12

September

2012 NFL Regular Season Week 2: Packers – Bears Preview

Clay Matthews sacks Jay Cutler

Clay Matthews sacks Jay Cutler

To quote the Black Knight from Monty Python, “It’s only a flesh wound.”

The Green Bay Packers (and to an extent their fans) took one right in the chops during the season opener last Sunday at Lambeau, losing to the San Francisco 49ers 30-22.  The Packers made a game of it late in the second half, but thanks once again to putrid play by the Packer defense and some assists from the replacement officials, the Packers start the season 0-1 for the first time since Mike McCarthy’s rookie year as head coach in 2006.

Thankfully, the time for licking wounds and taking heat from rival NFC North fans is very brief this week as the Packers face their archrival Chicago Bears Thursday night at Lambeau Field. The Bears are 1-0 after a 41-21 blowout win over the Indianapolis Colts at Soldier Field.  They are currently tied with the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions at 1-0 atop the NFC North.

While no Week 2 game is truly a “do or die” proposition, starting 0-2 with two conference losses and one loss to a divisional foe is not a hole the Packers want to be in. With the Lions already dangerous and the Bears showing marked offensive improvement, the last thing the Packers want is to play a game of catch-up when their defense is already suspect.

Let’s take a look at the Bears

Scouting the Bears

Though he’s a subject of scorn and ridicule amongst Packer fans (as well as the other 30 teams in the league), Jay Cutler had a great season debut and the chemistry between him and Brandon Marshall picked right up where they left off when they were last together in Denver in 2008.

Cutler finished 21 of 35 yards for 333 yards and two touchdowns along with one interception. Marshall racked up 119 yards on nine catches and had one touchdown.  Yes, the Colts secondary is poor, but the Packers don’t exactly have an elite defensive backfield either outside of an aging Charles Woodson.

Throw in a happy Matt Forte who signed a new contract in the offseason and the Bears suddenly have an offense to be reckoned with.   If Cutler can avoid the boneheaded throws and bad decisions, he can be one of the best quarterbacks in the game.  Do not underestimate Cutler’s abilities. He has the tools.

10

July

Packers Fans Begrudging Respect: NFC North Players You Hate To Love

hate/LoveWhen the news broke about the arrest of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson this past weekend, it got me thinking about some things.

Despite not knowing most of the facts about the situation, many fans greeted the news of his arrest with jeers and snickers.  I get it, it’s what fans do.  Whenever a member of a rival team (especially a hated rival team like the Vikings) does something stupid and gets in trouble, it’s natural for fans of the other team or teams to poke fun at the situation.

Look at all the trouble members of the Detroit Lions have been in.  It was obvious Jim Schwartz was leading a team that had many clowns on it last year after the Suh stomping incident, but this offseason has just confirmed it.   It’s despicable and a sign of a bad culture inside that locker room.  The criticism Schwartz and the Lions have been receiving is deserved.

However, Peterson’s incident (which at the moment sounds incredibly sketchy) deserves no such wrath of fans.  Despite playing for “the purple team,” Peterson has been an upright citizen since coming into the NFL and has done nothing wrong previously to earn such scorn from fans.

The only “wrong” he has done is that he made the Packers defense look foolish multiple times and that’s obviously why Packer fans greeted the news with such venom.  That reason however is not an excuse to celebrate a guy going to jail who has previously been squeaky clean.

If it sounds like I actually like and respect Adrian Peterson, it’s because I do.  As I told Jason Wilde of ESPN Milwaukee on Twitter Sunday, as much as I love the Packers I also love the game of football and respect those who have played and currently play it, regardless of what color uniform they wear.

So yes I enjoy watching Peterson play….in those other 14 games in the regular season just like I enjoyed watching not let the color blindness that is team loyalty cloud our sight or our judgment.

In that theme, I present to you, in no particular order, five NFC North (non-Packer) players I hate to love.

Adrian Peterson, RB Minnesota Vikings

Before you rip me a new one, please keep in mind I mean in the other 14 games when these teams are not playing the Green Bay Packers.

23

December

2011 NFL Season Week 16: Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears Preview — Home (Field) For The Holidays

Packers vs. Bears

Packers vs. Bears

After giving their fans a lump of coal last week in Kansas City, the Green Bay Packers look to make amends and stuff Packer Nation’s stockings with home field advantage for the playoffs as well as beating their despised archrival.

A week after suffering their first loss of the season, the Packers return to the friendly confines of Lambeau Field to take on the Chicago Bears Christmas night on national television.   Should the San Francisco 49ers lose on Saturday to the Seattle Seahawks, the Packers will have home field wrapped up before they take the field and there is the possibility Mike McCarthy could rest his starters.

