Bears-Packers Matchups Part 3: The defenses

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Bears-Packers Matchups Part 3: The defenses

Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011Posted: 10:30 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The defenses of the Bears and Green Bay Packers fall at opposite ends of the schematic spectrum. Where they also fall, however, is at near the top of NFL defenses this season, which is why their teams are one game from a Super Bowl.

But which one rates an advantage?

In its special three-part look at the pivotal areas of Sundays NFC Championship game, CSNChicago.com has determined that the advantage at quarterback, Jay Cutler vs. Aaron Rodgers, lies with the Packers. Matt Forte with his 1,000 rushing and 500 receiving yards, the only Bear other than Walter Payton to accomplish that feat, tilts the running back position to the Bears.

Read: Bears-Packers Matchups Part II: Running Backs

But defenses win championships.

Smith and coordinator Rod Marinelli are devout practitioners of a Cover-2 scheme with its roots deep in the 4-3 front, pressure from the front four with limited blitzing, and zone coverages that allow defensive backs to keep an eye on quarterbacks.

Smith has held firmly to his system in the face of doubters, with good cause. No system succeeds with problems on the defensive line, and the addition of Julius Peppers along with the emergence of Israel Idonije have given the scheme the firepower it had in its elite years with Marinelli at Tampa Bay and with Smith in the 2005-06 seasons in Chicago.

One of the biggest changes made by Mike McCarthy was to hire an entire new defensive staff going into the 2009 season. The keystone is coordinator Dom Capers and his 3-4 system, with assistants like former rush linebacker Kevin Greene.

They can put a lot of pressure on you to make plays, said coach Lovie Smith. Well expect a lot of blitzes, but we know each other well.

The result of the Capers arrival was a more aggressive unit that moved from No. 20 in yardage defense to No. 2, with a run defense that ranked No. 1 allowing 83.3 yards per game, a franchise record.

Surprisingly perhaps, that area declined in this, the Packers second year in the scheme.

Common opponents

Statistical comparisons are reasonably simple. The Bears and Packers played virtually the same schedule, with the notable exception of each others offenses, and the Bears facing Carolina and Seattle while Green Bay drew Atlanta and San Francisco from the other NFC divisions.

Both faced the teams of the AFC and NFC Easts and division opponents Detroit and Minnesota twice each.

In the key rankings:

Green Bay Chicago

Pts.game 2nd (15) 4th (18)
Yardage 5th (309) 9th (314)
Pass ydg. 5th (194) 20th (224)
Rush ydg. 18th (115) 2nd (90)
Takeaways 6th (32) T-3rd (35)
Interceptions 2nd (24) T-5th (21)

Matchups within the matchups

The Bears play the run better than the pass. But the Packers of Aaron Rodgers arent a running team, dont even pretend to be. Green Bay ran 1,000 plays in 2010; of those, 58 percent were pass plays, not including Rodgers 64 runs. Treating those as pass-play calls, the Packers balance at roughly 36-percent run.

Put another way, the Bears greatest strength lies in a place the Packers rarely go.

Unbalanced balance

Green Bay will meet fewer offenses that have achieved better balance than what the Bears accomplished over the final nine weeks of the season, which for comparison purposes is the meaningful sample. Only the Jets among the Final Four were more run-pass balanced than the Bears.

Heres the big problem, though: Of the 10 most balanced teams over those final nine games, only New England (31) scored more than 2 touchdowns on the Packers. The Jets were shut out; the Bears scored 3 points in Game 16; Dallas scored 7; and the Giants managed 17.

Youre not going to win many games scoring three points, said tight end Greg Olsen. You see what they just did to Atlanta and the weeks prior to our game, Philadelphia and whatnot. We made some uncharacteristic mistakes as of late in the season that we werent doing.

Being balanced hasnt meant points or wins; the Packers were 4-1 over the final nine weeks against teams in the top 10 for balance.

But balance may not be the Bears best option.

WATCH: How to beat the Packers

Running to daylight

The Packers are vulnerable against the run. They were not last season but opponents topped 100 yards 10 times in 16 games this year. Matt Forte picked up 151 yards (91 rushing) in Green Bay. The Lions only scored 7 points in their second game but ran over the Packers for 190 yards and the result was a 7-3 victory.

The Dolphins ran 39 times, netted 150 yards and bagged an overtime win. If the Bears can run, and will run, they can control the clock and keep Rodgers watching.

Neither Philadelphia nor Atlanta ran well in their playoff losses to the Packers. But the 28 points that Green Bay put on the Falcons in the first half precluded running in the second, and the Eagles lofty rushing rank (No. 5) was achieved with a heavy contribution from Michael Vick. The Packers battered Vick in the pocket and allowed LeSean McCoy no run longer then 9 yards.
Conclusion:

The Bears have played as well as any team against Aaron Rodgers, holding his offense to 17 and 10 points in games this season. But Rodgers offense scored 21 in both 2009 games while the Packers have brought out the worst in Jay Cutler, holding him to three sub-75 passer ratings in four meetings and the Bears to 15, 14, 20 (with OT) and 3 points under coordinator Dom Capers.

Read: Bears-Packers Matchups Part I: Quarterbacks

Advantage: Packers

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

From the high ground of hindsight, what unfolded in the Metrodome that day in 1995 was actually quite a big deal. But not for reasons that you could have really understood at the time watching the Bears stun the Minnesota Vikings 35-18 in the wild card round of the 1994 playoffs.

