Regardless of record, rarely is there an “easy” game when the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears meet. Expect that to be no different when the teams kick off for the 201st time on Sunday night.
Still, the Packers have won 10 of their last 12 games against the Bears at home and are the favorites again despite last week’s loss. Both teams have plenty on the line as Green Bay seeks the top playoff seed in the NFC and Chicago looks to keep its postseason hopes alive. A win for the Bears this week, however, could make the divisional chase fairly interesting down the stretch with another game between the two teams looming.
As the rivalry renews this weekend, the turnover and special teams battles will be key areas to watch and are covered in today’s musings.
The Packers’ wide receivers really stepped up in the blocking game
Marquez Valdes-Scantling was roasted for his overtime fumble by many after the loss last weekend, but he did earn praise from Head Coach Matt LaFleur for his blocking efforts.
“He made so many plays for us and not only in the pass game but in the run game, stuff that you guys probably don’t even notice that we’re not getting the yardage that we get if he’s not blocking his a** off.”
In particular, MVS was integral to a 23-yard pitch-and-catch to Equanimeous St. Brown in the first half that set up a touchdown. But even on a following drive, MVS, along with Allen Lazard, helped spring Davante Adams for a goal line score through excellent blocking on the outside.
Nice effort from Equanimeous St. Brown, led to an Aaron Jones score.pic.twitter.com/fqxIXEMmoN— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) November 22, 2020
Davante Adams with his 10th receiving Touchdown on the season! #GoPackGo pic.twitter.com/O9UUnLuM3y— Cream City Central (@CreamCityCtral) November 22, 2020
The blocking was not reserved only to the wide receivers themselves. Even tight end Jace Sternberger got in the action and helped create a pivotal block for Aaron Jones in space that led to a 15-yard rush. Green Bay may not have won the game on Sunday, but their pass-catchers won many of their blocking assignments on crucial plays.
⛔️Grande movimentação e um bloqueio melhor ainda por Jace Sternberger, abrindo espaço para Aaron Jones. #GoPackGo pic.twitter.com/vGGM8yF36i— CHBR (@cheeseheadsbr) November 24, 2020
The turnovers have been jumpstarted by Green Bay’s safeties
In the Friday musings back on November 6th, one of the observations from a win over San Francisco was that the Packers’ defense could be ready for a surge in turnovers after netting two that Thursday night. Including that game, the Packers are now on a three-game streak of forcing at least one takeaway and much of that recent success has been accrued by the safeties.
Against San Francisco, Raven Greene picked off one pass, while Darnell Savage narrowly missed another. A week later, Adrian Amos diagnosed a Jake Luton throw and stepped in to intercept a pass. Then, against Indianapolis, Greene forced a fumble with a punch-out effort on the Colts’ opening drive. While the safeties have been at the forefront of many of the turnovers, they have also made more of an impact in other areas.
Amos, in particular, has been much more active. Versus the Colts, Amos put a hit on T.Y. Hilton early in the game that helped prevent a catch. Later on in the third quarter, the veteran was able to make a play in the backfield against the run before defensing a pass in the back of the end zone on third-and-goal on the same drive.
Although the safeties have not been perfect this season, specifically with their tackling angles, they have been making plays in recent weeks.
Some people have grouped Adrian Amos with P. Smith, Lowry, Wagner, & Kirksey as cap-cuts for next season— Hogg (@HoggNFL) November 25, 2020
Personally I’m not cutting Amos next year... He has been one of the few on D playing with heart! Fundamentally sound player. I want that on my teampic.twitter.com/Luh3iHomML
The special teams battle could influence the outcome of the game
There is no hiding the fact that the Packers’ special teams unit was lackluster against Indianapolis, and more than one individual is to blame.
He gets some slack after nearly missing the game due to a personal matter, but JK Scott’s 39-yard gross average on three punts severely impacted field position throughout the game. None of those punts were an attempt to down the ball inside the 20-yard line, so the struggles were especially head-scratching in a domed stadium. The only positive was that the punts did not allow the Colts much room to run, with only nine return yards on the day.
Green Bay’s return game also was another weakness without Tyler Ervin on the field. Darrius Shepherd was simply not good last year as a kick returner, averaging only 16.3 yards per return to go along with a negative punt return average. On seven returns last Sunday, Shepherd did not fare much better, with only a 19.7 yard average and a costly fumble in the second half that continued to swing the momentum to the Colts’ side. While it is probably time to cut the cord on Shepherd as a returner, Ervin might not be back to action against Chicago after being listed as a limited practice participant this morning.
On the opposite sideline is Cordarrelle Patterson, who is having another extraordinary year as a returner. Patterson returned a kickoff to the house in the Bears’ last game against Minnesota and boasts an average of over 30 yards per return once again. What will the Packers’ strategy be against Patterson? Will they try to kick it out of the end zone? Squib kicks? Pooch kicks with elevation to allow the unit time to get down field?
Chicago has been much better overall on special teams in 2020, particularly in the kicking game where Cairo Santos has become very dependable. On a day in which the Packers’ offense will be tested against a tough Bears defense, special teams blunders like last week could be the difference-maker.