Should the 49ers win, the Packers can secure the NFC number one seed with a win over the Bears.  The game plan could go one of two ways depending on Saturday’s outcome.

Regardless, the Packers come into the game with a battered offensive line.  Bryan Bulaga is out this week with an ankle injury and Derek Sherrod, Bulaga’s replacement, broke his leg in gruesome fashion and is out for the remainder of the year.  Throw in an off day by Aaron Rodgers and his receivers in Kansas City, and the Packers have plenty of motivation to play well even if they have the top seed locked down.

The Bears meanwhile are looking like they could be in a complete tailspin. With top offensive players Jay Cutler and Matt Forte sidelined, the Bears turn to Josh McCown at quarterback after Caleb Hanie stunk up the joint the past few weeks.  Marion Barber carries the load on the ground.  The Bears also lost Johnny Knox to a scary injury last week, though Knox fortunately was able to gain feeling back in his extremities.

Let’s look at the key Bears to watch on Sunday.

QB Josh McCown

I would normally say this should be all too easy with the Packers facing a quarterback that is out of practice and having one the best ball hawking secondaries in the league.  After watching their performance against a supposedly rusty (and injured) Kyle Orton a week ago, I’m not taking anything for granted.

McCown is already a legend to Packer fans after he led the Arizona Cardinals to a comeback victory over the Minnesota Vikings in 2003 that clinched the NFC North for the Packers, and fans hope he wraps a few more gifts on Sunday in the form of interceptions.

23

September

2011 NFL Season Week 3: Green Bay Packers vs Chicago Bears Preview: Chicago Can Hardly Bear It!

Yes, it’s the first Bear Week for the 2011 season.  The chance to once again rub salt in the wounds of Bears fans whilst polishing the Lombardi Trophy at the same time.  Life could not be any better if you are a Cheesehead.

That said, let’s stop picking on the infidels and focus on the game between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears this Sunday at poorly renovated Soldier Field.

The Packers enter this game 2-0 after surviving a much tougher than expected battle with the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte.  The win was costly however as Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins was lost for the season (and perhaps longer) with a neck injury.  Running back James Starks continued to make his case to be the Packers featured back and despite the loss of Collins, the defense once again held tough when it counted and cornerback Charles Woodson intercepted two of rookie quarterback Cam Newton’s passes.

The Bears face their archrivals with a record of 1-1 after being beaten down by the New Orleans Saints 30-13.  Bears quarterback Jay Cutler once again was thrown around like a rag doll after being sacked five times behind a very leaky offensive line.   The Bears are also suffering a bought of injuries with tackler Gabe Carimi and wide receiver Earl Bennett missing practice time while receiver Roy Williams  and safety Chris Harris had limited participation this week.

Breaking down Da Bears

On offense, you have to start with their beleaguered field general.

Cutler has taken a merciless beating since January, both on and off the field.  After exiting the NFC Championship with a knee injury, many current and former players brought Cutler’s toughness into question and those questions lingered all through the lockout and into the preseason.   On the field, Cutler once again is falling prey to far too many sacks behind a wounded yet still poor offensive line.  The loss of Olin Kreutz in free agency to the Saints apparently did more damage to the team than originally thought.

On the bright side, running back Matt Forte is one of the best backs in the NFC and will provide the Packers defense a huge challenge.  Not only is he a strong runner, but Forte has proven to be lethal in the passing game particularly on screen routes.   Stopping Forte will be crucial to the Packers keeping the Bears out of the end zone on Sunday.

14

September

Around the NFC North, Week 1: Packers’ Division Foes Impress Early On

Here’s how the NFC North fared in Week 1 of the NFL season:

Bears (1-0), beat Atlanta Falcons, 30-12

All summer we heard how the Bears were destined for collapse in the 2011. Publications and respected sports writers from across the country picked Chicago to hover somewhere around or below .500 and willingly hand over their division crown to the Packers.

There were boat load of reasons, both legitimate and phony.

The offensive line can’t protect the quarterback. Jay Cutler lost the locker room’s respect after the NFC Championship game loss. The defensive stars are aging. Their luck will run out.

Then actual football was played, and the Bears put the majority of those worries to bed. Remember, this is the team that won the NFC North last season and hosted the conference’s title game. It was only one week, but they made idiots out of a lot of people who buried them this season before a single down of meaningful football was played.

The Bears beat up on the Atlanta Falcons, who went 13-3 last season and was the NFC’s No. 1 seed going into the playoffs, to the tune of 30-13. The “aging” defense smothered quarterback Matt Ryan, sacking him five times and forcing two Ryan turnovers—one on an interception from Brian Urlacher and the other a fumble as Ryan was under duress. Urlacher returned that fumble for a touchdown that put the Bears up 30-6 in the second half.

