Bears-Packers: five things to watch

Let’s talk Bears-Packers on this New Year’s Day. Five things to watch for tomorrow as Green Bay looks to wrap up a playoff spot with a win at Lambeau Field.

1. Bears’ pass rush: Versus a Packers’ offense that will spread the field (think the empty alignments from Mike McCarthy), the front four pass rush of Chicago is key to forcing the ball to come out of the hands of QB Aaron Rodgers. Love Smith will use zone pressure to bring linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs—along with nickel back D.J. Moore—but the ability of the Bears’ defensive line will determine if Rodgers has time in the pocket. Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije and the rest of that defensive front has to win at the line of scrimmage.

Aaron RodgersICONRodgers can work the middle of the field vs. Cover 2 inside of the red zone.

2. Rodgers in the red zone: What is the Packers’ QB going to see inside of the 20-yard line? Cover 2—which turns into “Red 2” once Green Bay enters the red zone. The Bears’ cornerbacks will sink hard at a forty-five degree angle to create a “five-across” look on the goal line—and that creates a five-deep, two-under defense that puts a tent on the end zone. How do you beat it? Target Bears’ MLB Brian Uralcher in the middle of the field. Just like we saw back in the first Monday night matchup with Greg Jennings scoring on the double smash-post out of an empty alignment.

3. The Green Bay secondary: This will be a much different game plan that the Packers will see compared to their first matchup with Chicago. Mike Martz has brought balance to the Chicago offense and QB Jay Cutler is making plays due to solid play action and the 3-step route concepts. I am a big fan of the Packers’ defensive backs because they will challenge routes with Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson. Let’s see how they respond tomorrow and play the quick combination routes that are designed to beat man coverage. Some good matchups to watch with Chicago WRs Devin Hester, Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett vs. the Packers.

4. Quick X’s and O’s: Want a route to focus on tomorrow? Watch how the Bears’ use Matt Forte out of the backfield. When the RB is aligned in a “chowed” position (off-set on the tackle’s outside leg), the Bears are looking to get him out in the route concept. What you will see is called the “Rail route.” Forte will take the route up the seam or stem it outside of the numbers. This is the same scheme that Martz ran with Marshall Faulk in St. Louis and it is designed to get the RB matched up against a LB in a vertical concept. An great call vs. pressure teams—as the Bears ran it twice in the win over the Jets last week. And, an ideal route scheme to run vs. Green Bay.

5. The Bears’ starters: How long do they go? Smith has been vocal this week about winning this football game. I get that, but with a first round bye next weekend, I could see players such as Cutler, Matt Forte, Urlacher and Peppers being told to shut it down at some point tomorrow. I talked about this situation earlier this week, and staying with the normal player routine—plus competing in this rivalry—should be enough to keep this Bears’ team motivated. However, Green Bay might get a gift wrapped ticket to the playoffs if we see the backups on the field at key positions come the second half at Lambeau.

Enjoy the college bowl games today…and Happy New Year.

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