The NFL’s oldest rivalry will add another chapter to the storied history this Sunday, but how do the longtime divisional foes match up? Let’s look at the numbers to preview the Green Bay Packers’ Week 6 game against the Chicago Bears.
The New Quarterback
Justin Fields is such a different player than Andy Dalton that it’s probably more useful to throw out every Andy Dalton play when trying to analyze this offense. Fields is incredibly athletically gifted and has legitimate plus arm strength, but those tools have not led him to play without struggles so far. Fields ranks dead last in the NFL among quarterbacks in EPA-per-play so far, even worse than interception machine Zach Wilson (though only by .001). He ranks dead last in success rate. Fields also has the second-worst CPOE according to both the rbsdm model and Next Gen Stats (only fellow rookie Trey Lance is worse in this regard).
So despite some plus plays from the rookie, he is still struggling. His game against Cleveland was a full disasterclass, but he did right the ship against the Lions, whose defense can only be described as a unit that frequently has eleven guys on the field. Even against the Raiders, who were dealing with some very real issues of their own off the football field, Fields line is pretty unimpressive at just 0.08 EPA-per-play.
The Packers are quite banged up across the board, but especially at the corner position with Jaire still on IR and now Kevin King battling a shoulder injury that, just from watching the TV copy, you could see severely limited him. Eric Stokes has played well so far, especially for a rookie corner, but the other options here are not inspiring. Stokes likely gets the Allen Robinson assignment, so I imagine Chicago’s game plan will be to test him early and often against their WR1. Robinson is enduring yet another year of bad-to-mediocre quarterback play and is posting just a -3.1% DVOA. Their WR2, Darnell Mooney, is even farther down the DVOA leaderboard at -18.7%. I also just want to point out that Jimmy Graham has done nothing and is just taking their money.
One surprise to me is just how little Justin Fields has been used on the ground. In Chicago’s week two win over Cincinnati he rushed ten times, but since that point it has been three times in each game. I wonder if the Bears try to utilize his mobility more against Green Bay, especially trying to take advantage of Rashan Gary’s contain issues.
The place Green Bay should have a large advantage is against the Bears’ offensive line. They rank 25th in pass block win rate and just lost their starting right tackle to IR. With Kenny Clark in particular really having a strong start to the season (he ranks ninth in both win rate metrics as a defensive tackle) and Preston Smith looking revitalized this year, so long as rush lane integrity can be maintained, there is a chance the Packers front can wreck this game.
In the running game, the Bears have been solid if unspectacular. Their rushing EPA-per-play ranks eleventh at -0.077 and their rushing success rate ranks fifteenth. Despite being quite awful in their pass blocking, the Bears front has at least created a mixed bag in the run blocking department. They rank a solid eighth in run block win rate and 13th in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards. However, the unit has also had rushes stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage the seventh-most of any team this season at 19%. Sounds like a unit ripe for some Kenny Clark, Destroyer of Worlds. Their starting running back David Montgomery will miss this game, so duties will predominantly fall to Damien Williams and Khalil Herbert.
It’s worth noting that Allen Robinson was a DNP with an ankle injury on both Wednesday and Thursday. If he misses the game, that would do a lot to alleviate the injury issues the Packers have at cornerback. Starting runningback David Montgomery was already out, but now backup runningback Damien Williams seems likely to miss the game after being put on the COVID list. That leaves the Bears running game largely in the hands of Khalil Herbert.
Return of the Mack?
Khalil Mack’s 2020 season was pretty bad. Among players classified as outside linebackers, only eight had lower pressure rates than Mack did, per Sports Info Solutions. Mack has started off this season much more akin to the game-wrecker he once was, amassing five sacks through five games. His pressure numbers aren’t quite to that level, but it’s looking like 2020 was more of an aberration than a new decline phase. The one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb, however, is the rate at which the Bears are converting pressures into sacks. The Bears rank 28th in pressure rate and only 20th in pass rush win rate, but lead the league in sacks. In small samples, sack conversion rate can be pretty noisy, but the level to which they are turning pressures into sacks is wildly unsustainable.
With a little help from the variance gods the Bears defense is off to a good start, albeit against pretty mediocre offenses. The Rams steamrolled them for 0.37 EPA-per-play and a blistering 0.61 EPA-per-dropback in week one. The Bears beat up on the Bengals and Lions offenses in wins, and were treated to the “Baker Mayfield actually isn’t very good” show in a loss to Cleveland. It’s so hard to know what to do with this past weekend’s game against the Raiders given everything that has happened there, but they dominated a good Raiders offense.
The Bears pass defense has been quite stingy outside of the week one shellacking, ranking fourth in pass defense DVOA. Their run defense has also been quite stout as it ranks eleventh. Similar to with the pressures-to-sacks variance being odd, another oddity with the Bears defense is that they have been solid at stopping the run despite a very poor 28th ranking in run stop win rate. The Bears are relying heavily on linebacker Roquan Smith, who ranks seventh in Sports Info Solutions Total Points Saved. (Fun fact: De’Vondre Campbell is lapping the field with 27 points, almost double any other linebacker.)
This is all really burying the lede about the matchups for this unit though. It’s all about Davante Adams versus Jaylon Johnson, isn’t it? Adams laps the field in production this year and has been an absolute target vacuum. Teams have frequently tried to bracket Adams with heavily shaded help from safeties, particularly on third downs, but Green Bay has still found a way to get it to their superstar. Aside from how the offensive line holds up (which should have Josh Myers back and may have Elgton Jenkins back), I think this is the matchup that determines the Packers’ offensive efficiency. If the Bears are able to leave Johnson one-on-one with Adams and do alright, they’ll probably hold the Packers offense to pretty modest efficiency. I wouldn’t bet on that being a successful strategy though, as Adams has absolutely torched single coverage this year, leading all receivers in PFF grade versus single coverage.
On the injury front, Akiem Hicks was a DNP on both Wednesday and Thursday after missing the Bears last game and Khalil Mack was also a DNP with a foot issue. If these two guys miss the game, the Packers front could really dominate this group. It’s worth noting that Mack was a DNP until Friday last week with the foot issue and still played, and played well, against Las Vegas, so keep an eye on the final injury report.
Are the Bears doing it again?
What I mean by this is getting off to a start that actually exceeds what their performance has been. The Bears seemingly do this every year, and you can look directly at last year for a recent example. The defense is currently being carried by a sack conversion rate that is completely unsustainable. Their run defense efficiency doesn’t line up with the rate at which they’re winning in the trenches.
Offensively, the results are bad but the performances might actually be worse than those results. Fields is either dead last or second-worst in almost every quarterback metric so far. That doesn’t mean he won’t eventually figure it out and be a good quarterback, but he’s a rookie quarterback and rookie quarterbacks are almost always bad. And it isn’t like his ecosystem of a bad offensive line and one good receiver is exactly enviable.
The Packers are 5.5-point favorites per DraftKings Sportsbook, but my confidence in this game is lower with Fields in than it would be if Andy Dalton were starting, simply because of the ceiling that Fields has with his physical tools, but the Packers are a better football team than the Bears and should beat the Bears yet again on Sunday, provided the game can just be normal. Is that too much to ask?
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.