The last few years have seen big and important games for the rivalry between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears, but this may one of the more meaningful games that we have seen yet. In fact the only game that eclipses it would be the 2011 NFC Championship game. If the Packers win then the NFC North race is finished and the Packers are primed to secure a high spot in the playoffs. If the Bears lose then their playoff chances look slim and a potentially dark offseason awaits….but if the Bears win then there is still hope for this year and the future for the Bears. Like I said, it’s a big game.
The Packers have had the Bears number since 2009, winning seven of the past eight meetings. The only game that they have lost since then was in early 2010 when the Packers game up around 20 penalties and had an uncharacteristic amount of turnovers as well. So while these games have often had close scores, the Packers typically prevail so long as the team doesn’t come apart at the seams.
Here are five keys to keeping that winning streak alive for the Packers and wrapping up the NFC North:
1. Complete the Chicago Two-Step. There are two steps to completely shutting down the Bears’ offense this year. Step 1) Hit Jay Cutler. Step 2) Shut down Brandon Marshall. If the defense does these two things then the Bears offense will implode. This is what happened in Week 2, and now that Clay Matthews is back there is a good chance that they can repeat this little dance again….although it won’t be as easy since the Packer are missing Nick Perry.
2. Win the turnover battle. The nice thing about playing Cutler is that you know he’s good to throw some interceptions. Cutler has thrown an interception in every game he’s played in against the Packers since joining the Bears. Often times he throws multiple interceptions. Moral of the story is that the secondary will have their chances to take the ball away and make plays….they just have to close the deal. On the other side of the ball, the Bears excel at taking away the ball as well. The offense has to stay disciplined with the football….especially holding on to it. There may be no better team in the league at punching out the football than the Chicago Bears.
3. Attack the center of the field. On defense the Bears are going to want to play their safeties deep as often as possible. It’s a great way to stop the Packers offense from the explosive plays they are known for. This could mean that they play a classic Tampa 2 that’s Lovie Smith’s trademark, or maybe some version of Man-2 it doesn’t matter. The best way to break this is to find the holes in the center of the field and exploit them. That means short passes to guys like Greg Jennings and Randall Cobb. That means using Jermichael Finley in space. That means screens and check downs to the running backs. Anything that you can do to attack the middle and force the Bears to bring defenders into that space…so you can go over the top….is going to be key. It also helps that the guy who has caused headaches for Aaron Rodgers & Co. in the middle, Brian Urlacher, is not going to be there this game.
4. Unleash the Ginger Wolverine. One of the more interesting factors to the Packers winning many of the recent games with the Bears has been the rise of Tim Masthay. Masthay has done a pretty good job of neutralizing Devin Hester, which takes away one of the best opportunities the Bears have to score. If Masthay can continue with the high and accurate punts that he has had most of the year (along with good special team coverage led by Jarrett Bush) then Hester should continue to be held in check.
5. Protect the offensive line. The offensive line could be in the best shape it has been in for about a month….or the worst shape it has been in all year long. It all depends on the injury status of Josh Sitton. If Sitton plays, then the Packers may be back in business with an acceptable line for the playoff push. If Sitton doesn’t play….well, let’s just hope he plays. Either way, Marshall Newhouse and Don Barclay (or maybe T.J. Lang) are going to struggle handling Julius Peppers. The offensive game plan needs to account for these struggles and question marks along the line with a heavy dose of running and short passes. It’s to first beat up a defense and then stretch them out instead of the other way around.