Packers vs. Bears: Defense Review

Jonathan Daniel

Dom Capers continues to baffle the Chicago Bears and totally stop Jay Cutler....but was the improved defense for the Packers this week a sign of things to come or just Capers fooling the Bears again?

This year you have probably come across more trash talk from the Bears than in recent years. Surprisingly, this has mostly come from the offense side of the ball…not typically the Bears’ strong suit. You heard Jay Cutler gush about his new targets, noting the Packer would need "good luck" if they tried to press his new receivers (Jefferys and Marshall are bigger and harder to press than say Johnny Knox). You heard Brandon Marshall talk about how he dislikes the Packers and how this game was personal. You heard experts and bloggers talk about how the Bears’ offense was going to be a more complete offense than what the Packers would put on the field…howthis was going to be the best offense in Bears’ history.

The problem is that the Bears have not been able to back up this talk.

Dom Capers has baffled the Chicago Bears since his arrival in Green Bay, and that has not stopped this year despite the tough talk. I would say it is just Jay Cutler, but even when a backup QB was in place the results were the same….turnovers, sacks, and the Packers defense controlling the game. It’s hard to say if this is scheme, coaching, talent, or what….but it’s hard to deny that Capers is the Bears’ kryptonite.

On Sunday this continued. After a brief appearance in the first quarter, the Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall show was shut down by the Packers for the second time this year. Fun fact, the Packers are the only team so far to hold the Cutler to Marshall connection to under 70 yards so far this year (Marshall was held to 21 yards by the San Francisco 49ers but Cutler did not play in that game) and only one team has been able to hold the Cutler to Marshall connection to less yards than the two Packer games combined (the St. Louis Rams held Marshall to 71 yards in Week 3, the Packers allowed 80 yards total, 24 Week 2 and 56 Week 15).

The only problem with this generally happy review is going to be the same nagging question lurking in the background….does this game show that the defense is turning things around or are the Packers just that good against the Bears? History seems to suggest the later, but there is some real hope that the performance we saw out of the Packers defense this past Sunday is a positive omen going forward.

Pass Defense Review:

Key Performances

Jay Cutler – 12/21 135 YDS 6.4 AVG 1 TD 1 INT 72.5 RTG

Brandon Marshall – 6 REC 64 YDS 9.3 AVG 1 TD 15 LG 7 TGTS

Alshon Jeffery – 0 REC 0 YDS 4 TGTS

Clay Matthews – 6 TOT 5 Solo 2 Sacks 4 TFL 1 Passes defended 2 QB Hits

Mike Neal – 2 TOT 1 Solo 1.5 Sacks 1 TFL 1 QB Hit

Sam Shields – 3 Passes Defended

What a difference it makes for this defense to have an actual playmaker at the OLB position. Suddenly guys on the defensive line get better match ups, the pass rush is there, and the opponent’s passing game crumbles. That’s basically what happened this week against the Bears. Clay Matthews was back with force and it opened things up for Mike Neal to also get a good amount of pressure as well. For a long time I’ve been stumping for the Packers to find a second answer to Matthews in the pass rush, if Neal can continue putting together games like this he might become that guy. Before you scoff at this notion look at the performances he has put together since returning from injury. It has been a bit hit and miss, but Neal has been putting together a nice little stretch of the season with 3.5 sacks so far on the year.

In the secondary the Packers got what they have come to expect out of this unit. Tramon Williams drew the toughest challenge again with Brandon Marshall for the of the game. As mentioned above, Williams limited Marshall to his third worst game of the season and second worst game with Cutler at the helm. The job Williams did is even better when you consider that most of the passes that Marshall caught were early in the game when Marshall was being covered by Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk in a zone look. Casey Hayward put together another good day with one pass being thrown his way and him picking off that pass. Hayward continues to build his resume for defensive rookie of the year. Perhaps the most important performance has to come from Sam Shields. Shields did a good job of covering the second target for the Bears, Alshon Jeffry. He did this on an island down the stretch with Marshall being blanketed with an extra safety. Shields was able to handle this, and Jeffry did not register an official catch all day. Not bad, not bad at all.

Run Defense Review:

Key Performances

Matt Forte – 20 CAR 69 YDS 3.5 AVG 22 LG

Brad Jones – 8 TOT 6 Solo 2 Passes defended

Ryan Pickett – 4 TOT 3 Solo

B.J. Raji – 1 TOT 1 Solo 1 QB Hit

For as much as we rave about Matthews being back in the pass rush, it was probably more noticeable in the run defense. Matthews had 4 tackles for a loss (consider for a moment that he had 5 solo tackles). This meant all those times that a running back broke to the outside Matthews was able to take him down rather than watching Dezman Moses lose contain or Frank Zombo get blocked out of the play.

Then again it also helps when Picket and Raji basically controlled the line of scrimmage most of the game. Raji ended the day with one tackle, but there were countless times when he blew up the center of the line and forced Forte into the arms of a linebacker for little to no gain. It was a beautiful thing to behold and the second week in a row that Raji turned in a quiet, but essential day for the defense.

The linebackers also performed their jobs well, with special props being given to Brad Jones. Jones had a good game, and showed himself able to clean up after Raji and Pickett opened lines for him. One of the great things about watching Jones play inside this year has been his ability to stop a defender in his tracks. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen 59 hit the hole and just stand up a running back at the line of scrimmage. Once again this week showed that same play from Jones, always a welcome sight.

Now as much as I give warm and fuzzy reviews about the run defense now, it should be noted that for a second straight week the Packers were slow in their start on defense. The first drive of the Bears was mostly on the ground and very effective. The defense tightened up as the day went on, and eventually held the Bears to virtually nothing on the ground, but the defense has to figure out a way to start faster. McCarthy likes to kick that ball off for the first possession and let the defense set the tone early in the game. This is a fine strategy, and one I personally enjoy…but not if the defense can’t start strong, especially against the run.

Conclusion:

Once again the Packer shut down the Bears, but it’s hard to conclusively say that all is now well. The Bears have been struggling against this defensive scheme since Dom Capers unveiled it in 2009. It seems that no matter how many offensive coordinators they hire they just can’t decode it. Mix this reality with the woeful offensive line of the Bears and it’s not the statement game to carry us forward. Then again, a win is a win. It wasn’t even an ugly win. So I’m sure that Packer fans and the Packers themselves will be more than willing to take it to build on.

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