It was not so much the game alone. It was the overall context of the time for the Bears, before and after.

Though the 1995 season would get off to a 6-2 start for the Bears before their near-historic collapse, the Minnesota game would prove to be the high-water mark for the coaching tenure of Dave Wannstedt. This was the postseason, and the Bears looked to be going where then-president Mike McCaskey envisioned when he made the play to beat the New York Giants in securing Wannstedt, who was unquestionably the hot coaching prospect coming out of the Dallas Super Bowl pantheon after the 1992 season.

To fully grasp the situation, you need to understand the undercurrent of venom that had developed between the Bears and Vikings. Bears-Packers might have been the glitzy rivalry, but what had grown between the Bears and Vikings was true hostility, with little of the respect that the Bears and Packers had managed. The Vikings carried grudges for Pro Bowl slights going back almost to the Bears' Super Bowl win. One Bears defensive lineman remarked that his most hated opponent was Minnesota right tackle Tim Irwin, adding, "He's a guy that, if I ran over him with a car, I'd back up over him to make sure I got him." Dwayne Rudd's backpedaling taunt after an interception came a couple years later, but you get the idea.

What's easily forgotten looking back through the mists of time was the epic decision made by Wannstedt to make a quarterback change, from a quarterback he wanted in free agency to one he knew well from their time together at the University of Miami. That was every bit the turning point of the season and the real reason the playoff trip and win ever happened.

The Bears had been annihilated in their first game against the Vikings in the 1994 season — 42-14 — and something was really, really wrong, which become glaringly more evident just a few weeks later, even though the Bears were reaching a 4-2 mark under quarterback Erik Kramer, the centerpiece of an aggressive offseason foray into free agency. But the Bears then lost — badly — to the Lions and Packers, with Kramer throwing three interceptions against Detroit and two against Green Bay, the latter in only 10 pass attempts.

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I talked privately to Kramer after the Green Bay game, specifically about why it was that he was playing his absolute worst against Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota, all teams with which he was intimately familiar. My thought: You know those defenses and where their people are going to be.

Kramer shook his head: "The 'other guys' I know. It's my own guys. I don't know where they're supposed to be."

It wasn't a comment on his receivers whatsoever. It was Kramer admitting bluntly that he was not getting the West Coast scheme of coordinator Ron Turner and its timing element.

Wannstedt knew it wasn't working and made the change to Steve Walsh, who'd been the Hurricanes' quarterback under Jimmy Johnson when Wannstedt was the defensive coordinator.

That was the tipping point, and Walsh and Wannstedt are among the principals of "Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon," airing on Monday at 8 p.m. on CSN.

Anyone with any time spent in or around the NFL knows that beating a team three times in a season is incredibly difficult. The Bears had been blown out in the first Minnesota game but had pushed the Vikings to overtime in the second and would have won had Kevin Butler not missed a 40-yard field goal try.

The playoff meeting was No. 3, and after the Vikings put up a field goal in the first quarter, the Bears scored with a Lewis Tillman touchdown in the second and just pulled steadily away from the winner of the only NFL division that produced four teams with winning records.

From there it would be another decade-plus — 2006 season — before the Bears would win a playoff game.

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

In doing some post-season wrapping up of my Nerdy NFL Notebook as we begin turning the page to the 2017 season, part of it involves compiling where each team finished in big-picture team offensive and defensive categories: overall ranking (total yards), as well as team rushing and passing ranks on both sides of the ball.

So if the Bears wound up ranked 15th overall in total yards gained and allowed, they should've finished…oh, 8-8, right? It adds to the deception of some of the deeper issues that focus on a lack of playmakers, which tied into their inability to make plays when it matters most. In John Fox's 9-23 start, 18 of those games have been decided by six points or less. They've won just six of those games. 

Offensively, the Bears ranked higher in total offense than five playoff teams: Kansas City (20), Detroit (21), Miami (24), New York Giants (25) and Houston (29). They wound up 17th in rushing offense, better than four teams who advanced: Seattle (25), Green Bay (26), New York Giants (29) and Detroit (30). And their 14th-ranked passing offense ranked better than the Giants (17), Kansas City (19), Dallas (23), Miami (26), Houston (29).

On the other side of the ball, they'd be even better off before allowing 109 points over the final three losses. Their total defense ranked better than Detroit (18), Green Bay (22), Kansas City (24), Atlanta (25), Oakland (26) and Miami (29). After being gashed for 558 rushing yards the last three games, they fell to 27th in the NFL against the run (better than only 30th-ranked Miami). But the seventh-ranked pass defense, despite collecting a measly eight interceptions (among only 11 turnovers), was better than nine playoff teams: Miami (15), Pittsburgh (16), Kansas City (18), Detroit (19), the Giants (23), Oakland (24), Dallas (26), Atlanta (28) and Green Bay (31).

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What do all the hollow numbers indicate? A lack of complementary, opportunistic football, playmakers on both sides of the ball, a minus-20 turnover ratio, and a lack of quality and continuity at the quarterback position — to name a few. All of those playoff teams have more impact players (or kept more of their impact players healthy) than the Bears in 2016.

While some of the numbers aren't that bad to look at, and some even raise an eyebrow, there's still a deep climb from the most significant numbers: 3-13.