28

December

Alshon Jeffery, Bears offense present test for Packers

Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery has developed into one of the league's top big targets in his second season.

Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery has developed into one of the league’s top big targets in his second season.

A year ago, Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was–if anything–a detriment to Chicago’s offense when the Bears and Green Bay Packers met at Soldier Field in December. As the Packers clinched the NFC North title, Jeffery was flagged for three offensive interference penalties and failed to catch a pass.

Jeffery totaled just 367 yards in 10 games last season. Four weeks ago at Minnesota, Jeffery racked up 249 yards and a pair of scores in one game alone, boosting his stat line to a near-1,000 yard spike in production up to this point of the season.

And with Jeffery on one side, Brandon Marshall on the other and Matt Forte reaping the benefits underneath, the Bears suddenly boast one of football’s more explosive offenses.

With backup Josh McCown at quarterback in the Nov. 4 meeting at Lambeau Field, Jeffery caught five passes for 60 yards and a touchdown–a marked improvement over last year’s seven total yards in two meetings. Head coach Marc Trestman and the Bears have remained consistent throughout their “quarterback controversy,” making it clear that Jay Cutler would be the starter as long as he’s healthy.

Cutler carries his 1-8 career record against the Packers into Sunday’s win-and-in scenario, while Aaron Rodgers makes his return for the Packers after a seven-game absence. And while Rodgers has tilted the game in the Packers’ favor in Vegas, Cutler and Chicago’s offense is gearing up to make Sunday’s game a shootout.

When the Packers have the ball, they’ll likely feature a heavy dose of Eddie Lacy and James Starks against Chicago’s leaky run defense. Rodgers figures to take more downfield shots than Matt Flynn in recent weeks, but the Packers’ run-heavy offense will likely continue this week.

If the Packers are able to run the ball effectively and control the clock, then Chicago’s offense, which has scored 30 points six times this season, will be limited to a certain extent.

Coming into the season, cornerback appeared to be one of the Packers’ deepest positions. Last year’s leader in interceptions, Casey Hayward, figured to help mask the loss of turnover creator Charles Woodson, while Sam Shields stepped into the No. 1 cornerback role, veteran Tramon Williams was recharged and youngsters Davon House and rookie Micah Hyde looked to build on a strong preseason.

1

November

Packers Periscope: Week 9 vs. Chicago Bears

The Past

Wide receiver Brandon Marshall started it off by bringing in a Charlie Brown Christmas tree to his press conference:

“Right now, metaphorically, our season looks like this tree right now where we’re standing.  Barren. Ugly. But there’s still hope. As a kid, it doesn’t matter how your Christmas tree looks. You’re still waiting for Christmas Day. You have hopes and dreams that Santa’s going to bring you those things you ask for. It’s always a possibility.  Where we stand today, our goal is to win the NFC championship, beat the Green Bay Packers, win the Super Bowl. All of that still can be under this Christmas tree. Whenever you’re down, you’ve got to try to create some type of balance, so this is a perfect little thing for me to keep me going.”

While all of that still could have been under the Christmas tree, the Packers entered the game at 10-4 only needing a win against the Bears to clinch the NFC North and an obvious ticket to the playoffs.  On the other hand, the Bears were reeling after losing 4 games out of their last 5 after starting red hot by winning by 7 of their first 8 games.

James Jones had the game of his career with 3 touchdown catches while Alshon Jeffery had a game to forget after getting called for 3 offensive pass interference calls while Brandon Marshall showed just how physical a wide receiver can be by bulldozing his way 15 yards for the touchdown.  On defense, both teams got pressure on the quarterback, with Rodgers being sacked 3 times while Cutler was sacked 4 times, but perhaps most importantly the Packers offense had zero turnovers while Jay Cutler gift wrapped an interception to Casey Hayward, which lead directly to a James Jones touchdown.  The Packers ultimately prevailed 21-13, clinching the NFC North while the Chicago Bears lost ground on the NFC Wildcard race, which Minnesota eventually won (after beating the Packers in the regular season closer).

 The Present

18

December

Packers Stock Report: NFC North Champions Edition

Clay Matthews

Ravishing Rick Rude would be proud of this Clay Matthews sack dance.

Watching the Packers this season can be very frustrating. You have shoddy pass blocking, dropped passes, a horrible kicker, failure to put teams away, shaky run defense, all kinds of injuries, odd playcalling and Fail Mary.

Yet here the Packers are, NFC North champs for the second season in a row.

It really is amazing what Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers have been able to do with this team. They’ve adjusted the offense once it became apparent that they weren’t the juggernaut from a season ago. They’ve also overcome all kinds of injuries.

