Tha Sports Junkies 101

Week 7 Preview: Packers-Bears Face Off On Thursday Night Football

Packers vs Bears - Thursday Night Football Magic Mike via Flickr


Packers’ Desperate For a Win on Thursday Night

The amount of worry permeating from the Green Bay Packers fan base heading into week 7 hasn’t been this evident since the Brett Favre led Packers went 4-12 in 2005. Despite being 3-2 and still in position for a playoff run, there are obvious reasons to worry within this team. Green Bay welcomes their oldest nemesis, the 1-5 Chicago Bears, back to Lambeau Thursday night in search of solutions.

Rodgers Looks to Recall Old Success Versus Bears Defense

It feels like I say it every week, but if any team in the NFL can help get Aaron Rodgers and the Packers back on track, it’s the Bears. Under Head Coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers are 14-7 against Chicago, regular and postseason, including wins in 10 of the last 12 games.

During the stretch, with Rodgers as the starting quarterback, Green Bay is 13-4. They have scored 30-plus points in four of the last five games against the Bears, last year’s 17-13 loss on Thanksgiving being the exception. In the last four, Rodgers has completed 80 of 121 passes (66%) for 1,008 yards, 14 touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 127.0.

Rodgers will definitely be looking to emulate these numbers and find some relief from his current struggles come Thursday.

So far in 2016, he has only completed 60.2% of his passes. This is about 4% lower than his career average, and due to his inefficient play his QB rating has also fallen to all-time lows. Rodgers normally holds steady around the 100-mark, but in five games this year he has only reached 88.4. In his career, he has only failed to end a season with at least a 100 QB Rating twice, his first year as a starter and last year, with a low of 92.7 in 2015.

However, this year’s Chicago Bears team may be less likely to allow Rodgers one of his typical performances than defenses from the past.

Head Coach John Fox took over a Bears defense that ranked 30th in the league in 2014 and improved them to 14th in one year. This season they rank 10th in pass yardage given up (233.5) and 19th in both rush yards allowed and points per game (107.7, 23.8), but have played well enough to win in numerous games against good offenses regardless of their 1-5 record. They shouldn’t be overlooked.

One of the best, and most surprising players for the Bears defense this year has been journeyman Jereel Freeman. He has been a steady presence in the middle of the field, both with his play and his attitude, something Chicago has been missing for years. Freeman leads the team in tackles with 53, most notably with games of 17 against Houston and 12 against Dallas.

Freeman is accompanied in the linebacker group with outside linebacker Willie Young. Young, a former Detroit Lion, will have his sights set on pressuring Rodgers all day. He ranks fourth in the league and first on the team in sacks with 6. As teams have proven this year, hitting Rodgers early in the game can change his approach and make him far less of a threat.

A John Fox-led defense will undoubtedly bring some heat against the Packers, but so far despite the increase in blitzes they have faced, the Green Bay offensive line has held up.

In 2016, Rodgers has only been sacked 9 times, and most have come from him holding the ball for far too long. He has taken a rare quarterback hit from time to time, but has mainly remained upright. Their ability to slow the aggressive Young will be a huge element in Green Bay holding off Chicago.

The Bears beat up secondary is headlined by veteran Tracy Porter and second year undrafted free-agent Jacoby Glenn. They, along with Young and Freeman have been the only real bright spots for the defense. Glenn has has been able to record six passes defended and one interception, while Porter has added five passes defended and two interceptions.

Amid Injuries, Packers Search For Options at Running Back

According to ESPN’s Ed Werder, Green Bay’s most valuable skill player this year, running back Eddie Lacy, has also been declared unable to go.

This stems from a chronic ankle injury that has been hurting him for weeks. Lacy is attempting to find a second opinion on the injury, because word is he could be sidelined for weeks. Chicago’s bad rush defense would’ve provide a great opportunity for Lacy to dominate.

With back-up James Starks already out with minor knee surgery, this leaves a massive hole in the offense that the Packers can’t afford right now.

The absence of an option at running back has forced General Manager Ted Thompson to do something very unusual, make a trade.

On Tuesday morning the Packers acquired running back Knile Davis from the Chiefs for a conditional draft pick in 2018. Per Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Davis becomes first player the Packers have traded for since safety Anthony Smith came from Jacksonville six years ago.

Davis isn’t a full time fix, but he is capable of breaking off big plays with his speed in the backfield and in the return game. He memorably ran back the opening kickoff against the Texans last year in their postseason match-up, and has compiled 1,879 yards on kickoff returns the past four seasons (27.2 per return).

The loss of Lacy will put even more pressure on Rodgers to make plays. It seems like an unfortunate series of events that when he is playing worse than he ever has, he loses the one guy he has been able to count on. With Davis still learning the offense, it will probably be a very pass heavy offensive play-calling night for the Packers.