The Bears defense playing well wasn’t a surprise, even if the Falcons have a potentially explosive offense. Chicago’s defensive unit was the backbone of their 2010 team. It was the offense that caught most off guard.

Cutler threw for over 300 yards and had two scores. Matt Forte had 158 total yards, including 90 receiving. Roy Williams, Johnny Knox, and Devin Hester all had moments where they made explosive plays.

It was a complete team effort from the Bears, and they’ll be a tough bunch to beat no matter who they play if they can put together performances like they did in Week 1. Only the Ravens beat down of the Steelers looks like a more impressive win over a team that has playoff aspirations. If you’re still in hibernation about the 2011 Chicago Bears, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee.

1

January

NFL Week 17: Packers-Bears Preview: Packing for the Playoffs?

The Green Bay Packers defeated the New York Giants 45-17 last Sunday to set up what is basically a “win or go home” game against the Chicago Bears this Sunday at Lambeau Field.

The Packers can still make the playoffs with a Giants loss to the Redskins and a Buccaneers loss to the Saints if they lose to the Bears, but the Packers and their fans know the best way for them to take care of business is do beat their arch rivals and not rely on other teams for help.

The Bears, meanwhile, have wrapped up at least the No. 2 seed and in theory could get home field advantage should the Saints and Falcons both lose and they beat the Packers. Atlanta plays the Panthers, so that scenario is incredibly unlikely but again “any given Sunday.” You never know.

Breaking down Da Bears

The big, no HUGE, question is how long Bears coach Lovie Smith will play his starters. If he is anything like mentor Tony Dungy, the odds are they will play very little in a meaningless game. That said, when Smith took the Bears job he swore that beating the Packers would be his number one priority so the Packers could see the Bears first unit for a good chunk of if not the entire game.

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has never played in a playoff game, so perhaps offensive coordinator Mike Martz will want to keep his arm fresh and have him sit most of the game. Or, on the flip side, Martz wants Cutler to remain hot and will keep him in the game for the majority of it.

Cutler has been playing very smart football as of late and his trademark interceptions have been on the decline. Still, it seems like everyone is waiting for one of those boneheaded Cutler throws that tips the outcome of a game in favor of the opponent. If one defense will do that, it’s the Packers who lead the NFL in scoring defense.
The Bears defense has played lights out all year and it’s highly unlikely Smith would want to subject any of his players to injury. If the starters do end up playing a majority of the game, that’s bad news for the Packers. Defensive end Julius Peppers leads a superb pass rush and linebacker Brian Urlacher is returning to the Pro Bowl after missing all of last season with a wrist injury. The Packers offensive line will have their hands full again. They handled the Giants so they should be able to handle the Bears.

31

December

News and Notes Heading into the Green Bay Packers’ Second Playoff Game (the Chicago Bears)

We sure are lucky to be Green Bay Packers fans, aren’t we? How many other teams have given their fans two extra playoff games before the actual playoffs even start? To hell with the Patriots, Falcons and Bears! Clinching playoff berths before week 17 is boring! We want excitement!

This is what I keep telling myself, anyway. The Packers survived the first round of the playoffs. Can they survive round two and make it to the real version of the postseason? Here is some news, notes, and thoughts heading into the season finale against the Bears.

  • Remember how the Packers struggled to score touchdowns on long drives in the season’s first 12 games? Well, they have improved in this area somewhat. In their last three games, the Packers have scored three touchdowns on nine drives that lasted nine plays or more. Scoring quickly was fun against the Giants, but the Packers will need to finish long drives with touchdowns if they want to beat the Bears and that cover-2 defense.
  • The James Starks debate flared up again this week. With Sam Shields nursing a sore knee, Starks may be active and could get a chance to return kicks. As the season wears on, I have become more and more convinced that the coaching staff’s main goal with the running game is to not fumble. Does Brandon Jackson ever run without covering up the ball with both hands at all times? I don’t think Mike McCarthy fully trusts a back as inexperienced as Starks to protect the ball in important late-season games. I can’t say I disagree with him.
  • If all the football jargon does not cause your head to explode, this piece by Matt Bowen of the National Football Post is an excellent read and a good primer on what the Packers need to do to beat the Bears. This piece by Aaron Nagler of Cheesehead TV is also insightful — and much easier on the eyes.
  • Even if the Bears play all of their players Sunday and get blown out by the Packers, I still would not classify the Bears’ success this season as luck. Sure, they have gotten some breaks, but you don’t win 11 games on luck alone. I would not want to deal with Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher in the playoffs. I definitely would not want to deal with Jay Cutler if he continues down his current path of limiting turnovers and helping his offensive line by getting rid of the ball when he should.