It’s Packers Week...Part Deux! Although this meeting will have a little less panache than previous match-ups. The Packers will be without Aaron Rodgers, who is sidelined with a broken collar bone. Starting Right Tackle Bryan Bulaga, and Safety Morgan Burnett are both out for this game as well. Three key members of the Packers will be missing this game, and the Bears look to be surprisingly healthy!
The Bears are in an unusual position. They are currently favored in this game — yes you heard that right — and the Packers are coming off of a 3-game losing streak. Make no mistake about it, the Bears should win this game, and win it easily. But part of me assumes that no matter how well the Bears are playing, the ball is going to bounce Green Bay’s way. Let’s face it, it usually does.
After several years of watching poor Bears football, it is hard to utter the words “must win game,” but that is precisely what this is. The McCaskey’s take this rivalry very seriously. Should the Bears fall to a Rodgerless Packers team, that very well may be the final nail in John Fox’s coffin. Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, this is the most important game of 2017, and the Bears need to win it for any subsequent games to matter.
What to Watch For
On offense, I hate to say it, but I think that the Bears are going to have to stick with the run. As of today (Wednesday 11/8), the weather on Sunday is calling for rain, and potentially even snow. If that happens, it is going to hamper the ability to throw the ball. This would certainly favor the Bears as the Packers are giving up 118 yards per game on the ground.
Even if the Bears want to run, they will need to pass at some point. Given the colder weather expected and the possibility of precipitation, getting the ball to the tight ends over the middle should be the game plan. They may want to get ball to the edges via the jet sweep or end-around game. This would also seem like the perfect conditions to ramp up the screen plays as well. Where have those been hiding?
Defensively, it will be the same game plan, but in reverse. Brett Hundley has been awful since taking over for Rodgers. My guess is that the Packers are going to come out with a similar game plan as the Bears, and run the football. If that happens, the field tilts heavily in favor of the Bears defense.
Keep an eye out on the passing game though. Mike McCarthy seems to know exactly how to beat the Bears, regardless of how good the defense is playing. Call me snake bitten, but this match-up still scares me.
Who to Watch
Whoever plays Center: I am curious to see who lines up at center at the onset of this game. We haven’t heard much about Cody Whitehair’s right (snapping) elbow injury, nor Kyle Long’s litany of injuries. If Whitehair is ready to go — but not play center — and Kyle Long is not healthy enough to start, could we see a return to the lineup for Hroniss Grasu? Otherwise, I would think that Josh Sitton is the center for the remainder of the season, barring injury. He played really well against the Saints.
Mitchell Trubisky: Yes, I still think that the running game is going to be the key to this game, but I also believe that Trubisky is going to have to make some plays to win. In the first meeting with the Packers, the Bears were blitzed heavily. They are going to need to find ways to make them pay. That is going to come down to Trubisky making plays with his feet and also finding his outlet receivers for big gains after the catch.
Leonard Floyd: With Bryan Bulaga out of this game, Floyd is going to need to bring the ruckus on every snap. As the season has worn on, he has looked faster, and healthier. Hopefully this two-week layoff was just the thing he needed for a monster second half. The Bears rarely take advantage of match-ups like this, but they will need to exploit this one if they are going to be successful.
Eddie Jackson: The secondary as a whole had their worst game — in this recent stretch of good defense — against the Saints. Hundley has shown that he will put the ball up for grabs a bit, and inexperienced quarterbacks tend to throw the ball high. This would seem like the perfect opportunity for Jackson to get his hands on the ball. As we saw against the Panthers, he is a game-breaker as a returner.
Keys to the Game
Owning the Packers Front: The Bears offensive line will need to get healthy for this game. They are beat-up and have been playing poorly as of late. They need to use this bye week to get healthy. If the Bears can control the line of scrimmage and allow Jordan Howard to pound the ball, they should be able to work the middle of the field in the passing game. If they can’t dominate in run blocking, it is going to be a long day for Mitchell Trubisky.
Caged Aggression: The defensive front needs to be able to attack the Packers offensive line. They need to be aggressive against the run and rushing the passer. But they need to be smart. Hundley can beat you with his legs if he breaks containment. That can’t happen. The Bears are a better team than the Packers but there are ways to lose this game if they allow the Packers to stay close. Allowing Hundley to run wild is one of those ways.
The X-Factor: Historically, special teams has played a factor when these two rivals get together, especially when more evenly matched. This game may very well come down to who has the better kicking game. Sadly, this favors the Packers. My hope in the bye week was that the Bears would go out and sign a kicker. That didn’t happen. Now we are stuck with Connor Barth, for likely, the rest of the season. This is one of the things that scares me about this game. It feels like a filed goal fest, and if it is, we are probably going to come up a foot short.