyline or are critical to the Packers success:
TE Jermichael Finley – While the Bears did a fair bit of talking as a group, the only Packer to really shoot his mouth off was Finley. I have a hard time saying that this is even a disappointment anymore. His comments were actually not as inflammatory as many made them out to be, but that isn’t the reason I highlight Finley. No, Finley is highlighted because he should be the Cover 2 breaker for the Packers. He’s the guy that needs to make defenses play for sitting in a Cover 2 zone and create the mismatches that open up the passing game. He’s also been slowly starting to show that promise over the last couple weeks. Oh, and the Bears have some major injuries in the LB corp which may be exploited. But it all together (plus the talking on top of it) and Finley has a chance to cash a few of the checks his mouth has been writing….which would be an awesome change of pace.
DE Mike Neal – Clay Matthews needs a running buddy and so far the defensive lineman who has shown the most promise to do that is Neal. Neal has not been consistent on a week in and week out basis, but he has shown an ability to get push and beat man on man match ups. The Bears line is known to be shaky, and with their attention diverted to Clay Matthews it could be just the opportunity Neal is looking for to make a name for himself…especially coming back from an injury so quickly.
CB Casey Hayward – Hayward did not really become a real factor for the Packer defense until Week 5 against the Colts. As a result, Jay Cutler has not really to test this young cornerback. Considering Cutler’s track record of ball security and Hayward’s beyond his years instincts, a big game may just be in the works for Hayward.
T/G T.J. Lang – Lang looks to be coming back in action this week, and his return may ultimately change the balance of the football game. It’s not that his presence was critically missed, but there is a chance that Lang’s return to the lineup may present a viable solution for the offensive line the rest of the season. The big question is going to be the same it was a few years ago….does Lang play Guard or Tackle? My money is on guard. Everyone knows what Evan Dietrich-Smith can do, but Don Barclay is a bit of a mystery….why not find out what Barclay can do now with Lang at LG? If Barclay can succeed against the Bears than that’s a good sign when the Packers face some of the bigger badder defenses in the playoffs. Then again, the Packers may need him at Guard if Josh Sitton can’t play in which case EDS, Lang, and Barclay all are out there and the Packers once again lose their best offensive lineman.
OLB Erik Walden – Walden has not played very well over the past month, but this may change. Walden has struggled this year when being placed on the field for an extended period of time. Now that Clay Matthews is returning, it’s probable that Walden will go back to splitting snaps with Dezman Moses. Will this help limit the responsibilities for Walden and keep him fresh? Or will he continue to be a disappointment?