There Will Be Points.Posted:Dec 29th, 2013 3:44 am
Meeting number 188 between the Packers and Bears will go down as one of the biggest ever and the two teams don't resemble the teams we expected when the season began.
The Packers will rely on a top ten running back to gouge the league's worst run defense. The Bears will use the most physical and dynamic receiving corps this side of Denver to try to carve up the Packers' D.
Both teams enter the game with defenses that would make Lombardi and Halas cringe. The Bears lost some key guys early in the front seven but now have linebacker Lance Briggs back. The Pack is without Matthews and Jolly, two guys they cannot replace.
It feels like the kind of game where whichever offense takes care of the ball wins the game. Enter Aaron Rodgers, who may need to shake off a little rust, but he knows how to operate without turning the ball over. Not so when it comes to Jay Cutler, who's thrown 17 picks in eight starts against the Pack, to go along with eight touchdowns and a grand total of one win.
Coach Mark Trestman has shown an admirable amount of loyalty to Cutler, who regained his starting job when he returned to health. It was a bit of a gamble, since Josh McCown was running this offense at a level the team had not yet seen. Second year receiver Alshon Jeffery emerged as a star with McCown under center. The Bears were humming offensively when Trestman switched back to Cutler. He did just enough in a come from behind win in Cleveland, but was very shaky in last Sunday night's blowout loss in Philly.
Rodgers, meanwhile, is chomping at the bit to get back out there and you just hope he can keep his emotions under control early. The Packers should be able to run all day on the Bears. We don't know how close to 100% Lacy is, but he's a tough dude and will go until his ankle gives out on him. James Starks figures to get plenty of work to try to ease Lacy's burden. The Bears are giving up 162 yards per game on the ground and on a cold, windy late afternoon, wearing the Bears down on the ground is essential.
Success on the ground should allow Rodgers to take shots downfield. Randall Cobb is the x-factor. Activated on Saturday afternoon, he's listed as questionable. If he can play a handful of plays, he could allow Mike McCarthy to re-insert the four receiver sets that have been absent this season. Cobb's presence could also allow Jordy Nelson to move back outside and provide an enticing target on home run tries.
So it comes down to the Packers' defense in this one. Both teams can put up 30 points, but can the Packers rush Cutler enough to force him into mistakes? Can Williams and Shields handle Marshall and Jeffery? Can the Pack contain Matt Forte, a dual threat who had a huge game in the first meeting?
Rodgers' return should energize the Pack and help elevate everyone's play. But a seven week layoff is a long one for a quarterback. It might take a few series to get back in the swing of things, the defense will need to keep it close if he gets off to a slow start. Despite nagging injuries to Jones, Neal and Perry, they're all listed as probable and will all likely start.
This feels like a game the Pack falls behind and slowly gets back into it. A fourth quarter touchdown puts the Pack in front for the first time and a late Cutler pick seals it. Somehow, in this crazy, frustrating, injury-plagued season, the Pack will host a wildcard game next weekend. Welcome back, Aaron.
Packers 34 Bears 30