The team also promoted running back Don Jackson, who was initially cut right before training camp, from the practice squad to provide more depth at the position. It will be intriguing how the new backfield, along with wide receiver Ty Montgomery who will get some carries, interacts with the sometimes stubborn and unwilling to change offense of Green Bay Thursday night.

Humbled Packers Defense Looks to Rebound From Sunday

After somewhat carrying the Packers for four games, the Green Bay defense finally received a large dose of reality from the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

They came in only averaging 43 yards a game given up on the ground, but Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas offense easily rushed for 191 yards (157 from Elliott). It was a punch in the mouth, but certainly not a real representation of their ability.

In fact, neither the first four games or the last are truly indicative of what they are, it probably lies somewhere in the middle. They are still a solid run defense, but not in the league of Seattle or Minnesota.

For the first time since 2007, the man in the backfield they are going to try to stop is not Matt Forte. The Bears instead will rely on rookie Jordan Howard out of Indiana to navigate against the Packers defense.

Howard has been solid so far in his young career, gaining 330 yards rushing on 66 attempts after taking over for an injured Jeremy Langford following week three. His first two games as the starter, week 4 against Detroit and week 5 against Indianapolis, he rushed for 100-plus yards. Howard is a dynamic runner that the Packers linebackers will need to have a constant eye on in both the run and pass game.

Much to the dismay of Packer fans, the Bears will also have a new face at quarterback. After years of experiencing great success against Jay Cutler, Green Bay will now be tasked with stopping Brian Hoyer, currently the most accurate quarterback in the league with 150 attempts not named Matthew Stafford.

Since taking over for Cutler during week 2, Hoyer has completed 130 of 189 passes (68.8%) for 1,396 yards, 6 touchdowns, and no turnovers. In contrast, Cutler only attempted 46 passes this year, threw two interceptions, and had one fumble lost.

Hoyer famously struggled in the playoffs last year throwing interception after interception for the Houston Texans, but he has looked like solid as of late. Most people would say as of late he has looked superior to Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.

The two, despite one being a 2-time MVP and the other being a perennial back-up, have actually have had an almost identical road the last twelve games: (via Mike Garafolo of NFL Network)

                                                              HOYER               RODGERS

                                         W-L                  6-6                          7-5

                                  Comp. Pct.            63.4                        58.6

                                  Pass YDG             262.0                      226.8

                                    TD-INT                20-5                        20-9

                              Passer Rating         94.1                         83.3

Even with the losses, Hoyer is gaining confidence. He has thrown for over 300 yards in all four starts this year, and Thursday against a depleted Green Bay defense I don’t see that streak ending.

Packers Secondary Will Again Be In For a Long Night Thursday

After weeks of praying for better health, one the Packers most important injuries has gone to near worst case scenario. Number one corner Sam Shields has been placed on IR with a lingering concussion, and will be done for the foreseeable future.

Without his ability to shut down opposing teams number one receivers, the Packers have given up massive games to Marvin Jones of the Lions and Stefon Diggs of the Vikings, as well as multiple big plays due to bad coverage on Sunday to the Cowboys.

Green Bay’s next two possible options to fill the role of Shields, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, are also both looking unlikely to go Thursday because of groin problems. This will leave LaDarius Gunter, who allowed 2 touchdowns and over 120 yards in coverage versus DallasDemetri Goodson, and safeties Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix  in charge of stopping one of the most dangerous wide-outs in the league, Alshon Jeffery.

Jeffery is a strange case of all the hype and not a lot of the results. He is by far one of the most talented receivers in the league but always seems to under perform. However, most of his career has been diluted by bad quarterback play or injury.

In 2016, Jeffery has caught 29 passes for 487 yards (10th in the league) but has failed to reach the endzone. Just as Odell Beckham Jr. found out in week 5, the Packers secondary is the answer to many questions for frustrated receivers looking to hit paydirt. He ranks 9th among all receivers in plays longer than 20 yards (8), and has received a pass of 20 yards or more in every game, something Green Bay has struggled to contain as of late.

Hoyer has also found reliable targets in Eddie Royal (29 rec., 338 yards, 2 touchdowns), Cameron Meredith (26 rec., 295 yards, 1 touchdown), and tight end Zach Miller (31 rec., 265 yards, 3 touchdowns). The Packers will need extraordinary efforts from their young and inexperienced secondary to keep the Bears off the scoreboard Thursday night.

Final Thoughts

The Packers seem to be approaching a crossroads in their franchise at the moment. Mike McCarthy has seemingly had the “best team in football” or close, by experts standards, almost every year of his tenure. 2016 was no different.

Coming into the season they were favored to win every single game of the year, and most picked them as favorites for another Super Bowl run, and yet here we are.

Now McCarthy must rely on running backs Knile Davis and Don Jackson, who have rushed for a combined -2 yards this year, a group of corners who have never started in the NFL, and a quarterback seemingly lost in his own head. Thursday has all the ingredients for another let down.