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Green Bay Packers Week 15 Preview: Chicago Bears

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Green Bay, Chicago Set For 194th Installment of Historic Rivalry

With a victory over the Chicago Bears (3-10) on Sunday in sub-zero temperatures, the Green Bay Packers (7-6) would draw even one of the oldest rivalries in sports at 94-94-6 (including postseason). Something that was thought of as more of a pipe dream than reality in decades passed.

In fact, it would be the first time since 1933 that the Packers would be equal to the Bears in the overall series.

After decades upon decades of dominance from Chicago and lackluster teams in Green Bay, the 90’s saw the emergence of Brett Favre and a whole new dynamic for the two teams.

Favre went 22-10 as a Packer against the Bears, and regularly made it a mission to embarrass his foes from the Windy City.

The current regime has followed his lead, winning 11 of 13 matchups since 2011 with Aaron Rodgers under center. This includes a relatively easy 26-10 win week 7 of this year.

This time around, with the Packers riding a three-game winning streak and still surging for a playoff spot, it should be intriguing to see just how much fight this demoralized Bears team, losers of four of their last five, has left.

Stopping Jordan Howard Is Key For The Packers Defense

With a predicted wind chill of nearly 20-below looming on both team’s passing attacks, the Bears will place a lot of responsibility on talented rookie Jordan Howard to make things happen on Sunday.

Howard only had seven carries for 22 yards against the Packers in week 7, but was fighting off injury and saw limited snaps.

Since, he has rushed for 617 yards (102.8 pg) and four touchdowns in six games and has been a bright spot in the otherwise poor Bears offense.

In all but one of the six games he has recorded a rush of 20 yards or more, with a long of 69 in a week eight victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Also during the stretch, Howard is averaging more than 5.1 yards per carry behind a suspect offensive line.

His tremendous play has placed him in the same discussion as Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott when it comes to Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Dealing with far less support, Howard (10 starts) has put up numbers similar to Elliott (13 starts) with fewer opportunities:

Elliott vs Howard

StatEzekiel ElliottJordan Howard
YAC Average2.843.06
Total TD136
Elusive Rating35.356.1
Run Block Rank1st11th

Obviously with Elliott’s Cowboys at 11-2 and Howard and the Bears sitting at 3-10, it’s unrealistic to think Howard can steal the spotlight or the award, but it’s clear Chicago has something to build on.

He’s a strong, physical runner that shows incredible patience behind his blockers, and can make things happen in between the tackles and make an opposing team uncomfortable.

Green Bay’s defense, even though much improved in the secondary, will have to be much better in their run contain against Howard than they have been as of late.

After starting the year looking stout in the front 7, injures in the linebacker position have caused a regression. The Packers have now given up over 100 rushing yards per game the last 6 outings, and with Clay Matthews still fighting off shoulder problems the struggles may continue.

Much of the pressure will again be placed on the back of 2nd year linebacker Jake Ryan to play as run stopper in the middle. Although he has played well, like Matthews, he’s been playing through pain and saw only 11 snaps last week.

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His absence led directly to safety Morgan Burnett playing some hybrid version of linebacker against Seattle, a duty he excelled in. Burnett is built for the role, and it can be assumed he will be lurking around the line much more often as the season finishes out.

Alshon Jeffery Returns From 4-Game Suspension

Bringing Burnett into the box to contain Howard will be a little more complicated this week, as star wide-out Alshon Jeffery returns to the field after a four-game suspension for the Bears.

Jeffery is supremely talented, but has failed to play consistently much of his career. Even so, his presence gives Chicago an undeniable boost.

He still leads the team with 630 receiving yards despite his suspension, and with his big-play ability in the back of defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ mind,  Capers will have to choose between sending men to contain Howard or hover around Jeffery.

This could mean a major advantage in either case for Chicago.

However, until Jeffery and his new quarterback Matt Barkley prove they can succeed in the vertical pass game, the point is mute.

This is because despite playing very well in his three starts since Jay Cutler went down with injury, Barkley has only recorded a long completion of 31 yards in 59 completions.

Logically that would mean Green Bay should have no problem crowding the line and taking away the running game, but with Jeffery out of the lineup for all of Barkley’s starts, the stats don’t mean much. 

With an impressive 15.8 yards per catch, Jeffery is the game-changing player Barkley has been missing. For example, of his 40 catches this year nine have gone for 20 or more yards down field, by far the most in the league with his limited targets.

The improving health of the Packers secondary should give Green Bay confidence that they can bottle up the young duo of Jeffery and Howard for Chicago, but in a game with conditions as cold as projected and a surface as bad as Solider Field to play on, there’s bound to be some fluke plays on both sides.

