On Monday night, the Packers will get their first look at the 2013 version of NFC North rival Chicago. Kev H of Windy City Gridiron was kind enough to answer some questions about the Bears and provide some insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
Read on below, and don't forget to click over to Windy City Gridiron to see our responses to their questions.
APC: This Sunday, the Bears will be without the services of quarterback Jay Cutler and outside linebacker Lance Briggs. How severe are their injuries, and what do you expect their replacements?
Depends who you ask, I guess. If you ask medical doctors, Cutler is probably two to three weeks from returning, and Briggs is four or so. Of course, if you ask Brandon Marshall he wouldn't be surprised if Jay played Monday night. Talk to Lance Briggs, and he'll tell you two to three weeks. Realistically, they're both several weeks out. Cutler's injury suggests a grade II groin tear, which is going to hamper his mobility and force him to stay in the pocket, were he to come back. Lance Briggs has a shoulder, and since he's the only guy on the team who can tackle, he should probably let his arm heal.
Josh McCown is a serviceable backup, who came in and played well in relief of Cutler during the loss to the Redskins. He's a veteran with a strong understanding of the offense, and isn't likely to go out and actively lose games for you. That said, yesterday at a press conference Marshall was asked the difference between McCown and Cutler, and he said "Josh is Chad Pennington and Jay is Brett Favre." You can't expect the explosive arm that Jay gives you, or that absolute fearlessness that benefited Cutler so well in the fourth quarter of the first few games of the year.
As for Lance Briggs' replacement, you're either looking at Blake Costanzo, a fierce enough special teamer who was held out of practice yesterday, or rookie Khaseem Greene. All I really expect to see out of them is some kind of attempt to maintain gap integrity, maybe try tackling some guys, and not get burned too much.
APC: For the first time in years, the Bears find themselves in the bottom five for points allowed per game halfway through the season. What's contributed to their struggles, and is relief on the horizon?
The defense is sort of all-around terrible. No pass rush, guys can't tackle, safeties can't cover. With this scheme, though, it really comes down to: "Are the front four getting a pass rush?" And the answer to that is a resounding no. NO, I say.
Part of it is injuries. Losing Henry Melton and Nate Collins left the team with no three-tech defensive tackle. This has forced the Bears to move one of their starting defensive ends (Corey Wootton) inside, and play second-year man Shea McClellin way more than he should be playing at defensive end right now. This has exposed Shea's limitations in the run game, as well as made sure that your best edge rushers aren't rushing from the edge.
At the end of the day, though, it's just bad play. Particularly on the part of Julius Peppers. Peppers, who used to be able to draw enough attention to free up some of the other guys, is not the player he used to be. It's understandable, in football years he's like 75 years old, but it's a bummer as a fan to see the defense drop off so dramatically in one year. A lot of meatballs will say that it's only because Urlacher is gone, but this team has been bad on defense before when he's been here, and it was when there was no four-man pass rush.
Is relief on the way? I'd like to think so, but with the defensive signal-caller on the sidelines, and possibly two rookie linebackers starting this week, I'd be hard pressed to say where or when.
APC: In each of the last two seasons, the Chicago Bears have gotten off to strong starts only to finish on the wrong side of the postseason cutoff. Now at the midseason point, the Bears are a game out of first place in the NFC North. Are the Bears going to break the trend, or will they succumb to another second half meltdown?
I'd like to say break the trend, but they can't stop anyone from scoring points. Luckily, the offense at least seems to be able to score them on occasion. The Bears are giving up 29.4 points per game. If they could play well enough to get themselves to say, 24 ppg for the rest of the season, I think they could have a chance of making some noise.
They've already dug themselves a bit of a hole, as they're 2-3 in the NFC right now, and could really use that tiebreaker come wild card seedings. With a schedule of GB, DET, BAL, STL, MIN, DAL, CLE, PHI, GB, I see four that tilt to the Bears advantage, and a few that could go either way. I'd say best case, 10-6, worst, 8-8. I'm not sure that 10-6 makes the playoffs, though.
APC: Head coach Marc Trestman was brought in this summer to revitalize Chicago's offense. So far, the Bears are behind only the Broncos in points per game. What are the big systematic changes that Trestman has brought, and where have the Bears found most of their success on offense?
The Bears are absolutely getting the ball out more quickly this year. He seems to have tempered some of Cutler's tendency to try the more dangerous throws, and they've also gotten a lot better at spreading the ball around. Cutler seems to be reading the defense better, and when you get down to it, the offensive line is just miles away from what it is last year, which has allowed those reads and allowed those throws.
Success is largely in the short passing game, but a big part of their success is sophomore wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery actually leads the team in receiving yards (561), and is 18th in the league in yards, as well. Having two receivers on pace for 1000 yards is probably not a big deal for you guys, but for us? Oh man, that is huge.
APC: Finally, it's prediction time. Who wins this Sunday and why?
Optimist Version: In a tightly contested game, the Chicago Bears' defense wakes from its hibernation (see what I did there?) and keeps Aaron Rodgers in check. A big game on the ground from Matt Forte keeps the Packers off the field, and the Bears claw (hehe) their way to a victory at Lambeau with a late field goal, and put themselves right in the thick of the NFC North hunt.
More Realistic Version: Oh, goodness, the Packers have few reasons not to win this game. Remember before when I mentioned two rookie linebackers? Two rookie linebackers! No pass rush! The quarterback is Aaron Rodgers! I fully expect a lot of soft coverage and missed gaps that will allow Rodgers to carve up the short to mid zone, and the Bears defensive line should be able to be moved at will to open up lanes for Eddie Lacy.
We'd like to thank Kev and Windy City Gridiron for answering our questions. Be sure to check out our Q&A session over there as well as their fantastic coverage of all things Bears. As always, keep your internet machines tuned to Acme Packing Company this Monday for our comprehensive game day coverage of Bears vs. Packers.
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