The popular theory is: Stop Matt Forte and you’ll stop the Chicago Bears.
“Matt Forte is the focus of their offense and he’ll be the focus of our defense,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Friday, as his team wraps up its preparation for Sunday’s NFC North showdown at Soldier Field.
Forte is the Bears’ feature running back. Through two games, he has gained all but 31 of the Bears’ rushing yards and leads the team with three times as many receptions as the next guy down the list.
“All you have to do is look at the stats,” Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said. “The guy who makes the offense go is Forte.”
Bears fans, however, would challenge the word “go” this week, after a 13-point effort in New Orleans last Sunday. Like the little girl with the curl, the Bears offense was very, very good in a 30-12 win over the Falcons in Week 1, and not so good in the 30-13 loss to the Saints. It must also be noted that the competition was very, very good in those two games.
The Super Bowl-champion Packers are next up for the Bears, which makes the first three weeks of this season an especially daunting challenge for a Bears team that came within one win of the Super Bowl last season.
“When they get in a rhythm, look at the opener, they do a nice job of mixing run and pass,” Capers said. “They’re a very good screen team.”
The Packers are 2-0 after scoring 42 and 30 points respectively in shootout-type wins over New Orleans and Carolina, both of whom threw for more than 400 yards, leaving the Packers last in the league in pass-defense this week. The last six Packers-Bears games, however, have been defensive-minded. The average score of those games is 19-13 and at no time has the winner scored more than 21 points.
Why have Packers-Bears games tended to be low-scoring?
“You have two teams that put a lot of emphasis on defense. They use four-man rush a lot and play a lot of zone coverage. They base their defense on not giving up the big play and making you work for your points,” Capers said.
“When you think of good defensive football teams, you think of teams that tackle well, pursue to the ball and don’t give up big plays. They’re a good, old-school defense,” Packers Offensive Coordinator Joe Philbin said.
“They generate a lot of takeaways. You have to have a lot of patience against these guys. When you get an opportunity, you have to cash in. When we get down there, we have to get points.”
This game figures to be a clash of styles: The Packers are wide-open, high-scoring offense; the Bears are ball-control offense and play to their strength, which is defense. The Packers, no doubt, would like to make this a battle of offenses.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has thrown five touchdown passes and has yet to be intercepted. His passer rating is an NFC-leading 126.4.
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has thrown three touchdown passes against one interception, good for an 84.1 passer rating. Cutler had an outstanding game against Atlanta, but was pressured into submission by the Saints.
“When he gets in a groove, he can make all of the throws,” Capers said of Cutler. “They played the whole fourth quarter of the New Orleans game in two-minute (offense). They had only given up one sack in the first three quarters. Most teams in the league, if it becomes a one-dimensional game for them, it becomes a different game.”
Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk looks forward to these games. The Bears play the kind of football Hawk likes.
“It’s good football. It’s pure football. It’s always physical. It’s how football is meant to be,” Hawk said.
The Bears introduce a pronounced third phase of the game, special teams, in the form of kick-returner Devin Hester, who might qualify as the greatest return man in NFL history. Hester was the star of the Bears’ Week-3 win over the Packers last year.
“It’s a challenge. He can impact a game at any time. At the same time, as a competitor, it makes it fun,” Packers Special Teams Coordinator Shawn Slocum said of Hester. “I’ve got a great feel for him. We’ve played him 13 times and he has two returns on us. Look forward to it. Can’t wait to play the game. This why we do what we do.” Additional coverage - Sept. 23