Production From Montgomery Is A Must For Green Bay

Much like the Bears, the Packers too have stumbled upon some potential at the running back position.

With the announcement finally coming from head coach Mike McCarthy that former wide-receiver Ty Montgomery is officially a running back, Green Bay has some optimism at the position.

And Sunday will be a great test to see just how much McCarthy is going to trust Montgomery.

After Aaron Rodgers led the Packers in rushing during much of their highly publicized four-game losing streak, he has taken over the spot in the previous two games and looked more than capable.

Even though his yardage hasn’t been mind-blowing, it’s the yards per carry that have made the difference.

Especially with the cold weather this week, Montgomery’s ability to get four or five yards per rush will be crucial to the Packers winning the time of possession battle and not letting their offense freeze up on the sideline.

His versatility has also become an enormous asset to the Green Bay offense.

On just 13 touches against the Seahawks last week, Montgomery gained 86 yards from scrimmage, 41 rushing and 45 receiving, and was the real difference in keeping Seattle off-balance. Much like David Johnson of Arizona or Le’Veon Bell of Pittsburgh, when he’s in the backfield all eyes are on him.

As he gets better and better more teams will key on him even tighter, opening up the passing game for Rodgers over the middle if they send him to the flats or out as a decoy.

In terms of match-up, the Bears are a great first look for Montgomery if he reaches his first 20-plus carry game. They come in 19th in the NFL in rush defense, allowing over 107 yards per game, and it’s a guarantee no one on the Chicago defense is going to want to get in the way of his powerful frame while in sub-zero conditions.

Rodgers Looks To Stay Hot In the Freezing Cold

Aaron Rodgers may be listed as questionable on the injury report, but there isn’t a person on earth that believes his status is anything but certain.

During the Packers’ current three-game winning streak, which was sparked by his “run the table” remarks after a loss to Washington, Rodgers has a completion percentage of 73.9 and has thrown for 768 yards with seven touchdown passes and no interceptions.

His return to form has ignited MVP chatter, and if he completes the turnaround and makes the playoffs while playing at this level it’s hard to deny his chances.

Knowing Rodgers calf isn’t going to be 100%, a lot will be placed on the offenses ability to spread the ball around quickly and efficiently against the Bears. As of late they have been doing this very well, using quick passing patterns and unique half-back draw and sweep plays to keep defenses guessing.

Against Chicago, a sneaky good defense that excels in getting to quarterbacks, it will be especially important for the Packers to play fast and not call plays that force Rodgers to hold the ball for too long.

In 2016 the Bears have recorded 33 sacks, fifth most in the NFL, and three individuals have at least seven. Linebacker Willie Young leads the team with 7.5 sacks, while lineman Akiem Hicks and rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd each have seven.

Their strength up front is not backed up by solid play in the secondary.

The Bears have struggled in forcing turnovers, ranking 30th in the NFL, thanks in large part to their inexperience.

Most notably, their rookie safety Deon Bush is a liability against Rodgers. Not so much because of anything he’s done so far in his limited starts, but what Rodgers has done to young safeties over the years.

With his ability to manipulate with his eyes and cadence, he is a nightmare for young players. There are few guys that can stick with him mentally, and Bush will have a long day on Sunday.

In the last match-up of the two teams, Rodgers threw three touchdowns and broke out of his early season funk throwing at the overwhelmed corners of Chicago. Davante Adams, 13 catches for 132 yards, had his break-out game going one-on-one with both De’Vante Bausby and Jacoby Glenn on the outside.

It doesn’t appear the Bears have an answer for all the talent within the Packers offense. Adams, Jordy Nelson, and Randall Cobb all have favorable match-ups regardless of who is in coverage.

And unless Mother Nature chooses otherwise, Rodgers should be looking at a 9th straight game of multiple touchdown tosses.

Final Thoughts

As was the case for the Eagles a few weeks back, the Bears also have quite different splits home and away.

At home Chicago is 3-3 and allows only 17.2 ppg and 273.3 yards, whereas on the road they’re 0-7 and allow 26.7 and 372.4. Solider Field isn’t an easy place to play, mostly due to the horrific condition of the turf on most occasions, and the Packers better be ready for a fight.

There is nothing more dangerous in the NFL once the schedule reaches December than a team with nothing to lose, and if the Bears come in determined to ruin the Packers magical run things could get interesting.

With Detroit forced to play against a dangerous team in the New York Giants, this could be the week the momentum officially shifts for good in favor of Green Bay in the NFC North.

All they have to do is take care of their business, and let the rest figure itself out.