Rivalry Week! Doesn't get much better than that.
This week we sit down with Jason Hirschhorn (@jbhirschhorn) from Acme Packing Company. The crew over there is great at bringing you everything you need to know about the green and gold. This last sentence is where I'd normally say thank you, and wish them the best of luck in all their other games. However, this week, I think we'll just say thanks.
Big thanks to Jason, and also be sure to check out the ongoing conversation I've been having with Tex over at APC by clicking right here.
WCG: With Dom Capers using more 4-3 looks at times, how do you feel about seeing Clay Matthews being taken from what he is known for and good at, rushing the passer, and being asked more often to play more of a 4-3 OLB role and drop into pass coverage?
APC: I think your question highlights a misnomer regarding the Packers 4-3 defense. While they have used some traditional balanced 4-3 -- and been run over by opponents' running games in the process -- for the most part their new look has been the 4-3 Under. This defense, similar to the one employed by the Seattle Seahawks, shifts the defensive line and the linebackers to essentially make it a 3-4 scheme. As such, Clay Matthews is still in position to rush the passer.
However, you're correct that Matthews has spent more time in coverage this year. This isn't due to alignment, as the All-Pro linebacker has been dropped back in zone in both 3-4 look as well as 4-3. Rather, I suspect it has more to do with the quarterbacks the Packers have faced thus far. Both Russell Wilson and Geno Smith have the wheels to burn a defense that doesn't account for them. On the contrary, when Matthew Stafford was under center the Packers rushed Matthews at his usual frequency. Against Chicago, expect to see him coming off the edge often.
WCG: What's going on with Eddie Lacy? Is the run-blocking just not there, is he gun-shy? Last week he had 36 yards on 11 attempts, with one of those accounting for 17. The other 19 yards on 10 carries can't inspire much confidence.
APC: The run blocking hasn't performed great thus far, but that has more to do with the teams they've faced than anything else. The Seahawks, Lions, and Jets all possess stout defensive fronts, with all three currently in the Top 5 in yards allowed on the ground. Against the Bears, who come in at 26th overall in that category, the Packers should find more success.
With Eddie Lacy, the traditional stats can mislead. His 2.51 yards after contact is currently the fifth most in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. Given that Lacy averages only 3.1 yards to carry at the moment, that would heavily suggest that fault lies with the men blocking for him. Again, playing against Chicago's below-average run defense should help boost those numbers.
WCG: Rodgers has been sacked 9 times, tied with Tannehill for 3rd most in the league. (Henne and Alex Smith ahead of him.) Are there concerns about the offensive line, or is it just taking some time to gel?
APC: There are certainly concerns with the offensive line, but Aaron Rodgers tends to accumulate sacks based on the way he plays. He avoids costly turnovers, but that comes at a price. Not counting his injury shortened 2013 campaign, Rodgers has never finished a year with fewer than 30 sacks, and that trend should continue this year.
Where the Packers need to improve is giving Rodgers a cleaner pocket to pass from. Against Detroit in particular, the usually stellar interior of the offensive line allowed pressure up the gut and forced Rodgers into bad positions. While that performance is most likely an anomaly, the Bears certainly can penetrate up the middle when Lamarr Houston shifts inside and Jared Allen and Willie Young coming off the edge. If Chicago can create consistent pressure with just a four-man pass rush, it can sit back in Cover 2 and take away Rodgers' favorite throws.
WCG: Where should the Bears attack on offense and defense to be successful this weekend?
APC: As I mentioned above, the way to play Green Bay is to sit back in Cover 2 and try to create pressure without sending extra rushers. Easier said than done, obviously, but that's the only approach that has proven successful over time. Throughout his career, Rodgers has dismantled defenses on blitzes, but the few teams that can get to him without extra men have fared far better.
On defense, an opponent should force the Packers to stop their run game. The Packers were dismal their first six quarters of the season, but have looked totally different over their last six. Still, it's a small sample size compared to their run defenses the past few years. Chicago would be wise to test the unit early and see if there aren't holes still present.
WCG: Obligatory last question: If you could pluck anyone off of the current Bears roster and slot them in, who would it be and why?
APC: As tempting as both Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are, the answer might already be Kyle Fuller. He's a player I raved about before the draft, and yet still has outperformed expectations thus far. Fuller's size and speed make him a great fit at multiple spots in the secondary, and his nose for the football can make him a true field tilter. It's no wonder the Bears targeted him early in the first round.
WCG: Score prediction?
APC: I hate predicting scores, but I do think the Packers take this one. Chicago's defense has improved and their offense should be potent once again, but I have a hard time seeing the Packers offense struggle for another week. Since you're making me guess the score, I'll go Packers 31 - Bears 24.
Thanks again, Jason. Here's to a healthy game.