Chicago Bears

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.

WATCH: Deonte Thompson channels inner Devin Hester with 109-yard return in Bears preseason game

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AP

WATCH: Deonte Thompson channels inner Devin Hester with 109-yard return in Bears preseason game

It's been a while since Devin Hester electrified the city of Chicago with his touchdown returns, but we got flashbacks of that Saturday night.

Deonte Thompson took a page out of the book of arguably the best returner in NFL history by returning a 109-yard missed field goal to the house as the first half expired during the Bears' second preseason game in Arizona.

It gave the Bears a 17-7 lead, and even had John Fox going crazy on the sideline:

Deonte Thompson, you are ridiculous?

Five Bears who can improve their stock Saturday night against Arizona

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USA Today Sports Images

Five Bears who can improve their stock Saturday night against Arizona

1. QB Mike Glennon

The Bears’ first team offense as a whole could be included under this subhead, whether it’s the offensive line creating holes for a running back (Jordan Howard won't play with a minor corneal abrasion) or the receivers creating more separation to get open. But the onus is on Glennon to be better than he was Thursday night and prove that 0.0 quarterback rating was the product of a small sample size and not a sign of more serious issues. On the other side of things, a bad game from Glennon only would lead to further questions about his ability to succeed as the Bears’ starting quarterback. 

“I mean, (this game is) bigger than the first but not as big as the third,” Glennon said. “I don’t really know how else to say it. Everything gets more amplified Week 1 to 2, 2 to 3 and then ultimately the season opener. Obviously I want to go out and play well but I don’t want to make too big a deal and put too much pressure on a preseason game.” 

2. WR Kevin White

Cameron Meredith can do a lot to help Glennon’s case, but the Bears have a good idea of what they have in the third-year receiver who’s been one of the more steady performers during training camp. Kevin White is in a different position, having not been targeted at all against the Denver Broncos and still needing to prove plenty going into his third year in the NFL. White’s growth this year may be slow, but he needs to show some signs of that growth during preseason games to build up some confidence for Sept. 10. 

“Anytime you go through some injuries, there’s a whole mental game that plays a part of it,” fellow wide receiver Victor Cruz (more on him in a bit) said. “Just talking to him – I think he’s over it. He understands those things are behind him. His confidence is back in his body with the things that he can do. You’re starting to see that out there on the football field. He’s really hitting another gear, catching these balls, going deep down the field and putting pressure on these defensive backs.”

3. WR Victor Cruz

It was a little jarring to see Cruz, a Super Bowl-winning former Pro Bowler, playing until the final snap of Thursday’s game — even if that had something to do with the Bears not having Daniel Braverman available and losing Rueben Randle and Joshua Bellamy to injuries during the game. But Cruz hasn’t seemed to significantly push Kendall Wright for the No. 1 slot receiver job over the last few weeks, and could find himself on the roster bubble by the end of the month. A good showing Saturday night could provide a nice boost to his chance of avoiding that bubble.  

“I've been impressed with him,” Fox said before the Bears’ first preseason game. “He's got a great feel for the game. Sometimes it might not be just how fast they are physically but how fast they play, and he seems to be that type of guy. He's still got plenty of gas in the tank and we're excited to have him.”

4. DE Jonathan Bullard

Bullard is the only player on this list who flashed last Thursday, with an impressive tackle for a loss probably the Bears’ second-best defensive play of the day behind Leonard Floyd’s first-play-of-the-game sack. He’s had a solid camp, too, showing some promising signs after struggling to show much of anything a year ago. For Bullard, Saturday night will be about keeping his arrow pointing up, perhaps to the point that he could start at defensive end opposite Akiem Hicks in Week 1. 

“He’s definitely stronger, faster,” Hicks said. “He was already explosive, right? He has picked up the game to a point where he can play within the scheme now and see things come and be able to predict the play in order to get a step on the guard or the tackle, whoever he’s playing against. Just the things that come with getting more reps.”

5. CB Kyle Fuller

No player may have a better opportunity Saturday night than Fuller, who should be in line to take first-team reps with Bryce Callahan out and Prince Amukamara missing practices this week with a strained hamstring. What Fuller does with this opportunity could be a major deciding factor of whether or not he’s part of the Bears’ 53-man roster — this coaching staff and front office didn’t draft him, and his fifth-year option for 2018 was declined in the spring. 

“It’s a new year,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said earlier this month when asked about Fuller. “We start evaluating guys by what you’ve seen on the field at this point.”