Chicago Bears

Sizing up the NFL Conference Championship games

365107.jpg

Sizing up the NFL Conference Championship games

Saturday, Jan. 22, 2011
Posted: 2:45 PM

By Andy SchwartzSpecial to CSNChicago.com

Green Bay Packers (12-6) at Chicago Bears (12-5)

Ever since Aaron Rodgers returned from the concussion he suffered against Detroit (Dec. 12th), he has been untouchable and the Packers have been unbeatable. They won four in a row over the Giants, Bears, Eagles and Falcons to advance to the conference final. They are playing with tremendous confidence and for good reason--they have the hottest quarterback in the Final Four.

Rodgers had a 134.5 quarterback rating in the playoff wins over Philadelphia and Atlanta with six touchdown passes and no interceptions. He was 31-for-36 passing against the No. 1 seed Falcons and was in complete command, avoiding the rush and coolly picking apart the Atlanta defense. The Packers won the game 48-21 and it really wasnt that close.

The Chicago defense is very good (fourth in points allowed), but it is also very vanilla. The Bears play almost exclusively a Cover 2 zone scheme with the safeties deep. They allow few big plays, they tackle well and they are stout against the run (90.1 yards per game), but Rodgers knows them so well at this point he will know exactly where to go with the ball.

If the field is as sloppy as it usually is -- it was an absolute mess for the Eagles game in November it may work to the advantage of the visiting Packers. The Bears must get a rush on Rodgers if they hope to slow him down, but if the footing is bad, it will make it harder for Julius Peppers and the other D-linemen to push off. Also, Greg Jennings, the Packers' best receiver, loves to double move and that could leave a defensive back on the seat of his pants.

On the other side, Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler had a big game last week against Seattle (two rushing touchdowns, two touchdown passes), but the Green Bay defense is a different animal. When these teams played in the final week of the regular season, the Bears managed just three points and Cutler was 1-for-13 on passes to wide receivers Devin Hester and Johnny Knox.

The suffocating coverage of cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams combined with the pass rush of linebackers Clay Matthews and Erik Walden will be more than the Bears can overcome.

Prediction: Packers 21, Bears 16

New York Jets (13-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (13-4)

In Week 15, the Jets beat the Steelers at Heinz Field, 22-17, in a game that probably saved their season. They had lost back-to-back games to New England (45-3) and Miami (10-6) and fallen to 9-4 and appeared in danger of missing the playoffs.

However, the Jets regrouped to win in Pittsburgh for the first time in franchise history. Quarterback Mark Sanchez came up with a clutch performance and the Jets slipped into the AFC playoffs as the No. 6 seed. Following upset wins in Indianapolis and New England, coach Rex Ryans team now is just one win away from the Super Bowl.

All the Jets need to do is win another game in Pittsburgh. Shouldnt be that hard, right? They did it just a few weeks ago.

Well, this will be different. For one thing, it is a conference championship game which raises the stakes considerably. Also, the Steelers will have All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu for this game. They did not have him when the teams played last month.

How much of a difference does that make? In the past two seasons, the Steelers are 15-4 when Polamalu plays and 6-7 when he does not. He is that important to coordinator Dick LeBeaus defense. His versatility, his ability to blitz as well as cover and line up all over the field can unnerve and distract a young quarterback, even one as cool as Sanchez.

Sanchez is 4-1 in post-season starts, all of them on the road, which is quite a record, but he has not faced a defense as good as this one. The Indianapolis defense ranked 20th, the Patriots defense ranked 25th. The Steelers were second overall in defense and led the NFL with 48 sacks. They mauled Baltimores Joe Flacco in the divisional playoff (one fumble, one interception, five sacks).

Ryan has devised schemes to defeat Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in consecutive weeks, but Ben Roethlisberger is a different kind of quarterback: bigger, stronger and better than either Manning or Brady at extending plays and creating outside the pocket. He usually finds ways to win (9-2 in the post-season) and he will do it again Sunday.

Prediction: Steelers 17, Jets 13

Bears edition of 'Who he look like?'

bears.jpg
USA TODAY

Bears edition of 'Who he look like?'

Who says football can't be fun?

Per wide receiver Markus Wheaton's Instagram account, the Bears had quite a bit of fun playing the "Who he look like?" game on Wednesday: 

No mercy on the new guys as Roberto Aguayo was compared to Pedro from "Napoleon Dynamite." Are "Vote for Roberto" T-shirts next? 

Even the most respected veterans don't have a free pass as Kyle Long apparently looks like Marcin Gortat. 

This could be the best one, though. Kevin White as Kel from "Good Burger." 

We'll order up a healthy season for White and many touchdowns. 

 

What you need to know from Bears practice: Kyle Long gets ankle checked out, expresses remorse for Monday fights

What you need to know from Bears practice: Kyle Long gets ankle checked out, expresses remorse for Monday fights

Coach John Fox said Kyle Long expressed “remorse” and was “embarrassed” after being kicked out of Monday’s final training camp practice in Bourbonnais for sparking a pair of skirmishes with teammates.

Long hasn’t been available to the media since his pair of physical outbursts on Monday, and wasn’t at practice Wednesday. Fox said Long was at a doctor’s appointment to get his surgically-repaired ankle checked out, but is expected to be back at practice on Thursday.

Long’s father, NFL on Fox analyst Howie Long, addressed his son’s practice ejection on the Rich Eisen Show on Tuesday.

“He’s gotta get it under control,” Long said. “It’s one of those things where you’re coming back from injury and you’re switching positions, maybe you’re not where you want to be right now.”

Fox said “everything’s fine” with Long after talking with him, and understood where he could be frustrated by slowly being eased back into full team activities during practice (and possibly not playing in any preseason games).

“I think any time a player's injured, they get something that they love taken away from them,” Fox said. “It's been a minute, there's some pain and suffering that goes along with it and I'm sure those are things. But we have a lot of resources here, Kyle knows he's loved here, by his teammates and by everyone in the building. He'll get through it and we talked about that and I think he feels confident in that.”

From the sick bay

Cornerback Prince Amukamara didn’t participate in practice Wednesday due to a strained hamstring and is day-to-day, Fox said. Wide receiver Markus Wheaton had surgery on his fractured pinkie, too, Fox said.

There was some good news for the Bears on Wednesday, though, with Jeremy Langford and Mark Sanchez both participating in practice. Langford isn’t quite back to full health after spraining his ankle during a walkthrough in July, but sounded confident he can get back to that level.

“I think my main thing is getting back to 100 percent and being the player that I am and can be, and the rest will take care of itself,” Langford said.