Moon: Rodgers won't be the Bears' main concern

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Moon: Rodgers won't be the Bears' main concern

Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011
10:15 a.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com
In numbers befitting a classic rivalry, the last five Bears-Green Bay Packers games have been decided by 7 or fewer points). The Bears have scored 72 points in those games, the Packers 86.

Neither team has scored more 21 in any of those five. Unfortunately for Chicago, the Packers were the ones hitting that total.

There are few reasons to expect either or both of the teams to break out against the other. And that will be fine with coach Lovie Smith, with one enormous condition.

You can look at the defensive players and say it will be another low-scoring game, Smith said. But if you look on the offensive side of the ball, there are a lot of weapons there too. It could easily be a high-scoring game.

We just want to have one more point than they do.

Because of the closeness of the teams games over the past several years, one conclusion could be that someone is due for blowout. That happened in 2008 for Green Bay (37-3), in 2007 for the Bears (35-7) and twice in 2006, once for each side.

But one-score games mean that the outcome came down to one play, one drive, often the last possession with the need for a score or a stop. And a one-score game means the game hinging on a single turnover.

The Bears beat Green Bay by 3 points in Game 3 because of a takeaway in the final minutes. The Packers won in Green Bay by 7 as Jay Cutler threw second-half interceptions in the Green Bay end zone and at the Packers 24.

As much as anything, when you come down to a game like this, if you just protect the football a little bit. We had opportunities last time, Smith said. There were a couple picks that hurt us, but thats what happened in the past.

They were in the past but they point to the central question facing the Bears Sunday.

The No. 1 worry: Can the Bears score?

The deepest single cause for concern is not Aaron Rodgers, who has seized a spot among the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. But the Packers have beaten the Bears without a dominant Rodgers and therein lies the real problem.

The Packers have not allowed the Bears more than 20 points in any of the last six games. With Cutler in charge under two different coordinators, and operating against the 3-4 defense of coordinator Dom Capers, the Bears offense has scored 4 touchdowns in four games against Green Bay.

Devin Hester broke a punt return in the first 2010 game, the only Bears win behind Cutler, but the Green Bay defense is getting more, not less, difficult to score on.

Last year was our first time with a 3-4 defense and we executed it very well, said linebacker Clay Matthews. But we still gave up a lot of points and yards in key situations. This year its the reverse really. Were not giving up as many points, and the yards may be up, but points are what really matters.
Sack threat

The sacks are problems in themselves because they cost both yards and downs. They also carry the inherent risk of turnover, a strip, an unsuspected hit on Cutler that puts the ball on the ground in a game where one mistake is likely to determine the outcome.

You just dont want to turn the ball over and you want to do a great job of running the football, Martz said. Matthews is going to make his plays. Hes a great player. But were trying to limit his impact as much as possible and stop the bleeding as much as you can. They do a great job.

Dom Capers is a great coach. He does a great job of scheming those things. As we get better with what we do, and as that group in the offensive line gets better, weve been able to deal with that much better as well.

Matthews, with 13-12 sacks on the season, accounted for 1 of the 6 sacks in a meaningless Game 16 when the Bears inexplicably exposed Cutler on 47 pass plays vs. 18 running plays, a game plan which coordinator Mike Martz admitted last week was a mistake.

The Bears cannot afford a similar strategic mistake in second-most-meaningful game they hope to play this season. The Packers blitz and they also play extremely solid defense when they dont, but it is the confusion created up front by the shifting Green Bay packages that can take down the Bears.

Were going to handle it, Cutler declared. Our offensive line has a good feel about what theyre going to do. The Packers might not necessarily bring the house every time. Im not for sure. They might play a little more zone to throw us off.

Im sure there is going to be some new wrinkles so were just going to have to feel it out as the game goes by.
Rodgers turnaround

The Bears under Lovie Smith handled the Packers while Brett Favre was up North. Green Bay and Favre had their way with the Bears for more than a decade after Mike Ditka and his Super Bowl XX core left. But in the final four Favre years the Bears owned the Packers to the beat of 6-2.

That changed when Rodgers took over. The Packers have reversed the flow of the rivalry and are 4-2 behind Rodgers. The only times the Bears defeated the Packers was by 3 points in OT in 2008, and by 3 again in Game 3 this season when Green Bay committed 18 penalties. One of those nullified a Rodgers touchdown pass, and the Packers turned the ball over to the Bears at the Green Bay 46 to set the stage for Robbie Goulds winning field goal.

Rodgers has validated superb regular-season passer ratings, with their mix of touchdowns, interceptions and yardage, with even loftier performances in his first two postseasons.

But after a passer mark of 105.8 in a 37-3 Packers win in his first Bears game, the Bears have held him below 93 in five straight games and the Packers to a max of 21 points (in the two 2009 games).

