We May Not See Much of Tim Masthay This Week Either.Posted:Nov 1st, 2013 9:12 pm
Forget much about what you know about the last few years of Packers-Bears showdowns. Well, there's no reason to forget that the Pack has won the last six matchups, but the 2013 version of both teams are strangely different.
1. No Urlacher, no Briggs: the linebacker corps is a disaster for the Bears, who start two rookies. Urlacher isn't coming back and Briggs is out for at least six weeks, one reason the Skins torched them for nearly 500 yards. The injury losses of DT Henry Melton and LB DJ Williams hasn't helped this aging defense. They're still strong at the corners, but Charles Tillman is dealing with a balky knee, so they're not taking it away as much as they're accustomed to.
2. Their offensive line isn't horrible: Two rookies have made a huge difference, first rounder RG Kyle Long and mid round pick RT Jordan Mills (a guy I projected the Packers to draft in my mock). Toss in free agent prize LT Jermon Bushrod and the Bears have a unit that has only allowed 11 sacks (fourth in the league) and has led a running game that is among the NFL's best.
3. Jay Cutler won't throw any picks: It's been a constant in this series in recent years. Cutler saves some of his worst performances for the Pack. Green Bay has been turnover-challenged so far this season and normally this would have been a game to get a few. It still might be. While we all have a special place in our hearts for Josh McCown, thanks to his dramatic TD pass to Nathan Poole years ago that knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs (cue Vox: Noooooo!). McCown will start for Cutler and while I think he'll have some success, he will likely toss a couple the Packers' way.
McCown is a career backup, with 33 starts over his 11 years and he has 38 TDs and 44 picks. He has some nice targets to throw to. The emergence of Alshon Jeffery at receiver and the addition of Martellus Bennett at tight end make it more difficult to just remove the talented and mouthy Brandon Marshall, as the Packers did so effectively in both games last year.
4. The Packers can now run the ball: The Bears haven't seen anything like this from the Packers since Ahman Green was in the backfield. Eddie Lacy is proving to be a workhorse back who gets stronger as the game goes along. The return of James Starks gives the Pack a tremendous one-two punch. The 182 yards on the ground against the Vikes was not an aberration. The Packers are third in the league in running the ball. One team in front of them, the 49ers, get a lot of their yardage from the quarterback. So amazingly, at the halfway point in the season, the Packers running back situation has been in the top two in the NFL.
Ah, but there are some constants in this series as well. Aaron Rodgers has been a maestro against the Bears. He's 9-2 against them and has won six straight. You've probably seem some of the NFL talking heads referencing the fact that Rodgers is 0-2 against the Bears on Monday night. What they don't mention is the fact that both of those losses came at Soldier Field. Can't blame them. They want people to tune in to this one.
Nothing we've seen from Rodgers lately suggests he'll have any trouble moving the ball on this defense. They're 24th against the run, so Lacy and Starks should find plenty of room, which should open things up for Rodgers and the passing game. Look for him to exploit nickel corner Isaiah Frey and the safeties, who are playing terribly.
The Bears' constant is their special teams, where they have an edge almost every year. Micah Hyde opened everyones' eyes with his 93 yard punt return and Mason Crosby was the special teams player of the month. But Devin Hester and Robbie Gould give the Bears the edge. Hester has abandoned his attempt at WR (or the new coaching staff did that for him) and is a full time returner. He's always dangerous--it looks like the Pack will get special teams ace Ryan Taylor back for this one--not a moment too soon. Tack on the fact that it's Hester's 31st birthday on Monday. He can change momentum faster than Greg Jennings can backtrack.
As I write this, James Jones' injury situation is not clear. He returned to practice on a limited basis. We should know more as we get closer to kickoff. We know the Pack will be without Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Jermichael Finley. Brad Jones appears set to return. It will be interesting to see if they use him on the outside a little bit, where he started with the Pack, in light of the solid play by Jamari Lattimore.
This one should have plenty of fireworks. We're talking two of the three top scoring teams in the league and the Bears have had 15 days to prepare. Despite the loss of Cutler, I get the feeling the Bears will put points on the board. But an upset? Not happening.
Packers 34 Bears 27