Bears-Packers preview Part I: Matchups

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Bears-Packers preview Part I: Matchups

Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011
Posted: 10:23 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Bears have battled Packers since theres been an NFL; 181 games, in fact. But few have approached the magnitude of the one set to play out next Sunday in Soldier Field at 2 p.m.

It will be a game in which two NFC North powers face off with decided strengths and advantages over the other.

In a special three-part series, CSNChicago.com takes a look at the Packers No. 1 advantage; the No. 1 factor favoring the Bears; and the critical third area is virtually a coin-toss as to who really has the edge in a dream matchup.

Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers over Jay Cutler

Aaron Rodgers directed the Green Bay offense to 45 points in his first playoff game, the 2009 loss to Arizona. He one-upped that Saturday with 48 points against the Atlanta Falcons, the No. 5 scoring defense in the NFL this season, and that was without Rodgers playing most of the fourth quarter.

Rodgers is starting on a course that could well surpass what Brett Favre did in Green Bay, which was winning one Super Bowl and losing a second.

Aaron Rodgers was on fire vs. Atlanta, said cornerback Charles Tillman. If Green Bay comes out and plays like they played against Atlanta, its going to be a tough day for us.

Better vs. Bears than Favre?

Two particularly ominous aspects of Rodgers stand out as far as the Bears and the NFC Championship are concerned:

Rodgers has shown himself to be better in the biggest games. He finished this season with a passer rating of 101.2, third in the NFL, then flew past that with a 122.5 against Philadelphia and 136.8 in the Atlanta game. His 2009 regular-season rating was 103.2. Against Arizona in his first playoff game, he threw four touchdown passes and finished with a 122.4 rating.

In his three career playoff games Rodgers has thrown 10 touchdown passes, one interception and nearly 73.3 percent completions.

And he is the anti-Favre with respect to Lovie Smith. For all of his Bear-killer mystique, Favre fattened his Bears record over Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron teams. But Favre was a combined 3-9 against the Smith Bears playing as a Packer, Jet and Viking.

Rodgers is 4-2 against the Smith Bears. He lost once in OT in 2008 and again in the opener this season, when his team was charged for 18 penalties.

Cutler rising?
After a six-sack pummeling in Green Bay with his offense scoring just three points, Jay Cutler re-grouped against the Seattle Seahawks and got the offense dialed up sufficiently for five touchdowns and 261 passing yards. And zero interceptions.

Awesome, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. Cutler played great. I dont think he had any turnovers or anything like that. He threw the ball when he had to, threw it away when he had to, ran it when he had to. Awesome, for his first playoff start.

Cutler has improved as a quarterback, still with perceived potential of near mythical proportions in his right arm. He had a solid performance against Green Bay in Game 3 (82.5 rating) but lapsed to a 43.5 mark in Game 16 when he threw zero TD passes, two interceptions and contributed to his being sacked six times.

More to the playoff point, while he guided the Bears past Seattle in his first NFL playoff game, Cutler has never developed the reputation as a big-game quarterback. Big-play QB, yes; big-game QB, no, extending back to his time with Denver.

Cutler did win his first playoff game, so thats one place hes ahead of Rodgers. There are not many others. He cut down dramatically on interceptions, from 26 last season to 16 (in 14-12 games) and his play improved perceptibly after the off week when Mike Martz was directed to have Cutler throw the ball less.

Conclusion:

Cutler has the potential to produce an epic performance. Rodgers, however, has a growing history of them. Advantage: Green Bay.

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

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).

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

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.

Bears' best rookies will have another learning curve

Bears' best rookies will have another learning curve

There's a sense of irony and, to a certain degree, concern about what changes the Bears' coaching staff has undergone.

Think of the best of Ryan Pace's 2016 rookie class: Leonard Floyd, Cody Whitehair, and Jordan Howard. They were brought along under the position group tutelage of outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt, offensive line coach Dave Magazu and running backs coach Stan Drayton. The latter was the first to depart, shortly after the season ended, to return to the collegiate ranks on Texas' new staff.

He's been replaced with former 49ers and Bills offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins (also serving as that position coach in Detroit, Buffalo, Arizona and Kansas City). Howard certainly adapted to the NFL game well, more than anyone expected, as the NFL's second-leading rusher. One would think Drayton played a part in that.

Longtime John Fox assistant Magazu was also let go after the season despite the impressive move of second-round pick Whitehair to center the week of the season opener after Josh Sitton was signed following his release by Green Bay. Whitehair was sold as a "quick study" following his selection out of Kansas State, where he was a four-year starter at three different positions (but not center).

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Like Howard, he wound up making the All-Rookie team, but whether he remains in the middle of the line or not, he'll be getting his orders now from Jeremiah Washburn.

Rounding out the trio of All-Rookie selections was Floyd, who was brought along by Hurtt. He impressed Fox enough to be kept around from Marc Trestman's staff, and moved from defensive line to outside linebackers.

That's where he assisted Willie Young in morphing to a foreign role, yet still managing 14 sacks over the last two seasons. The Bears have yet to name a replacement for Hurtt, who's joined the Seahawks in taking over one of their strengths in recent years, the defensive line.

These three were already good, and the jewels of last year's draft. But if they're to grow and ascend into impact contributors if and when this team becomes a regular playoff contender, it'll come from new faces, new voices in their respective classrooms and position groups.