It's a given that the Packers' offense is pretty darn good. With that given out of the way, though, it is possible to slow them down enough to swing the pendulum in the other direction. Let's look at some film from the Bengals' squeaker of a win against Green Bay from earlier this season to see how they managed to stymie Rodgers' offense just enough to pull one out in Cincinnati.
Slowing Aaron Rodgers starts with winning on first down, especially against the run. Give the Packers second and manageable, and they will probably manage to get the first down. In the run game, it's all about one-on-one matchups, and the defensive line is going to need to step up their game against a suddenly respectable Packers run game.
If this run play looks familiar, it's because I broke down pretty much the same zone blocking we saw in my look back at Chicago's loss to Washington. With a zone run, the single most critical block is probably the one on the end man on the line of scrimmage - if that defender gets into the backfield, there's not much else to do other than to take the loss. Second-year RT Don Barclay may or may not be the one at fault, but it sure looks like he didn't have the right read in mind when he comes off the line:
With Barclay doing his best matador routine, the Bengals DE has an easy time reeling in James Starks for a four-yard loss. Better yet, the Bengals were able to force a punt on this series by putting Rodgers in a second and fourteen hole.
Win some first downs and stop the run, and you're already on your way, but stopping the Packers from scoring is going to require more than a bit of run defense. The Packers still live and die by the pass, so it's going to be up to Mel Tucker to have some good blitzes drawn up for Rodgers' offensive line to think about.
The one by the Bengals is just the right mix of overload pressure and misdirection. The Bengals line up with six on the line pre-snap, but then have one of the linebackers bail out into coverage at the last second. Rodgers had the right read of what the final blitz ended up being - the throws the ball in the direction of the blitzing corner - but rookie RB Eddie Lacy plays this one like the Bengals were sending their initial blitz look.
With Lacy blocking as if there was a free man coming from inside, the Bengals DB coming from the outside is able to get a hand on Rodgers' pass, blowing up this third and five play.
A good blitz, to be sure, but the philosophy behind this call is what I really love. Third and five, with your team up four in the fourth, and you send a six-man blitz? The Bears should be ready to take gambles like that in this game, as Cover Two alone would probably lead to a covered spread.
Speaking of gambles, the other gamble that paid off for the Bengals was their willingness to play man in pass coverage. I love this next play, another third down stop the Bengals drew up and executed perfectly. The Bengals are going to play a very shallow zone to Rodgers' right, and rely on a defensive line stunt and press man on his left.
Watch what this defensive look does to Rodgers' throwing options when he completes his drop:
With no good passing lane, Rodgers takes aim at one of his more reliable targets, James Jones, and pulls the trigger. But the linebackers confuse things by shuffling directly down the first down line, causing Rodgers and Jones to miss the connection. Rodgers instead finds the waiting hands of CB Terrance Newman, who reels in the easy interception.
Takeaways are the final key for the Bears to have a chance in this one. If the Bears can get that precious football away from Rodgers a couple of times - and maybe even run one of those takeaways all the way - Josh McCown can probably hold up his end of the bargain. Give Rodgers the chance to finish every drive, however, and he'll probably do just that.
If there's a game to throw defensive caution into the wind, this is it. Quite frankly, the best you can hope for if you don't make a splash play while defending Rodgers is a field goal - that offense is too potent to sit back in passive coverages and wait for the mistake to happen. Blitz early and often, aggressively attack the running game, and take some gambles in coverage. Do that, and maybe they can turn a couple of those Packers scoring drives into possesions for the good guys.
The problems on defense might be too much for this team to overcome this game or even this season. But if the Bears are going down, I'd rather they did it by betting the house on an overly aggressive defensive strategy and losing. It would sure beat watching them get whittled down one short pass after another. If memory serves, that strategy didn't work too well for the last Bears coach.