Health of Offense the Only Question Mark Heading Into This One

As the Pack kicks off the second half of the schedule Sunday night back at home against the hated Bears, we find them in a much different state than the last time they took the field.

The prime timer in New Orleans featured a healthy offensive unit prepared to go toe to toe against the desperate, Brees-led Saints. But the defense was down three starters, two in the secondary and there were concerns on how the unit would hold up. As we found out, not well, particularly over the last 20 minutes or so.

This week the defense returns as healthy as it's been all season, with Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett back and Datone Jones likely back as well. But now the offense has serious question marks of its own. As I write this on Friday, neither Josh Sitton nor TJ Lang have practiced all week. While Mike McCarthy has said he's comfortable playing them even if they haven't practiced, both have injuries that sound tricky, especially Lang's ankle, which isn't sprained, but includes ligament and muscle damage that can only heal over time.

If they're out, we get the long anticipated debut of JC Tretter, who was activated when the Pack cut ties with Derek Sherrod. Lane Taylor would also start and hopefully take significant steps from his Saints performance.

Most importantly, we'll be paying close attention to the mobility of Aaron Rodgers, who by all accounts is fine after pulling his hamstring in the third quarter against the Saints. But on a cold evening it could tighten up again if he's not careful. Let's hope the Pack offensive line can contain Jared Allen, Willie Young and company and give Rodgers time to find his guys without having to stray too far out of the pocket.

A healthy Rodgers will have no problems dissecting the Bears defense. The only time they've stopped him is by body-slamming him and breaking his collarbone last year. The Bears secondary is terrible. Rookie Kyle Fuller, who looks like he will be a very good one, was torched by Randall Cobb in the first meeting and is coming off a hip injury. New nickel corner Demontre Hurst was abused by Tom Brady in the Bears' last game, a 51-23 thumping. And their safeties, Ryan Mnundy and Chris Conte have been very uneven. Clearly they miss Charles Tillman back there.

If McCarthy devises a game plan that keeps Rodgers out of hamstring-harms- way, look for Cobb and Davante Adams to get the brunt of the work. Also, expect to see some things we haven't seen offensively from both sides. The bye week gives both teams a chance to spring some unscouted looks to provide an element of surprise, since they know each other so well. We might even see some actual tight end production out of the Pack this week.

The Packers defense will, of course, key on Matt Forte, the lone bright spot for the spiraling 3-5 Bears. He carved up the Pack in the last meeting and has been productive week in and week out. The return of Burnett should help the run defense this week, as should the two weeks of hearing how terrible they've been in that department. But Forte is a two way threat, just as dangerous vs. the screen as he is running the ball.

Speaking of screens, the last time we saw Eddie Lacy he was showing us his ability to catch the ball and run, with a career high 93 receiving yards. What a nice new wrinkle to this already potent offense. And what a perfect time to roll it out again this week against the injury-depleted Bears defense. When they lost Lamar Houston to a torn ACL (following an absurd sack dance against the Patriots when his team was getting annihilated), they saw their experienced depth dwindle to nothing beyond the four starters. Jared Allen and Jeremiah Ratliff missed the first meeting. They're back for this one and will likely have to play more snaps than they'd like. Look for Rodgers and McCarthy to push the tempo all night to wear them down and force the Bears to put in their untested reserves.

The Bears come into this one at a crossroads. Sniping in the locker room, questions about Cutler and on the heels of an embarrassing loss. Their season is on the line (though with two games against the Lions, plus Cowboys and Saints, their playoff hopes are history already) and despite their last putrid effort, they're 3-1 on the road.

But they're 0-4 against winning teams and the teams they've beaten are just 7-19. And then there are the trends pointing the Packers' way. They've won 10 of the last 12 against the Bears and McCarthy is 7-1 in games after the bye. Over the last four seasons, Green Bay is 11-0 in games after losses, with three of those wins coming against the Bears.

Lambeau will be rocking and I expect the defense to respond. If Rodgers is okay, the offense should score as many points as it wants to. If he's not, we might see a more conservative approach, with Lacy and Starks doing the heavy lifting. Then again, if Sitton and Lang are out, the defense may need to carry the day. The common denominator in most Bears games is Jay Cutler throwing passes to the Packers. They're winless this year when he throws a pick, and after snatching two in the last meeting, expect at least a couple more this time around. Four of the next five are at Lambeau. They're not losing any of them.

Packers 34 Bears 17

I want to thank everyone for their kind words, thoughts and messages over the past week. It's been the toughest week of my life, but the support I've felt made it infinitely easier. Thanks to all of you in HeadCheese nation (I just made that up).


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