The Chicago Bears are our Week 4 opponent and will be the second team we face under the lights in 2012 week night prime time. They're also our fiercest opponent before heading into the bye week (though the Bucs could surprise us with a shocking upset of the New York Giants this week).
After the jump, I recount my impressions of Chicago's showdown in Green Bay and what it tells about our matchups on October 1st.
First quarter -- the Bears D as expected is stout. Three drives, all of six plays or less, ending in punts for Aaron Rodgers and co. The Bears were staying in deep Tampa 2 to prevent the big play and were helped by some hurries on Aaron Rodgers leading to dropped balls.
But Chicago's offense looked worse, in that it could not get the running game for the whole first half with two arguably better backs than Cedric Benson in Matt Forte and Michael Bush.
At first glance the eyeball test suggested Mike Tice was having Jay Cutler hold the ball too long and not testing the Packers corners with quick passes. But I was mistaken. From the NFL game notes by ESPN, "Cutler has only attempted two passes further than 10 yards downfield (both incomplete). Last year he had only one game with less than five completions of that distance." It was not just Mike Tice failing to scheme enough to compensate for the deficiencies of his offensive line (you can bet Rob Ryan's guys will be pouring over the 22 film from this game very soon), ala Jason Garrett in 2010. Give credit where credit's due to the Packers defense, with Charles Woodson and a deep safety over the top holding Brandon Marshall to ZERO first half catches. I think Brandon Carr and Gerald Sensabaugh can achieve similar results with Barry Church roaming the box to help the Bruce Lee tandem slow Forte's pass catching.
Which leads us to...the Bears responded in the second half by getting Forte out in the pattern instead of just running him into the Pack's suddenly solid rushing defense. But then Forte went into the locker room with an ankle injury suffered on a Charles Woodson tackle.
Second quarter - the Packers finally put together the first scoring drive of 50 yards with Rodgers getting sacked by Julius Peppers and former Texas Longhorns fullback Henry Melton. Credit to the Bears D, like the Giants versus Romo last week, they weren't blitzing to give their zones the maximum number of defenders, "All of Rodgers dropbacks in the first half came against four or fewer pass rushers. Last year the Bears send five or more rushers 32 percent of the time." Two potential drive-killing sacks apparently force the Packers to settle for 3 -- but wait, it's a fake field goal shovel pass to tight end (not Red Raider/49er Michael) Crabtree, TOUCHDOWN! Cutler gets the ball back with two minutes and a chance to drive for the field goal, but under pressure with no one open his receiver gets undercut for a pick. Packers kick another field goal to go into halftime at Lambeau 13 to nothing.
Third quarter - total yards shortly after halftime on Chicago's half-opening drive - 82 for the Bears, over 200 for the Packers -- including the shovel pass score. Matt Forte goes out with a hurt ankle, Cutler suddenly has time to look deep and his favorite target Brandon Marshall gets open in the end zone -- DROP. Bears settle for three from Robby Gould to make it 13-3. Chicago really needs a turnover and short field to get back into this game.
Late in the third, Michael Bush is actually running better than Forte did, or at least is a bigger load to bring down as the Pack D shows some fatigue. But he gets taken down for a big loss after four consecutive runs. False start, Cutler has a 3 and 6 turned into a 3rd and 11. Cutler almost gets sacked by GB DT Ryan Pickett, slips out, throws and...Charles Woodson picks it off. Second INT of the game for Number 6. The third quarter is almost over and the previously porous Green Bay defense has made Jay look like Seahawks rookie QB Russell Wilson on the stat sheet with just 70 yards passing. In fairness to Cutler, the Bears slot receiver Earl Bennett waited for the ball to come to him instead of attacking it. It looks like Cutler will struggle to surpass the century mark for the entire night even with the Packers playing prevent.
Speaking of the Packers, they missed on a potential touchdown to James Jones in the end zone, then Rodgers threw to tight end Jerimichael Finley. The former Oklahoma Sooner got stripped by wily veteran CB Charles Tillman, Chicago football. This could be the turnover the Bears needed to get back into the game! But wait...Cutler can't connect with Marshall who is still without a catch. In fact Cutler only has seven completions through three quarters as the Bears have to punt. Once again a solid defensive effort gets wasted by an inept offense, despite two flashy improvements at the skill positions. Will the Bears Nation be blaming Cutler tomorrow? Especially after he gave LT Jamarcus Webb a shoulder bump following a first half three and out? Is that the way to build trust with the big guys up front?
Fourth quarter - Packers kick a 54 yard field goal in the cool Wisconsin autumn air. Pack leads 16-3 and are headed for a 1-1 season start, while the Bears can console themselves that their next opponent in Week 3 is the St. Louis Rams. After Rodgers gets the ball back again he splits the Bears safeties with Dancing with the Stars' Donald Driver, who promptly does his best Irish Riverdance moves in the end zone. 23-3 Packers after the PAT.
The Bears 5"8 corner Tim Jennings picks off Rodgers on a play action throw to James Jones. Receivers not coming back to the ball seems to be a trend tonight. Cutler gets the ball and...Clay Matthews gets his third sack of the night.
The Bears offense has not solved last year's blocking issues, and Cutler may be partly to blame. Or perhaps I should say Cutler's receivers not named Marshall. Letting TE Greg Olsen go has really bitten the Bears in the butt as Kellen Davis got a grab for a touchdown, but it was too little too late. The rest of the Bears receivers besides Brandon Marshall simply don't threaten good defenses enough to prevent Cutler from throwing the ball low and away to avoid picks, or having to settle for the checkdown that wasn't there after Forte went out.
My guess before the post-game injury report is that Forte is likely to be rested against the Rams in Week 3 to give him a chance to return against Dallas. But unless the Bears D can produce multiple turnovers the Cowboys should notch another win in Week 4, and probably win big.
Meanwhile Green Bay is finally showing something it hasn't shown much since winning the Super Bowl in 2010-2011 -- great pass coverage that can generate turnovers and enough running game with Cedric Benson to put opponents away in the fourth quarter. The Pack remain my NFC Super Bowl favorite as I don't think Atlanta has enough defense to compete with them yet. I'm also not sold on Alex Smith having to win a ball game against a run D like ours that can stop Frank Gore -- maybe Colin Kaepernick is waiting in the wings?
As of right now, I suspect our deep playoff run ends in the NFC title game at Lambeau in late January. If we're going to beat the Packers to go to the Bowl, we better get them at home like the Cowboys teams of the 1990s and have all of our corners healthy.
In Part II during Week 4 I'll check in on the Bears with a much briefer look at their game at the St. Louis Rams before we play them on Monday Night Football.