Yes, watching this team can be maddening. But this is a group we can be proud of.

On to the stock report:

Rising

Clay Matthews
The Packers best pass rusher returned, sacked Jay Cutler twice and made several other plays on run defense. In other words, it was a typical day for Matthews against the Bears. More importantly, Matthews busted out a Ravishing Rick Rude sack dance. Seriously, it was amazing. For those of you who don’t know who Ravishing Rick Rude is, click here. I hope Matthews wears pants with a picture of his own face on the rear-end next week. Turn the music off!

Randall Cobb
Defensive coordinators must just start screaming “FIND COBB!!! FIND COBB!!!” whenever Aaron Rodgers breaks the pocket. Cobb dropped an early touchdown pass (well, the throw was a little off, but Cobb will probably tell you he should have caught it), but made up for it throughout the rest of the game. Needs to get a little more zip on those punt throwback tosses, though.

B.J. Raji
It’s good to see the big guy getting stronger as the season wears on. Raji was very good against the Lions and was strong early against the Bears. It looked like the Bears were going to have no problem moving the ball on the ground at the start of Sunday’s game, then Raji woke up and put a stop to that.

Steady

Sam Shields
Somebody got to Shields in the offseason and convinced him that he had to be more physical. I would like to buy this person a beer. Shields missed a tackle on Matt Forte early, but when the ball was in the air in pass coverage, Shields fought hard. He also overcame another bogus call against him and managed to get Alshon Jeffrey flagged for offensive pass interference a few times. There were times last season where physical contact made Shields coil up into the fetal position. Not the case any more.

17

December

Packers Coach Mike McCarthy: What Is He Thinking?

Mike McCarthy

Some of McCarthy’s decisions have led to many questions about whether they will help or hurt the Packers from here on out

Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has a track record that speaks for itself:

73 wins

37 losses

.664 winning percentage in regular season

5-3 record in playoffs including a Super Bowl Championship

Two appearances in the NFC Championship game

Three NFC North division titles

Not bad, right?  Even by the sky-high standards of the Green Bay Packers and their fans, those numbers exude success.  But McCarthy has become somewhat of an intrigue lately.  As we know, he calls the offensive plays for the Packers during games.  He has done so since his arrival in Green Bay.

At times, especially this season, he has had fans and analysts alike scratching their heads with some of his decision making.  Now, I realize that he gives quarterback Aaron Rodgers some freedom to alter the play at the line if Rodgers sees something he thinks he can take advantage of.  It’s hard to say exactly whether some of these offensive failures were McCarthy calls or Rodgers check-out’s.  Whichever is the case, McCarthy is responsible for all of it as head coach.

Despite having clinched the NFC North division with today’s win over the Chicago Bears, the Packers still have a chance to improve their playoff seeding over the last two weeks of the season.  They return home to face the Tennessee Titans next week which screams (and I mean a blood-curdling scream) “trap game”.  Any lapse in that game and even worse, a loss, will fall squarely on the shoulders of McCarthy and how he prepares the team this week.  In week 17, they will face the Minnesota Vikings in what will surely be a tough game as the Vikings are now in great position to reach the postseason.

Any Packers player or coach who is asked will tell us:  “We believe in coach McCarthy and what we are trying to accomplish”.  And that’s not a bad thing.  I’d rather have that type of team culture than some others that I see (the Philadelphia Eagles come to mind).  At the same time, I think Packers nation is starting to grow anxious as we watch McCarthy baffle everyone from fans to the TV analysts (even Joe Buck and Troy Aikman) with some of his play calling.  And specifically late in games when the Packers have a decent lead and their destiny is in their own hands.

16

December

Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears Key Matchups

Brandon Marshall

Well, here we are.  It’s Bears week and the Green Bay Packers have a chance to clinch another NFC North divisional title with a win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday.  These are the types of matchups that the schedule makers and NFL hope for this late in the season.

When earlier this year it seemed that the Packers would be facing seemingly insurmountable odds to surpass the Bears in the North, all of the chips have started to fall into place.  The Bears have lost four of their last five games and are staring at a good possibility that their playoff chances will be reduced to a wild card chase.

Should the Bears lose Sunday, the Packers could clinch the division win and that is the only way Chicago can get into the postseason.  Should the Bears win, the Packers can still control their own destiny and win the division by simply winning their last two games.

There has been some jarring in the media between both teams with some subtle and some not-so-subtle barbs.  Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall acted like he didn’t know how to pronounce Packers cornerback Tramon Williams’ name and said that none of the Green Bay defenders should take any credit for severely limiting him in the teams’ first matchup.  Packers tight end Jermichael Finley commented that the Bears defense may be better off without the “slow” and future Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher, who is out with a hamstring injury.

