Don’t expect a shootout or a blowout on Sunday at Soldier Field.
Shootouts are essentially what the Packers’ first two games of 2011 have been. The opener featured 76 points and nearly 900 total yards between Green Bay and New Orleans. In Week 2, the Packers and Panthers surpassed 900 yards. Imagine the final score had each team not settled for three field goals apiece in the red zone.
Recent history says Packers-Bears won’t light up the scoreboard like that. In the last six meetings, neither team has scored more than 21 points. Only twice in the last 13 contests has either team scored more than 27.
No one is likely to run away with the game, either. Those last six Packers-Bears games have all been decided by seven points or fewer.
“From being a part of some good rivalries in college, I don’t know what it is about it – the history, the tradition – it’s not meant to be blowouts,” former Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “That’s kind of what makes this thing special, and it’s fun to be a part of.”
If it takes their archrival and most familiar of foes for the Packers to step up their defensive game, so be it. Defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said this week that Sunday’s game is a chance to “right some wrongs.”
Green Bay has stiffened when it has mattered most, allowing only three touchdowns in 11 red-zone trips by opponents and posting two crucial stops inside the 5-yard line, but the 400-plus passing yards allowed can’t continue to be a weekly occurrence. Now, the pass-defense must adjust to the loss of Pro-Bowl safety Nick Collins, who is out for the season. Veteran Charlie Peprah replaces him in the starting lineup.
“We don’t have a lot to prove but, to ourselves, we just know we can play better,” Pickett said. “We’ve been having breakdowns where we normally don’t have them. We know we’re a lot better on defense than what we’ve shown.”
The Packers would love nothing better than to continue to pressure Bears quarterback Jay Cutler the way Chicago’s first two opponents did. Cutler has been sacked 11 times in two games and been hit on numerous other occasions.
The route to Cutler, however, comes via defending another player, running back Matt Forte. A true workhorse back, Forte touches the ball more than any other Chicago skill player, anchoring their running game and providing a reliable receiving target out of the backfield.
The Packers are well-aware of this. In the two games with the Bears last January, Forte had 32 carries and 18 receptions, or 50 of the 84 touches by Chicago’s backs and pass-catchers. The trend has continued this season for Forte, who through two games has 26 carries and 15 receptions, or 41 of 80 skill-player touches.
Already this season, Forte has posted runs of 42 and 27 yards, plus a 56-yard TD reception on a screen pass. He has 324 yards from scrimmage (117 rushing, 207 receiving).
“They’re going to plan on getting Matt the ball, and rightfully so,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “They should do that, and that’s the way we’ll play them.”
After getting criticized for running the ball just 11 times in 63 total plays in a loss to the Saints last week, Bears Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz may focus even more on getting Forte going on the ground, which would be fine with Cutler.
“We’ve got to get that running game on track and get those guys to back off a little bit,” Cutler said, referring to opposing rushers. In front of Cutler, the Bears are expected to replace injured rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi with veteran Frank Omiyale.
Meanwhile, the Packers’ pass-rush has been productive, with seven sacks in two games, but inconsistent. Even when Green Bay thought it had a clean hit on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton last week, linebacker Desmond Bishop was flagged for roughing the passer. Bishop wrapped his arms around Newton’s legs and lifted them up to get the 248-pound QB on the ground.
That’s the way the Packers practice tackling, and McCarthy even said the coaches put the play on the highlight tape for the tackling drill, calling it “a classic example of a perfect tackle.”
“You have to play it the same,” Bishop said. “He could pump fake it and keep it, and you could let off and now you’ve missed a sack.”
The Packers, at 2-0, would hate to miss an opportunity to move two games ahead of an NFC North rival, with the Bears coming in 1-1. Though it’s still early, it’s a big week in the division, with the Vikings (0-2) and Lions (2-0) also matching up in Minneapolis.
If both road teams win, the Packers and Lions will sit atop the division at 3-0, with the Bears two games back and the Vikings still winless. If the home teams hold serve, three teams will be at 2-1, with fourth place just a game behind.
“We know the NFC North is going to be a tightly contested division,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “It’s tough to win on the road in general in the NFL and it’s even tougher inside your division, so it’s going to be a tough game for us.”
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