It’s come to this: the Packers are 5 1/2 points underdogs in Chicago on Sunday. The sad thing is, if I were in Vegas this weekend, I’d be tempted to lay the points.
The Pack limps into the Windy City coming off a non-competitive effort on Monday night, while the Bears have had two weeks to reset, get their rookie quarterback even more comfortable and game plan for a Packers team that embarrassed them by three touchdowns in prime time in late September, a game that effectively ended the short-lived Mike Glennon era.
Think about what’s happened since the Pack took the field last Monday (besides the flat performance by Hundley, the running game and the Packers defense): Bryan Bulaga was lost for the season with a torn ACL, Morgan Burnett got hurt again and is back on the shelf and Martellus Bennett quit on the team and now finds himself on the Patriots.
So the Packers come to town, with the season spiraling down the drain, needing to right the ship these next two weeks, before they prepare to hit the road for three out of four that will define whether an Aaron Rodgers return is even in the cards.
The forecast calls for a light rain/snow mix, with temperatures in the mid-30s and both teams would like to run the ball early and often. The Packers were unable to get the ground game going against the Lions, but should have better luck against against a middle of the pack run defense that will likely be without linebacker Danny Trevaithan, aka the guy who almost killed Davante Adams. Aaron Jones needs much more than five carries, though if the Pack decides to explore working up tempo more often (since Hundley seems to thrive in no huddle), expect Ty Montgomery to get the snaps in that scenario.
With Bulaga out, Justin McCray will likely fill in at right tackle, even with his injured ankle. He should be fine as a run blocker, but will likely struggle against pass rusher Leonard Floyd. The Bears defense is strong up front, with Akeem Hicks and Eddie Goldman up front and linebackers Pernell McPhee and Floyd leading the second level.
It’s a unit that has kept the Bears in virtually every game it plays: in the last month they’ve beaten Carolina and Baltimore and lost close games to the Vikings and Saints. They’ve been forcing takeovers–eight in the past three games. They’re rested and mostly healthy: though they’re missing Trevaithan.
This will be Hundley’s first road start and the weather won’t be great for the kid from Arizona. The Soldier field turf will be sloppy, rough and uneven as usual. We’ll see if he’s ready for much different conditions than he’s dealt with the last two games. I expected much more from him. Maybe he’ll get more comfortable as the weeks go by, but right now that fourth round pick the team could have gotten last spring is looking pretty good.
When the Bears have the ball, they will likely lean heavily on the run: they have run it 60% of the time since Trubisky took over. But with a bye week to put in some new wrinkles, coupled with the debut of wide receiver Dontrelle Inman (acquired in a trade with the Chargers), don’t be surprised if John Fox tests the Pack’s meager pass rush and cornerbacks.
Hopefully the return of Ahmad Brooks and Vince Biegel’s second career game will add a little juice to the pass rush and force Trubisky into quick decisions and a couple mistakes. The Bears’ receiving corps is as thin as any in the league. If the Pack gives up big plays on Sunday, I don’t know where they go from there. The biggest problem will likely be rookie running back Tarik Cohen, who is a major receiving threat. The Pack has struggled with backs in the passing game all season.
Barring turnovers, it feels like a game where points will be at a premium. In the post-Rodgers era, the team has scored just 44 points in 29 possessions and most of that has been at home. Now they’re heading to a place where they haven’t lost since 2010 to face a team that’s been on the wrong end of the league’s oldest rivalry for a quarter century.
This is meeting number 196 in the series, with the Pack holding a razor thin 95-94 edge (with six ties). Based on what we’ve witnessed the last three weeks, it’s hard to believe the Bears won’t once again draw even in the series.
Bears 20 Packers 16