Friday, 14 September 2012

Rivalry Revisited- The Bears get humbled in Green Bay

I picked the Bears in this game, which only adds to the many, many reasons that nobody's going to be calling me Crystal Bob any time soon. Here's two up, two down for each team in the Packers' big win.

The Keys to Packer Victory

The Defense

This defense got a lot of stick last season, constantly failing to come up with the stops it needed and putting the entire game on the arm of Aaron Rodgers. I was suspicioius of reports that a defense heavy draft was the key to a resurgence, because people tend to massively overrate the impact of new players on the quality of a defensive unit. The Key to an instant defensive renaissance is instead comebacks for those who've delivered in the past, and veterans like Tramon Williams, C(lay)F(*cking)M(atthews), and B.J Raji did exactly that. Matthews has always been good, but has already beaten his low, albeit deceptively so, sack total for last year, displaying unambiguous dominance in all phases of the game. Williams demonstrated that he's fully back from an injury that marred his 2011 campaign. Raji dissappointed badly last season, despite inexplicably making the Pro Bowl, but his special athletic gifts make him the key to wins in the Wisconsin trenches. If Raji et al can recapture the magic in January the Pack will be unstoppable- especially if rookies like Worthy and Hayward build on promising performances to make an impact as the season continues.

Cedric Benson

Cedric Benson's lack of explosion gets a lot of criticism, but the former Bengal has put up reliable, crucial numbers for a long time. James Starks and Randall Cobb should be able to generate more of a big play threat, but Benson showed against the Bears that he can be a reliable option on first down, second down and short yardage. Benson and McCarthy are clearly undergoing a process where Benson is slowly learning the nuances of the Green Bay system, while McCarthy is simulataneously coming to understand how he needs to use Benson to put him in a position to succeed. If their relationship becomes more productive going forward, then Green Bay should just about generate enough of a running game to take some pressure off their porous pass protection.

...but they still need work.

The Offensive Line

There's one thing you can't argue with in the NFC North: the pass rush. Marshall Newhouse and TJ Lang especially struggled with the Bears' talented defensive front, and Aaron Rodgers can expect to have some bruising days against the likes Cliff Avril and Jared Allen in the coming season.


In a game where both offenses struggled, no part of it was more ugly to watch than the drops. Jermichael Finley has clearly yet to smooth over the perennially tempestuous relationship between his hands and the ball, and the usually reliable Jordy Nelson had two nasty drops. These guys need to get past this and make sure that A-Rod has targets he can trust on third down.

Where the Bears Went wrong

Pass Protection

While the Bears line did a good job clearing lanes for their running backs, they looked like the same old punching bags when Jay Cutler dropped back to pass. Cutler was sacked and hit more than he completed passes, and J'Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi were abused all day by Clay Matthews. There were also a number of costly, stupid penalties.With all the dangerous pass rushers in the league, Webb in particular has to recover his form from last week if Cutler's going to have the Pro Bowl season he's more than capable of.

Cutler's Decisions

Cutler did a great job on several occasions of escaping the constant pressure. Unfortunately, this was less likely to lead to a big play than to a costly pick. While Cutler would have had more success if his playmakers were doing more for him down the field, his picks were typically balls that he should not have thrown, and there were more in this category that the Packers secondary put on the turf.

...and why they still have grounds to be optimistic.

D-line, give yourselves a hand

Bears defense, you just held the league's best quarterback to 219 yards, a TD and a pick. And it all started in the trenches, as Melton, Peppers, McClellin and Wootton brought pressure all day. With Amobi Okoye also in the mix with these guys, the Bears have put together the sort of deep and dangerous sack squad that often propels teams deep into January.

Secondary, give yourselves a hand

The Bears have struggled in the defensive backfield for a long time, the limitations of their revolving doors at safety protected only by their elite front seven and tampa-2 system. Chris Conte and Major Wright have played well in weeks one and two. More importantly, however, Jennings and Tillman are a corner pairing who look to be the envy of all but a few teams in the league. 

Quick Hits

1. Matt Forte looks to have picked up another injury, vindicating the decision to recruit Michael Bush, but also potentially revealing a glaring lack of depth behind him. With Kahlil Bell gone, Armando Allen has to step up, after having one rush for negative yardage and an ugly drop in Green Bay.

2. You can bet a good sum of money that the Bears have circled December 16 on their calendars with their boldest sharpie. The rematch against Green Bay at Soldier Field will see the Bears fired up with a vengeance and, if the Bears have bounced back into play-off contention, could be the key to the race for the NFC North.

3. I'm not backing down from my prediction that the Bears will represent the NFC in the Superbowl. Jay Cutler is better than he played last night, and that defense will terrorise Quarterbacks in January.

4. Let's not jump on the Green Bay defensive bandwagon too aggressively. You can't fault how they played, but they benefited from an incredible atmosphere in Lambeau, some costly drops by Bears receivers, and a brilliant gameplan from Dom Capers. If Aaron Rodgers can't recapture his unstoppable form, it'll be up to this defense to grind out some tough wins on the road against much slicker offensive units.

5. While it worries me that Rodgers does not seem quite so imperious so far this season, he has been playing against two of the best defenses in football. Expect his stats to recover soon enough, and Green Bay will only benefit if he's saving his best form for the home stretch.

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