On Sunday, an NFC North champion will emerge from Packers vs. Bears. 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.
APC: In the first meeting between these teams this season, the Packers played the majority of the game with Seneca Wallace at quarterback. How do you believe the Bears defense will respond with either Matt Flynn or Aaron Rodgers at the helm?
Poorly. I expect them to handle it poorly. In all honesty, the defense has looked pretty terrible, particularly against the run. If the Packers don't give the Bears a steady dose of running, it's because they fell behind big.
The plan, seemingly, for most teams is to use a lot of misdirection to get Bears linebackers out of their gaps, and then run in the general direction of second year DE Shea McClellin if he happens to be on the field.
To answer the actual question you asked, I'd expect a lot of zone blitzing, as the front four has shown it can only get to the QB in fits and spurts. If Flynn is in they might sit back in zone blitz and dare him to throw the short hot read, hoping to force a turnover or mistake. If it's Rodgers, probably the same thing, they just know the quarterback will be a little bit better.
APC: Lance Briggs returned last weekend from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss most of the 2013 season. How did he look, and what kind of difference can he make for Chicago's defense?
He looked like a guy who hadn't played in a while. He knows where he's supposed to be, but you can tell his conditioning just isn't where it needed to be. If you ask Pro Football Focus, he was terrible (-4.3 overall), and particularly in run defense. (Which the whole team was.)
It's hard to use the Philadelphia game as a basis for anything, because every facet of the team played so poorly that even various team members admitted they wouldn't use that game tape for much other than shaming themselves.
When he's healthy, he's one of the best tacklers on the team. Let's put it another way - he's missed half the season, and he's still ranked 4th on the team for tackles. (The two safeties and a linebacker are ahead of him...that's pretty bad.) His presence to get people lined up, get Khaseem Greene off the field, and maybe calm things down a bit could be huge if this team has to play in January, for some reason.
APC: The Bears feature perhaps the best one-two punch at receiver. Which in your estimation poses the bigger threat to Green Bay's secondary?
Alshon Jeffery is the most likely to break you over the top. During what I'm calling the McCown era, he is the one who was making the circus catches deeper down the field. Brandon Marshall is still a prime target, though, and continues to show the ability to catch the ball in tight coverage. Cutler passes have been going high lately, so opportunistic safeties should keep an eye out for easily picked catches.
APC: While Chicago's coaching staff doesn't seem conflicted, there has been considerable discussion about whether Jay Cutler or Josh McCown should be starting for the Bears. Which signal caller would you play against the Packers, and is either the Bears' franchise quarterback going forward?
Personally, and this is where I seem to branch from 50% of Bears fandom, I'd play Cutler. While I will agree that McCown played very, very well, I don't think the Bears can hang too many hopes on him continuing the level of production there. I think Cutler is the more likely to have long term success, and after continual changing coordinators and systems, you give him a chance to play a full season with the weapons he has to play with.
I imagine that Cutler will be back, if not under a reasonable deal, under the franchise tag. Even though GM Phil Emery has indicated he'd really prefer not to tag a position like quarterback. I also wouldn't be surprised if another quarterback is drafted in 2014, even though there are a lot of defensive positions that need fixing.
APC: Finally, it's prediction time. Who wins this Sunday and why?
Optimist's version: Bears! It was a close game, battled back and decided by a late touchdown drive. The Bears defense was able to put up a somewhat respectable performance in a big game, and even forced 2 turnovers.
Pessimist's version: Rodgers and Lacy are both ready to go, and the Packers steam roll the Bears and improbably win the NFC North at 8-7-1.
I can honestly see either one of these happening, but I'm leaning towards the former because I think Flynn plays, and Starks has a majority of the carries, and while they're both decent, it's not quite enough to overcome the Bears offense.
Guesstimate: Bears 31 - Packers 27
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 Sunday for our comprehensive game day coverage of Packers vs. Bears.
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