Will the Real Packers Defense Please Stand Up?Posted:Sep 23rd, 2011 2:23 pm
Nothing gets a Packer fan more revved up than Bears week. Sure, there was a nice little dance with the Vikings for a few years there, but last year's NFC title game re-energized the league's oldest rivalry.
Meeting number 183 won't decide a trip to the Super Bowl, but it will serve early notice. Since the Bears are playing at home, it's more important to them; if they fall to 1-2, they may find themselves two games behind the Pack and Lions on Monday morning.
It's been 21 years since the teams have played a late afternoon game at Soldier Field. The Pack has won 14 of the last 19 there (Brett Favre owned that place)--and should have won last year (late James Jones fumble and questionable pass interference call late). It's the final September game of the year: Mike McCarthy is 7-2 in September road games.
Looking at this game, you almost have to feel sorry for Mike Martz. I said "almost." He's been vilified all week for abandoning the running game in New Orleans; he called just 11 runs out of 52 offensive plays. So he spent the week studying Packers tape and what does he see? A defense that ranks 32nd in pass defense, one that has surrendered 400 passing days to Drew Brees and Cam Newton. And one that has put the clamps on Mark Ingram and DeAngelo Williams. So now he's supposed to run the ball?
In the Bears' opener against the Falcons, Matt Forte was a one man wrecking crew, running and in the passing game. He's playing for a new contract and, with the departure of tight end Greg Olsen, is the team's only legit offensive weapon. The Pack's main charge this week is to continue their strong play against the run and keep an eye on Forte in the screen game--where Jonathan Stewart flourished for the Panthers last week.
Working against the Bears: an injury-depleted offensive line, which was offensive to begin with. Former Badger Gabe Carimi is out for a few weeks with a knee strain, forcing them to move former left tackle Frank Omiyale to the right side. Former right guard Roberto Garza is now at center (replacing Olin Kreutz). Former Seahawk Chris Spencer will likely step in at right guard. Last week after Carimi went down, the Saints sacked Jay Cutler five times in the fourth quarter. The Bears couldn't handle the blitzes and they'll see a lot of the same on Sunday.
The Packers expect to have Tramon Williams back at corner, allowing Charles Woodson to play more in the slot and to do more blitzing than he did last week, when he tried to put the clamps on Steve Smith. The loss of Nick Collins is obviously a big one. Despite all the injuries last year, the team did not lose anyone with his pedigree and it remains to be seen how the defense adjusts. I think it's an opportunity for Morgan Burnett to show why the Pack traded up to get him in the draft last season. He has a nose for the football and is a big hitter.
Offensively, Green Bay has struggled a bit against Chicago. Their front four gets enough pressure, eliminating the need to blitz. That's where Rodgers has been at his deadliest. Their cover 2 scheme forces teams to dink and dunk, with safeties back to protect against big plays. They hope that if a series lasts long enough, they can force you into a mistake. The Pack will have to be patient and use slants and quick passes to expose a secondary that will be missing a couple of pieces. Safety Major Wright (head) is expected to miss the game and fellow safety Chris Harris is a gametime decision. If they're both out, the team turns to former Patriot Brandon Meriweather and Craig Steltz.
Of course, the defense is led by Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher. Chad Clifton will have his hands full with Peppers. He struggled last week and the competition is much tougher this week...look for Rodgers to roll to his right, away from Peppers, if Clifton and his balky knees struggle early. Urlacher and Lance Briggs continue to play at a high level, though neither played well last week.
Special teams are always big when you play the Bears. Devin Hester's punt return touchdown last season turned the game Chicago's way. Tim Masthay did not have a great game last week and needs to be at his sharpest, punting away from Hester at all costs.
These games always seem to be close, low scoring games with the outcome decided late. I don't think this one will be any different. Both teams will have a hard time running the ball and will rely on their QBs. Though Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews have missed practice with minor injuries, all indications are they will be good to go for this one. Assuming they're out there at near 100%, I expect the Packers to play their best overall game of the season on both sides of the ball. Rodgers will work the middle of the field with Finley, Driver and Cobb and look for Alex Green to make a splash in the screen game.
Packers score a late touchdown to ice it: 20-13.
I'll be watching the game at the Park Tavern in St. Louis Park, for our first Packer viewing party of the season. We'll hand out prizes throughout the game and the PT will have its usual great food and drink specials. Hope to see some of you out there. For directions, go to www.parktavern.net.