To say that Sunday’s game between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers is a big one is obviously a big understatement, so instead of wasting words to talk about the NFC North Championship game, we’ll just get right into our three keys for the Bears to take the title.
Lance Briggs Must Step Up His Game
The Bears got a big boost to their defense last week when Briggs returned to the lineup after fracturing his shoulder earlier this season, but Briggs didn’t do much against the Eagles as he only picked up one tackle in the 54-11 shellacking at Lincoln Financial Field.
Against the Packers, Briggs is going to need to step up in a big way for several reasons. The first and most obvious is that Briggs will be able to serve as a field general of sorts as the Bears try to combat what Aaron Rodgers will bring to the table in this one. The Packers give a ton of different looks on offense, and Briggs usually is the guy who is getting his teammates into position on defense, so his presence is a helpful boost on that side of the ball.
In addition to Briggs being able to read what Rodgers will be doing, he is also going to have to help out in the run defense side of things too. Eddie Lacy, despite having an ankle injury that forced him out of last week’s game against the Steelers, is going to have a field day against the anemic Bears’ run defense if Briggs isn’t able to help fill in gaps along the defensive line, so it’ll be imperative that Briggs be back at full speed for this one.
Jay Cutler Must Spread the Ball Around
One of the things that Josh McCown did extremely well during his time as the starter for the Bears was to get as many receivers involved in the game as possible. Alshon Jeffery had the most benefit from that, but Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett still got more than their fair share of targets.
With Cutler under center, the Bears’ offense tends to change a little bit. Cutler views Marshall as a kind of security blanket, and he tends to try to force the ball even as Marshall has to face double or triple coverage.
In order to get into an offensive rhythm against the Packers, Cutler is going to have to take a page out of McCown’s playbook, and work the ball around the field to as many receivers as possible. He has done this at times this season, including against the Steelers and Saints in games earlier in the campaign, so he is capable of making that kind of adjustment.
As is always the case with Cutler though, there is a big difference between him being capable of doing something, and actually executing it.
Bears’ Pass Rush Has to Get Pressure on Rodgers
For the great quarterback play that the Packers have gotten from Rodgers in his eight appearances this season, he sure got sacked a lot. He ended up being sacked 18 times in those games, and it was a Shea McClellin sack in the teams’ Monday Night Football matchup that broke Rodgers’ collarbone and forced him to miss a big chunk of the season.
The Packers’ offensive line didn’t do any better in protecting guys like Matt Flynn and Seneca Wallace either, so clearly the issue isn’t a mobility one on the part of the quarterback, but is rather an offensive line that struggles against an effective pass rush.
Unfortunately for the Bears though, they don’t exactly have that great of a pass rush. Guys like Nick Foles have been able to pick the Bears apart because they couldn’t get any pressure going with their front four, and teams like the Steelers were able to capitalize when the Bears would add pass rushers via the blitz.
So what can the Bears do to get pressure on Rodgers? For starters, they’ll need McClellin and Julius Peppers to take advantage of some good matchups at the end positions. Those guys both showed a penchant for getting to the quarterback in the earlier matchup with the Packers, and they’ll need a repeat performance in this one.
The other thing that Mel Tucker’s defense can do is to mix in some blitzes to try to get Rodgers off his game. Forcing him to throw the ball quickly early in the game could be a big boost to the Bears’ chances as Rodgers tries to shake off the rust, and getting guys like Briggs and James Anderson involved on the blitz is a good place to start.