I think if you watch our couple games against him, we did ok, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. He throws it to the open receivers, puts the ball on the money pretty much every time. We have to try and make him feel as uncomfortable as we can.

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.

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

So Jordan Howard finished second in the NFL in rushing in his rookie season, despite just a dozen carries in the first three games. The fifth-round pick joined the man who beat him out for the rushing title, Ezekiel Elliott, as one of just five rookies in history to average five or more yards per carry on over 250 carries. And he set the Bears' rookie rushing record with his 1,313 yards while becoming just the fourth in franchise history to rush for that many yards in a season.

Sounds pretty hard to top, like we might be set up for the dreaded sophomore slump.

But...

"Things are a lot different this year because I know what to expect," Howard said during the team's minicamp two weeks ago. "I know all the plays and things like that. I’m not out there thinking, so I can just play free and fast.

"I definitely feel like a veteran 'cause I know what to expect and can help the young guys on the plays that they're not understanding. I’m just more comfortable and want to be a leader."

One of the other things we learned about Howard last year is he's low-key, a man of few words. So the Indiana product by way of UAB will make his points verbally when needed, but his actions will speak louder.

"He was a rookie a year ago and didn't even go in trying to be a leader, telling a five-year guy what was up," said head coach John Fox. "I think with time, and obviously with production like he had, I think it's a role he can fall in to. We're in a performance-based business and even in that locker room, what they do on Sundays gives them some credibility."

One of the concerns about Howard coming out of college was durability, but he answered the bell once he became the starter in week four against Detroit. And he probably wasn't used nearly as much as he should have. The good news about that is he was subject to less wear and tear, averaging just 18 carries per game from that Lions game on.

But besides taking more of a leadership role, Howard wanted to work on his speed without sacrificing the strong base that, paired with keen vision and work by the offensive line, allowed him to hit holes quickly and charge toward the second level of opposing defenses.

"Just improving on the little things – my conditioning, my weight, catching passes. And looking for ways to finish runs better," says Howard. "I feel like I’m in much better shape than I was at this time last year, a little more toned-up."

"It's just training," said Fox. "When you get to that it's more like track speed than football speed and I think he proved pretty worthy of that a year ago as a rookie. Y'know we all can improve on things, and that's the expectation. He's trained hard.

"This time of year last year he wasn’t even practicing," Fox remembered. "I like where we are, we’ve brought in more competition, and he’s better for it. He’s kind of gotten used to an NFL season, he’s come back ready to roll, but he still has work to do before we get to training camp."  

Oh, and the 22-year-old has a couple of other goals he didn't mind sharing, besides being a leader and getting a little faster.

"First off, make the playoffs. Be the leading rusher, and just help the team in any way I can and stay consistent."

Did Brandon Marshall disrespect Jay Cutler with Hall of Fame shade?

Did Brandon Marshall disrespect Jay Cutler with Hall of Fame shade?

Brandon Marshall is no stranger to keeping it real.

The outspoken All-Pro receiver never minces his words and that continued over the weekend when he showed off his signed jersey collection.

Marshall took to Instagram and showed off "Santa" hanging all of the jerseys he's swapped with other NFL players:

Santa doing work.. . #jerseychallenge

A post shared by Brandon Marshall (@bmarshall) on

The list includes a host of current and future Hall of Fame players: Champ Bailey, Cris Carter, John Lynch, Darrelle Revis, Lance Briggs, Adam Vinatieri, Adrian Peterson, Larry Fitzgerald, Joe Thomas.

When almost all the framed jerseys were hung, Marshall took his followers through:

@nfl #jerseychallenge

A post shared by Brandon Marshall (@bmarshall) on

Marshall compliments each player before, calling them "Hall of Famers" before getting to Jay Cutler at the end and going "Hall of..." multiple times.

Was that Marshall throwing shade at his former quarterback in both Denver and Chicago? If it was an innocent mistake or whatever, there's no way Marshall would've posted the Instagram video, right?

Marshall and Cutler were good friends from the beginning of their careers with the Broncos. So much so that the Bears traded a pair of third round draft picks in March 2012 to allow the two to continue their bromance by the lake:

But Marshall and Cutler have had a contentious relationship since.

Last summer, Marshall responded to a Tweet saying "of course" he misses Cutler. Last August, Marshall hopped on ESPN's First Take and said he thought Cutler could win the MVP Award in the 2016 NFL season.

At the same time, Marshall talked about his relationship with Cutler and said he was the only person on the Bears with the "huevos" to hold the enigmatic quarterback accountable. Marshall also said he was "sad" he didn't talk to Cutler much in the year leading up to August 2016.