The 9*-4 Packers visit Soldier Field to take on the 8-5 Bears on Sunday. If the Packers win the game they clinch the NFC North with two games left to play.
I won’t go deep into analysis of this one. Everybody knows what’s at stake.
Here are some things I’ll be watching while I’m watching the game:
Packers offensive line. The Packers offensive fortunes always begin with their offensive line play. At this point it looks as if Don Barclay will play RT. If T.J. Lang can go he will most likely play at his normal LG position. If Lang cannot play Evan Dietrich-Smith will remain at LG. The Packers have been effective running the ball in the last two games, and much of the credit belongs to right side the O line- RG Sitton, RT Barclay, and whichever TE lines up with them.
Pass protection for Rodgers had better be solid. I’ll be watching for open holes the RBs can run through and clean pockets for Rodgers in this one.
Packers run game. The “newfound” run game has put up respectable totals several times this season, but the last two weeks have many convinced that the Packers will be able to run the ball effectively against the Bears on Sunday. I think that much of the optimism springs from the solid performance against the Lions of DuJuan Harris. Alex Green and Ryan Grant will probably get carries too. If the Packers can spring a RB surprise on the rest of the league, similar to how Starks came on at the end of the 2010 season, I think it will be Harris this season.
The Bears do not play strong run defense. They have been reminded of this many times in many ways this week. If the Bears have a good performance defending the run in them, even with Urlacher out, we’ll probably see it Sunday. The Packers RBs will need to keep ball security high on their list of priorities- especially in the rainy/cold conditions forecasted for this game.
Packers receivers. Despite having suffered a recent relapse of foot-in-mouth disease, TE Jermichael Finley will have a big role to play in this game. With WR Nelson still out for the game he’ll have to pick up his share of the slack. I’ll be watching J Mike to see whether or not he puts his performance before himself this week.
The other receivers must protect the rock. Catch it. Hold it. Never let it go until the ref pries it from you after the play has ended.
Packers defensive line/LBs. Bears QB Cutler has some dings and it will be up to the pass rushers to force Cutler to move around to avoid them. Cutler is also prone to throw a few up in games like these. I’ll be watching the pass rush try to make Cutler complete a few to guys in green and gold.
Getting Clay Matthews back for this game is huge, but I don’t see him playing the whole game. He’ll be a situational player. I’ll be watching CM3 to see how he moves. I would hate to see his hammy act up again and lose him for the playoffs.
Packers DBs. The Packers secondary has two primary missions in this game. The first is to stop Marshall. Don’t care how they do it. Double teams. Triple teams. Safety help over the top on every play. That’s how they shut him down in the first game. Whatever works in this game.
The second mission is to finish on INT and turnover opportunities. It would be great to out-Bear the Bears defense by pick-sixing Cutler – at least once. I’ll be watching for the DBs to get their hands on some balls and to make those plays in this game.
Packers special teams. The special teams guys have to stop Hester. Anything else they can do to help in this game will be gravy. A good punting performance by Masthay will go a long way toward controlling Hester. Crosby will need to make kickoffs a non-factor by putting kickoffs into the stands and forcing the Bears to go 80 yards every possession.
– The Packers will have their most productive rushing game of the season. I see them putting 175 combined rushing yards on the Bears.
– Most of the Packers rushing production will come on the right side of the OL.
– Two of the Packers TDs will be scored on the ground.
– Aaron Rodgers will have a standout performance from a QB rating perspective, but he will not throw for more than 250 yards.
– The Packers receivers will catch two TD passes and drop none.
– The Packers will sack Cutler five times. Three by LBs, one by a DL, and one by a blitzing safety. Matthews will get one.
– The Packers will pickoff Cutler three times. Shields, Williams, and Burnett will each finish on their opportunities.
– The Bears will have more penalties in the game than the Packers.
– Finley will be the object of at least one PF penalty perpetrated by a frustrated Bears LB or DB who took the bulletin board material Finley provided to heart.
– Randall Cobb will have more return yardage than Hester in the game.
We’ll be watching the game with a bunch of Packers (and unfortunately Bears) fans at Tailgators on FM1488 in Magnolia. I’ll still be tweeting random thoughts on the game and the telecast to all those who dare to follow at @PackersTX.
This has been an abbreviated look at the Packers-Bears game. No matter what heroics take place on the field in Chicago they will never be as significant or as profound as the truly heroic deeds of the teachers and faculty at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday in Newtown, Conn. Our hearts go out to the victims and those who will be deprived of their love and company.
Bring it Bears! Go Pack GO!