The Packers take on the Bears this week and before I get to previewing these two teams, I'd like to voice my gripe at this being the one Monday Night game of the year. It used to be the Packers were locks for two, if not three, Monday nighters per season. Of course, the reason for that was simple - Favre. Aaron Rodgers is as masterful a player as there is, but when it comes to entertainment value and ratings, Brett Favre was tough to beat. Even when he was past his prime, Favre was still must-see TV if only for the chance he would throw 13 interceptions or play out the game with two broken arms.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: the NFL has been moving more of its premier games to Sunday night on NBC instead in recent years, so this is part of the explanation for the Packers playing three Sunday night games but only one on Monday night. But still, there's something special about Monday Night Football.)
While this week's matchup was plenty intriguing a few weeks ago, the absence of smokin' Jay Cutler has definitely taken some of the shine off. But like last week, it's still a divisional game and the Bears have a history of making things difficult regardless of what the two teams look like on paper. Can the Packers keep their winning streak versus the Bears going? Here are five things that will come into play.
Matt Forte catching passes
Without Jay Cutler, the Bears will be relying on quarterback Josh McCown whose sole claim to fame is nearly giving Paul Allen an aneurysm live on the radio. Unfortunately for the Bears' passing game, that was nearly 10 years ago. Since then, McCown has played for six other NFL teams and made a stop in the UFL, and I'm pretty sure he showed up in my flag football league last weekend. But while the Bears might not have much of a down-field threat, they can still make use of one of their biggest weapons in the passing game - Matt Forte. As one of the better receiving backs in football, Forte could give the Packers defense fits if McCown is able to get him the ball. Expect plenty of short passes to come his way Monday.
Waking the sleeping giant
At this point, David Bakhtiari stopping elite defenders has just become old habit. But remember, he's still just a rookie and on the other side of him this week lies one of the most terrifying pass rushers the league has seen. The good thing for the Packers is that so far this season, Julius Peppers has done everything but literally fall asleep on the football field. Peppers has always gotten the ‘takes plays off' rap, but he's taken not-giving-a-shit to a whole new level this year. Thing is, when he's actually trying Peppers can still be a devastating force even at age 33. All it takes is one play and things could get bad for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in a hurry. Bakhtiari will have to stay on his toes in this one.
I'm not totally sure this will be the game where it happens but at some point, teams are going to realize just how depleted the Packers passing game is without Cobb, Jones and Finley. Given that the Bears defense - despite missing a bunch of guys to injury this year - has fared well against the Packers over the years, it makes sense that they'd be the ones to figure out that Jordy Nelson should probably be double-teamed. I know that white wide receivers are only allowed to be "scrappy" and "gritty" and possess "high motors" and that those things usually don't call for double teams, but Jordy is for real. If the Bears make a concerted effort to shut him down, the Packers will have to get creative in finding ways to score.
That Hester guy
As I mentioned last week, the Packers rank last in the league in kickoff and punt coverage. I haven't actually checked the stats recently but after allowing Cordarrelle Patterson to score from practically the locker room last Sunday, it stands to reason things haven't improved much. This week the Packers welcome perhaps the league's all-time greatest return man in Devin Hester to Lambeau. Hester's not the soul-crushing guy he was a few years ago but as he proved just last week, he can still take it to the house. I know it's not always possible to control this, but if Tim Masthay actually kicks to Hester more than once on Monday, I'm just assuming Hester is on Masthay's fantasy team, or that he's got a huge gambling debt with a shady group of Ukranian mobsters.
The Packers newfound rushing attack is all the rage these days, but if there's one way to crush an inferior team's spirit, it's by racking up points quickly. For the Packers, that means letting Aaron Rodgers do what he does best - chuck the hell out of the ball. Another reason we might see more passing plays than usual is the Bears defense. Unlike in past years where their Cover-2 scheme and talented defensive backs made them among the league's elite units, the Bears rank just 24th against the pass, so there should be plenty of opportunities. The Bears rush defense isn't any better, but they do get nose tackle Stephen Paea back this week who presumably spent time rehabbing his toe by bench pressing small buildings.
More from Acme Packing Company:
- Scott Tolzien Stays with Packers, Receives Raise
- Packers Injury Update: James Jones Limited in Thursday's Practice
- 2013 Week 9 NFL Picks: Packers Beat Shorthanded Bears
- Only the Best: Jordy Nelson and Eddie Lacy Lead Shorthanded Packers Offense
- Catch-22: The Unfortunate Tale of Greg Jennings