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.

Best thing about Bears’ preseason loss to Chiefs: 'It wasn’t all bad'

Best thing about Bears’ preseason loss to Chiefs: 'It wasn’t all bad'

John Fox’s hopes for this preseason game No. 3 actually were fairly modest: show improvement. The Bears gave their coach pretty much the exact opposite in a dismal 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, which wasn’t really even as close as that score.

Tellingly perhaps, Fox was moderately damning with faint praise: “I don’t think it was all bad,” Fox said. “It might have looked like that but so do a lot of preseason games.”

And any presumed correlation between Saturday’s woeful performance and how the season may be a stretch. Five of the last six times the Bears have lost their third preseason game, they finished .500 or better, last year’s 34-6 drubbing at Cincinnati being the lone time the game-three result foreshadowed the course of the season.

But Fox was accurate in how the 2016 game-three loss looked. With quarterback Jay Cutler and the No. 1 one offense – or what was healthy of it – played into the third quarter, by which time the Chiefs were leading 20-0, had out-gained the Bears 331-94 and had allowed the Bears into plus-territory just once in seven possessions and with the Bears picking up zero first downs on five of the seven “drives.”

“It was good and bad, like anything else,” Cutler said.

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Concerning perhaps, while not easily quantifiable from a distance, the play by too many players looked lethargic and disinterested, whether it was the cause or the result of repeated breakdowns that killed Chicago drives and extended Kansas City ones. Whether success grows out of confidence or confidence follows from success is a relevant question but one that really doesn’t matter until the Bears have at least one or the other.

“I’ve never had a problem, whether it was all of last year or this year, as far as effort,” Fox said. “Our guys try hard and work hard. Now it’s just crossing that gap to having it happen under pressure. I think with young people sometimes that’s the growing pains. We’ve got the talent to do it. Now we’ve just got to execute better."

Cutler appeared frustrated on more than one occasion, which in the past has been a source of problems. Some of it clearly was with teammates and failed assignments. But this is a young Bears team still in a molten state and frustration, even when justified, can be an accelerant for tension.

This is still only preseason, but the critical trust relationship between Cutler and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains is still a work in progress. The No. 1 offense has done less than nothing – 29 total points from 12 quarters of work – other than a brief burst early in New England. History suggests that Cutler is among those who need success to believe in his chief architect, and if Cutler’s attitude is fraying even a little bit, the danger is that it spread without something positive.

“We’ve got a great attitude,” Cutler insisted. “We’ve got a good team. Coach Fox put together a heck of a staff. Dowell and his staff are doing everything possible. Vic [Fangio, defensive coordinator] is a proven vet… . It’s just up to the guys.”

[RELATED: Bears No. 1 offense moving in wrong direction after three preseason games]

The game was one of the poorer examples of complementary football, with no phase of the Bears – offense, defense, special teams – doing anything remotely setting up another in field position, momentum or whatever. That is unsettling, since it is unusual for a game to be marked by none of a team’s units performing well.

The offense went without a first down on its final four possessions going into halftime. That was capped off by an abysmal final three trips to the line of scrimmage that produced a false-start penalty, incomplete pass to a wide-open receiver and a sack.

The defense, which wasn’t getting much recovery time from those brief series, failed to stop any of the Chiefs’ possessions through three quarters without at least one first down. The Chiefs had six drives of 40 yards or longer and had the ball approaching 30 minutes to the Bears’ 15 through three quarters.

Special teams did the defense few favors. Kansas City punt returns of 18 and 15 yards put the ball at the KC 36 and the 50. The Bears did well to leave those possessions giving up only 3 points, but the Chiefs had three different punt returners with at least one runback of 10 yards or longer.

As far as what might be positive in all of that: “It IS preseason,” Fox stated.

Bears No. 1 offense moving in wrong direction after three preseason games

Bears No. 1 offense moving in wrong direction after three preseason games

If there are solutions lurking in the rubble that has been the Chicago Bears 2016 offense, they are staying hidden. And the problems have to be more than just the loss of coordinator Adam Gase and stalwarts Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte and Matt Slauson.

But in the longest stretch of playing time yet this preseason, a 23-7 loss Saturday to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Bears repeatedly dropped passes, ran wrong routes, failed to execute blocks and generally looked like an offense that has taken significant steps backward since last season.