But all of that is nothing but entertainment leading up to another huge game between these long-time rivals.  Let’s hone in on the key matchups that will play a big role in the outcome.

Bears Wide Receiver Brandon Marshall vs. Packers Secondary

As was the case in the first matchup, this is probably the most key matchup in the game.  Marshall is, by far, Chicago’s biggest offensive threat and he is currently the second leading receiver in the NFL in terms of yardage.  He’s a big body who is a tough tackle and can pick up some yards after the catch.  He has the speed to stretch out the defense and run the deep route too.

13

December

Around the NFC North in Week 15

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 15

It’s already the NFL’s week 15 and let’s cut to the chase in the NFC North.  This is a week that most Packers fans had circled on the schedule as soon as it came out.  Is there a more intense week in the Packers universe than “Bears week”?

The Green Bay Packers travel to Chicago to take on the Bears in this highly-anticipated game that will be the marquis matchup not just in the NFC North, but in the NFL.

The Packers can clinch their second straight North division title with a win.  The Bears would re-enter the divisional race as a strong contender should they emerge victorious.  The early line this week favors Green Bay by three.

The Minnesota Vikings will travel to St. Louis to take on the Rams.  This ends up being an interesting game because neither of these teams wants to go away quietly this year.

The week is rounded off by the Detroit Lions visiting the Arizona Cardinals in the “futility bowl”.  Nothing more than pride is on the line in that contest.

Let’s dive into the matchups and the storylines alike.

Green Bay Packers (9-4) at Chicago Bears (8-5)

Because of the major playoff implications, I’m leading off with this matchup and will go more in depth with this game.

This game has changed shape immensely in the past month.  What was being billed as possibly one of the biggest game on the NFL schedule this season has turned into somewhat of a last stand for the Bears.

After starting the season 7-1, the Bears have lost four of their last five games including two in a row since the return of quarterback Jay Cutler.  After suffering a concussion during a loss to the Houtson Texans, Cutler was forced to miss a key game against the San Francisco 49ers.  The 9ers beat the Bears handily for a second straight loss.  They beat the Vikings but then suffered a tough overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks and followed that up with this past week’s loss in the rematch with Minnesota on the road.

Chicago will be without defensive playmakers Brian Urlacher who may end up on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, and cornerback Tim Jennings who leads the NFL in interceptions with eight.  Jennings dislocated his shoulder late in the loss to the Seattle and is currently doubtful for this week’s game.

12

December

Packers-Bears: Brandon Marshall adds fuel to the fire

Bears WR Brandon Marshall

Bears WR Brandon Marshall

The Packers-Bears rivalry has been going on for 91 years. The Bears have won 92 of those games, the Packers have won 87, and they’ve played to six ties since the rivalry began in 1921.

When the Bears named Lovie Smith head coach in 2004, he clearly stated that his team’s No.1 goal would be to beat Green Bay.

But recently, the Packers have owned the rivalry. Green Bay has won seven of the past eight matchups, including a victory in the NFC Championship at Soldier Field in the 2010 season.

The most recent chapter of the longstanding rivalry was week two this year when the Packers dominated the Bears 23-10 at Lambeau Field. The offense was crisp, and the defense was stellar.

The Green Bay defense was tough against the run and the secondary silenced the Bears’ top receiver–Brandon Marshall.

Marshall caught just two passes for 24 yards in the first meeting. And after the game, Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson were vocal in their assessment of the Bears’ offense, and mainly, quarterback Jay Cutler.

“It’s the same old Jay,” Woodson said after the game. ”We don’t need luck, Jay will throw us the ball. Proof is in the pudding.”

Cutler, of course, publicly wished the Packers’ secondary “good luck” before the two teams met at Lambeau Field. It seems Cutler’s well wishes turned out well for the Packers, as cornerback Tramon Williams caught as many passes from Cutler as Marshall did–two.

And on Wednesday morning, it was clear that there was no love lost between Marshall and the Packers. Tyler Dunne, of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentiel, got the scoop from Marshall’s time at the podium.

To that comment, one might ask this question–who really cares who Marshall wants to give the credit to? Dom Capers dialed up the scheme, and the players made it happen. Williams shadowed Marshall for most of the night, and Capers opted to have safety help over the top with either Charles Woodson or Morgan Burnett.

Marshall is the Bears’ only true game-breaker on the perimeter, so what else is Capers supposed to do? From coaching to execution, the Packers did their job. Period.

Oh yeah, and Marshall dropped a wide open touchdown in the game as well. But anyways. What’s next?