The cliché gets tossed around all the time, but in the case of Packers-Bears, it’s all too true.
“The team that makes the least amount of mistakes is going to win,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, more than once, in talking with reporters on Wednesday.
That’s what happens when teams know each other as well as these two do. They played three times last year and the games didn’t come down to big-play touchdowns or supremely executed, grind-it-out scoring drives.
They came down to errors.
In Week 3 at Chicago, the Packers fumbled the ball away at midfield in the final two minutes and committed a franchise-record 18 penalties, the 17th of which set up the Bears for a game-winning field goal. Chicago 20, Green Bay 17.
In Week 17 in Green Bay, the Bears allowed six sacks to the Packers’ two, and Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler threw two interceptions in the second half, both when the Bears were threatening to score. Green Bay 10, Chicago 3.
In the NFC Championship, the four most significant plays in the game were interceptions, and the Bears threw three of them, with one being returned for a touchdown. Green Bay 21, Chicago 14.
Packers-Bears games come down to mistakes because there isn’t anything these two teams can do to trick one another, at least not very often. In the NFC title game, Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers called a funky zone blitz Green Bay hadn’t run all year, and it resulted in nose tackle B.J. Raji’s interception return for a score.
But that’s rare with these two teams, as rare as either offense hitting the opposing defense for a big-play touchdown. In last year’s three meetings, only one offensive score from scrimmage came on a play longer than nine yards, and it occurred with less than five minutes left in the third meeting, on Earl Bennett’s 35-yard TD catch for Chicago. On special teams, Devin Hester’s 62-yard punt return for a TD in the first game was the only true “big play” in the three contests.
“They have a clear-cut identity and we’ve played them enough times that we know how they approach it and how they’re going to approach us,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “I don’t think we’re going to surprise them in how we’re going to approach them.”
Because of that, McCarthy is focused on cleaning things up in-house, so to speak. He spoke once again of needing to “pick up” the efficiency in all three phases, after allowing 400-plus passing yards for a second straight week and settling for three field goals in the red zone last Sunday.
“We’ve always improved as the season moves on and that’s our focus,” McCarthy said. “I look at this game as kind of a marker. It’s Week 3 and you have a chance to grow against a division opponent and against an archrival.”
Implicit in McCarthy’s message is that if his team can execute cleanly against a foe that knows the Packers so thoroughly, it bodes well for games against not-so-familiar opponents.
A quick glance at Green Bay’s injury report, which lists 12 players, and it appears that could be a tall order. The Packers will play their first game with safety Charlie Peprah filling in for Nick Collins, who is out for the year with a neck injury, while defensive end Mike Neal (knee) and linebacker Frank Zombo (broken scapula) continue to be ruled out, though McCarthy said Zombo’s last x-ray showed progress.
The rest of the injury news is mostly good, though, with cornerback Tramon Williams (shoulder) returning to practice on Wednesday “with a smile on his face,” McCarthy said. Defensive lineman Ryan Pickett (foot) also was back, and while cornerback Charles Woodson (foot) and linebacker Clay Matthews (quad) were added to the report and sat out practice, McCarthy said he expects both to play on Sunday.
The Bears will be without rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi, the Wisconsin product that will miss his first Packers-Bears game with a knee injury. Chicago guard Lance Louis (ankle) is also on the injury report as a limited practice participant as the Bears offensive line remains in a bit of flux.
New Bears safety Brandon Meriweather may replace an injured Major Wright (head/neck) but, otherwise, barring any major injury developments the rest of the week, it will be primarily the same cast of characters for this installment of Packers-Bears. On both sides, they’re players who are more likely to discuss the respect they have for one another as worthy combatants rather than pander to the fans by engaging in hot-air rivalry rhetoric.
“It’s not a la Pittsburgh-Baltimore where there’s going to be a fight every other play,” Rodgers said. “I think this is just two very competitive teams and competitive players who enjoy playing each other and enjoy beating each other.”
And who know that limiting their mistakes, as cliché as it sounds, will provide the most help to their cause.
“We’re so used to seeing them,” Pickett said. “We know them. They know us. It’s always a tight game when we play them. Both teams want it real bad.” Additional coverage - Sept. 21