The first game of NFL week two brings us a game that could have ramification down the road as NFC North divisional foes face off in Green Bay, Wisconsin tonight. The Chicago Bears (1-0) visit a wounded Green Bay Packers (0-1) team.
DAAA BEARSSSSS have found some explosiveness on offense with their WR pickups in the offseason. Brandon Marshall’s prowess has been established and 6’5″ Alshon Jeffery, their 2nd-round pick from South Carolina, had a nice first game against Indy with 80 receiving yards including a 42-yard TD.
They have as good a mix of WRs as anyone and actually compare nicely with the Packers’ top few. Marshall and Jeffery are big, physical guys that can “play above the goalpost” as it were, snagging passes at the highest point that the smaller DBs can’t reach. That takes accuracy and timing. Cutler and Marshall already know each other from Denver and Jeffery is working his way into things nicely.
Add into the mix the not-often-targeted but highly dangerous open-field runner Devin Hester. We know he can score from anywhere already and when you’ve got a complete back like Matt Forte with very soft hands and 4.4 speed, and the Bears have plenty of weapons to move the ball against last year’s 32nd-ranked defense.
The biggest thing to watch in terms of gameplanning will be how many times do the Bears try to run it? Forte is a top-ten RB with his skill set and the Packers’ defense gave up 5.8 yards/rushing attempt against the 49′ers with
Al Frank Gore getting 112 yards on just 16 carries.
Aaron Rodgers was the Packers’ leading rusher with 27 yards on 5 attempts while Cedric Benson gained 18 on 9 carries. The Packers never have been a running team in recent years and don’t appear to care to try doing it now. With their QB, TE, and WRs, why would they?
The answer for the Bears is controlling the clock and keeping AR-12 off the field. It’s kind of obvious, yes, but it’s what the Niners did to beat them last week. Clay Matthews had 2.5 sacks, but he’s a known quantity and the Packers’ D lacks another consistent pass-rusher. Running the ball effectively has the side effect of slowing down the pass rush and opening up the play-action pass, something Cutler is good at.
Look for the Bears to try to establish the run early, despite some of the jawboning Cutler has done about the Packers secondary the past couple of days. Running the ball keeps the clock ticking and keeps AR-12 and his weapons on the sideline while resting your own defense. The same gameplan has been used for 15 years against Peyton Manning and Tom Brady…usually unsuccessfully.
With the Packers’ defense having been so bad last season and showing little sign of improvement so far this season, that’s exactly what the Bears will plan on doing. They match up well against the Packers and while they can’t quite match Green Bay’s on-tilt pinball scoring machine, their running game means they don’t have to. If they can use the run sprinkled in to control the pace and score just before halftime and/or just before the end of the game, that will also force the Packers to take chances with their limited number of possessions.
Fantasy owners need to make sure they’ve got Matt Forte plugged in. Sunday morning will be too late.
The winner of this game should be in the early driver’s seat for the division title. A Bears victory puts them 2 games up on Green Bay after two games and ensures at least a split head-to-head matchup with the flip side being played at Soldier Field later on. If the Packers win, they’ll be tied with Chicago 1-1, but have the tiebreaking edge head-to-head, 1-0.
With the Detroit Lions’ weak showing in their fingernail-scratching victory over the lowly Rams last week and the Vikings likely the cellar-dwellers, the early going would seem to indicate the two teams playing tonight are the class of their division. It’s actually more of a must-win for the Packers because starting any season 0-2 with 2 home losses makes the road – and road games ahead – that much more difficult.
Given the first week’s games and Mike McCarthy’s team coming off a loss at home and playing in front of their home crowd, they’ll have extra incentive. Cutler’s barbs at the Packers’ defense only gives them that much more motivation. Tough game to call, but so long as the “replacement” officials don’t miss another block in the back on a Randall “Tex” Cobb return, I’m thinking the final will be…
Packers by 10
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