“We’ve still got some time,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “We’ve still got some time to get better. We’re still missing some guys and we’re going to have an influx of guys coming into the lineup that’ve been missing the past couple of weeks, which is going to help us, make us a little more dynamic out there.

“We’ve just got to keep working.”

The No. 1 offense ran 18 first-half plays and netted 20 yards – five fewer than the team gave the Chiefs in penalties. And matters got worse. The Bears ran 11 plays in the second quarter for a net minus-11 yards.

The Bears went to the line of scrimmage three times in the final 6 seconds of the first half. Those trips produced a false start by Alshon Jeffery (which pushed the Bears back across midfield and out of what would have been their only play in the Kansas City end of the field through 30 minutes); a bounced pass from Cutler in the direction of Marc Mariani when no Chief was within 20 yards of the Bears wide receiver; and a sack by 346-pound nose tackle Dontari Poe, who had one sack in 15 games last season.

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The Bears had practiced those situations as recently as this week, though “we need to prepare more, obviously,” Cutler said, smiling.

Franchise-tagged Jeffery did not limit his issues to the pre-snap penalty. He caught none of the three passes targeted for him in the first half and let one go off his hands with Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters on the ground, a victim of the loose Soldier Field sod.

“I was just trying to catch it and take off,” Jeffery said. “But you still got to catch it.”

When the offense finally managed to cross midfield, on its first possession of the third quarter, the drive included a bad drop of a bubble screen to wide receiver Kevin White, a badly run route by White near the end zone, and finally a missed field goal by Robbie Gould from 48 yards.

“It’s just growing pains,” Cutler said. “It’s just kind of how it is, his ‘rookie’ year, not really playing a lot of college football… . We’re working with him and he’s doing everything he possibly can to work through it and be where it’s supposed to be.

“And he understood it. I talked to him on the sideline and just told him this is going to happen. And now he knows and it just can’t happen again. We just can’t have repeat mistakes. He’s a good kid and he’s going to do well.”

The rest of the offense? Since most of the starters will play little if at all next Thursday at Cleveland, the improvement is going to have to come from within, from practice. It didn’t happen in games, where it is generally supposed to.

Bears quarterback Connor Shaw reportedly suffers broken leg in preseason loss

Bears quarterback Connor Shaw reportedly suffers broken leg in preseason loss

A little over a year ago Connor Shaw suffered a season-ending injury during a preseason game with the Cleveland Browns.

Unfortunately, history has likely repeated itself.

According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Shaw endured a broken leg right above his left ankle in the Bears' 23-7 preseason loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday afternoon. After connecting with wide receiver Josh Bellamy for an 18-yard completion in the fourth quarter, the Bears quarterback had his left leg folded by Chiefs defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches. Shaw stayed on the grass for a few minutes, writhing in pain, before having his left leg put in an air cast and leaving Soldier Field on a cart. 

Following the game, Bears head coach John Fox said that Shaw's injury is "very serious" and that he was on his way to the hospital for further examination.

[MORE BEARS: Bears severly outplayed in another home preseason game]

The devastating injury comes at inopportune time for Shaw who has arguably been the best player in a Bears uniform this preseason.

Before leaving Saturday's game, Shaw was 5/6 for 68 yards with a QB rating of 153.5 including a 16-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Cameron Meredith. Shaw also showed an ability to make things happen with his legs as he had two carries for 15 yards. It was the second consecutive eye-opening performance for Shaw. In last week's preseason loss to the New England Patriots, Shaw was for 4/6 with 42 yards and a touchdown pass.

Shaw had already surpassed David Fales as the Bears' third-string quarterback, and was starting to push Brian Hoyer — who coincidentally suffered an injury to his ribs against the Chiefs — for the backup job behind Jay Cutler. At worst, Shaw would have been a practice squad candidate.

"I've known him since his rookie year in Cleveland and he's really worked hard," Hoyer said. "He's done a good job and to see that, it's really heartbreaking obviously for him, and for a guy that's watched him develop and grow you just really feel for him.

"He's a tough and resilient kid. He's going to be back, but now it's going to be a dark time. That's just the way it is. That's part of football and unfortunately happened to a great kid."

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Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who played with Shaw at South Carolina, has no doubt Shaw's will bounce back from the injury.

“It’s a tough break,” Jeffery said. "He was having a hell of a camp. He was doing a hell of a job out there. You hate to see any teammate go down, but I know him personally being with him in college. He’s a fighter. He’s going to come back.”