Beating the Bears Is Always Special.Posted:Dec 13th, 2021 7:32 am
The Packers' domination over the Bears these last couple of decades never gets old. What does get old is watching the Pack's special teams units do everything in their power to give a game away. At least with all of the gaffes and mistakes in the Bears game, none of the issues involved Mason Crosby. So there's that.
Obviously, Green Bay withstood a mountain of special teams blunders thanks to their biggest playmakers and the fact that they were playing the outmanned Bears. A special teams performance like that one in the playoffs will end the Pack's season--make no mistake. After the game, Matt LaFleur stood behind special teams coach Maurice Drayton. Most of us would prefer if he stood next to him and escorted him out of Lambeau Field permanently. I don't know whether moving on from him this late in the season would do any good, but there clearly needs to be a change made heading into 2022.
It's funny, on "Packer Preview" Sunday I mentioned that with all of the special teams issues this season, at least the coverage units have been pretty solid--and then Sunday night happened. The coaches point to the injuries to key special teamers Dominique Dafney and Equanimeous St. Brown. But a couple of guys getting knocked out of the game shouldn't cause your units to implode. And as for the returners, I've seen enough of Amari Rodgers and Malik Taylor. There has to be someone on the roster who A) understands that if a kickoff is headed out of bounds you should leave it alone and B) when a punt is heading your way you need to catch the ball. At this point I'm ready to go without a punt returner. I have more faith that the offense can make up for it no matter how far they're backed up.
Other troubling issues coming out of the game: the bad luck on the offensive line continues, with Billy Turner the latest to get hit. His knee injury did not look good and the guy who's been the steadiest up front all season may be toast. We'll wait to hear on the severity of the injury, but I'm expecting the worst. Fortunately the Pack has a guy in Dennis Kelly who started all 16 games at right tackle for the Titans last season. But the line is now down four starters, with the lone holdout rookie Royce Newman. Let's hope David Bakhtiari returns soon to provide some stability for a group that just can't stay healthy this season.
And then there's Aaron Rodgers' toe, which the Bears owner said suffered a setback during the game. You wouldn't know it watching Rodgers' continued brilliance against the Bears, but it sounds like it's becoming a real issue and they're going to assess how to deal with it early this week. At this point it's obvious that it's not going to get any better until the season's over and we all have to hope he can play through it without it limiting him when it comes to planting that foot or moving around.
Let's look at the positives: the defense continues to get after the quarterback. Yes, an athletic QB like Justin Fields will make them pay with his legs from time to time, but they generated pressure on over half of his drop backs, causing the big strip sack and forcing him into bad decisions, like the one that led to Rasul Douglas' pick six. Once again Douglas showed what he means to this defense. If and when Jaire returns, the Pack will have one of the most solid trio of corners in the league. Throw in Amos and Savage and the secondary is the strength of a unit that may prove to be formidable enough to make up whatever curveballs the special teams throw at the team. The pressure came from a lot of directions, but Preston Smith destroyed rookie Teven Jenkins all night and Kenny Clark was a mismatch for the interior of the Bears' line.
Offensively, Rodgers was the star, of course, on a night where Aaron Jones was used sparingly--just five carries and three big receptions. You have to wonder if that knee is still not 100%. AJ Dillon got 75% of the carries and continues to show why the team will lean on him heavily, especially with plenty of cold weather games still to come. Once LaFleur moved Davante Adams inside and away from corner Jaylon Johnson, the league's best receiver caught fire and the Pack's offense took off. But it was a big night for the supporting cast, with Josiah Deguara, Marcedes Lewis and Allen Lazard all making big plays.
But this seems to be a season when even after a win, you come away uneasy...whether it be another injury to a key player (a weekly occurrence this season) or the head-shaking performance by the special teams. When the Pack finally meets up with one of the NFC heavyweights next month, there's this sense of foreboding that all of the Pack's firepower could quickly get extinguished by a muffed punt, a big return or a blocked extra point. Or the way things are going, all three.