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

Bullard a prime example of how, why and where Bears can improve

Bullard a prime example of how, why and where Bears can improve

This Bears rebuild has taken longer than expected. Ideally, in year three of a GM/head coach tandem, they should be contending for the playoffs. 

That’s not to say the 2017 Bears can’t. It’s just unlikely. They don’t have enough players opponents have to gameplan for. They don’t have the depth to overcome key injuries. When franchises get on a winning roll, it’s when they have enough of those studs on both sides of the ball, and have the depth to avoid as many emergencies as possible. And that happens when second- and third-year players make a jump in their play.

Offensively, we saw an impressive jump by Cam Meredith, but another left leg injury still have us wondering exactly what Kevin White is, and how good he can be. Jeremy Langford’s growth was stunted by his ankle injury. Second-year center Hroniss Grasu missed the entire year. On the defensive side, we never got to see if Kyle Fuller could’ve proven his first-round status in his third year. Safety Adrian Amos started another full season, but is now in a battle to do the same a third straight year. We can see star qualities in Eddie Goldman, but how much of a difference-maker can he be by remaining on the field? We’ll learn the same about Leonard Floyd if he can do that this fall. And there are a handful of other second-year players we’ll be watching, from Deon Bush to Deiondre Hall to Cre’Von LeBlanc. There’s also 2016 third-round pick Jonathan Bullard, who learned what it took to become a 3-4 defensive end in the NFL.

“It was okay. I got about 17 snaps a game,” Bullard said of his rookie season during last month’s minicamp. “That’s not what I wanted coming in. But it is what is. I want to move on to the next year and hopefully be able to help this team in a big way.”

Rookie seasons for every player lay the groundwork. How high their ceiling goes starts to get established in year two, between the player’s effort, and getting coached-up correctly.

“They asked me to gain a few pounds. I was like 282 last year, and right now I’m at 296, so hopefully that helps me, said Bullard. “I’m just trying to make all this solid and not lose my burst that got me here. So I’m looking forward to it. I got a year under my belt now, I know what they expect. I’m gonna be ready.”

Part of Bullard taking things upon himself was hooking up with a former defensive end, from the same alma mater, who happens to be fourth in franchise history in sacks (albeit in a 4-3 scheme): CSN’s very own Bears analyst, Alex Brown.

“We saw each other at the Florida spring game and we kind of linked up and put in some work at his facility down the road,” Bullard explained. “We’ve met up quite a few times, just working on little things. He’s just trying to give me a better understanding of the game, and some of the veteran things he knows that I want to incorporate into my game.”

So what kind of a teacher is Alex?

“He’s alright. I make him him jump in there. I tell him he’s not that old.”

And while Pace didn’t make the big splash in free agency as he tries to match up salary with his grades for players, Bullard has to prove he’s now better than last year’s starter, Mitch Unrein, as well as a hungry fellow former Gator, Jaye Howard, who was brought in on a “prove it” one-year deal after being cut just before the draft by Kansas City.

“As far as him being a Gator, it’s exciting. But it’s a competition. He’s gonna come in and try to win the starting job, and I’m gonna do the same. It’s just gonna have to be a friendly competition when training camp comes, and may the best man win.”

Let this, and many other Bourbonnais battles, begin.

Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman saved a man's life at an airport

Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman saved a man's life at an airport

Jerrell Freeman played hero at an Austin airport on Sunday.

The Bears linebacker was grabbing a bite to eat before his flight to head back to Chicago for training camp when he noticed a man choking.

Freeman said an older lady tried to perform the Heimlich maneuver on the man but didn't have enough strength. That's when Freeman stepped in, and after a couple attempts, saved his life.

“I grabbed him and tried to squeeze the life out of him,” Freeman told the Chicago Tribune. “You’ve got to push in and up. So I did that and he started throwing up what he was choking on. I asked him if he was all right and he shook his head like ‘No!’

“I grabbed him again and hit him again with it. And when I put him down the second time, his eyes got big. He was like, ‘Oh, my god! I think you just saved my life, man!’ It was crazy.”

Freeman tweeted a picture after it happened:

Freeman, 31, said he had never done the Heimlich maneuver before, but his mom is a nurse and had talked to him about it. He just did what he heard, and thankfully it worked.