NFL Preview - Chicago (3-5) at Green Bay (5-3)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Forget about baby steps for Jay Cutler.
If the embattled Chicago Bears quarterback plans on turning things around in the 2014 season, he will have to do it against the one team which has always been his personal house of horrors, the Green Bay Packers.
Cutler is a dismal 1-9 as a starter against the Packers in the regular season, throwing for 13 touchdowns and a mind-boggling 19 interceptions in those games, including two picks that led to second-half touchdowns in Chicago's latest loss to its top rival, a 38-17 waxing back on Sept. 28 in the Windy City.
That game started a stretch in which the once playoff-hopeful Bears have dropped four of five games, culminating with an embarrassing 51-23 setback at New England back on Oct. 26, a contest in which Tom Brady threw touchdown passes on five of New England's first six drives.
Cutler completed 20-of-30 passes for 227 yards with three touchdowns (two coming with the outcome already decided) and committed a pair turnovers against the Pats.
Matt Forte had 114 yards on 19 carries and caught a touchdown pass for the Bears, who are now 3-5 and dead last in the competitive NFC North.
"We lost today. We got beat by a really good football team, we have a whole half a season to play and we are going to start over. And address every situation that we have and all aspects of our football team," said Chicago coach Marc Trestman.
Detroit leads the NFC North entering Week 10 at 6-2 and the Packers are a game behind after suffering a 44-23 drubbing at the hands of New Orleans on Oct. 26.
Far scarier than the loss, though, was the fact that all-everything QB Aaron Rodgers tweaked his hamstring in the matchup.
The game was tied 16-16 at halftime, but New Orleans intercepted the previously red-hot Rodgers twice over an 11-attempt span in the final 30 minutes after he hadn't tallied one in 213 throws en route to breaking the game open. And the hamstring was clearly the issue as it cut down on Rodgers' vaunted movement skills.
"It was a glimpse of me at 40, I think," Rodgers joked. "I remember watching Vinny Testaverde (at age 44) playing for Carolina against us. And he had like a 22-yard run and I was like, 'Look at Vinny, he can still do it.' That was awesome."
Rodgers had thrown for 977 yards and 13 touchdowns without an interception during a four-game winning streak which was halted by NOLA.
The ll-Pro threw for 208 of his 418 yards in the first quarter before the injury, completing 28-of-39 passes overall with a touchdown for Green Bay.
"Penalties and turnovers hurt us and kicking field goals," Rodgers said.
Randall Cobb posted five catches for 126 yards and a score, while Eddie Lacy recorded eight receptions for 123 yards and added 59 yards on 13 carries in defeat.
The Bears lead their all-time series with Green Bay, which is the longest- running rivalry in the sport, by a 92-89-6 margin but the Packers have won eight of the past nine, including the he NFC Championship Game following the 2010 season.
Back in September Green Bay scored 24 unanswered points in the 38-17 win with Rodgers throwing four touchdowns passes, two each to Jordy Nelson and Cobb, who both had 100-yard receiving days.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Rodgers is 11-2 against the Bears, winning eight straight when he starts and finishes. The last time Chicago was in Green Bay, though, A-Rod didn't finish as the Bears' Shea McClellin put Rodgers on the shelf for a good portion of the 2013 campaign by breaking the QB's collarbone in a Week 9 matchup.
Of course A-Rod still got the last laugh, returning to the lineup for the final regular-season game of 2013 and converting a 4th-and-8 from the Chicago's 48-yard line with 46 seconds left by extending the play and finding Cobb for a touchdown. The big play lifted Green Bay to a 33-28 victory and the NFC North title.
This time around Rodgers will be facing a Bears defense that isn't all that impressive when healthy and is currently banged up with corner Charles Tillman (triceps) and defensive end Lamarr Houston (ACL) already gone for the season.
Impressive rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller is playing through hip and hand issues but his effectiveness has waned. Meanwhile linebacker Lance Briggs is slated to return from a rib injury after missing the prior three games, and safety Chris Conte is still iffy with concussion issues as well as a balky shoulder.
Overall, Chicago is 21st in the NFL, allowing 372.4 yards per game and things have been getting progressively worse. The Bears have allowed an NFL-worst 32.0 points per game in their current 1-4 stretch.
Of course, Green Bay's stop unit has been even worse in 2014, surrendering 379.3 ypg, a disappointing 25th in all of football. The Packers are particularly dreadful against the run, allowing 153.5 ypg, dead last in the NFL.
The question is who can better take advantage of those shoddy units?
The answer is obviously Rodgers as the bye week enabled him to rest his tender hamstring.
"The medical staff here gave me a seven-day plan to attack the rehab, and I stuck to it," Rodgers said on his radio show.
Cutler, meanwhile, has been responsible for 12 of Chicago's 15 turnovers in 2014.
"We will not quit on the season," Bears general manager Phil Emery said. "We will not quit on ourselves. We're not going to quit on each other. We feel we built a work ethic, a system of doing things in this building is in place to have the consistency we need to win."
The one issue for Green Bay could be the health of its offensive line. Guards Josh Sitton (toe) and T.J. Lang (let ankle) are both questionable for Sunday night's game and the team has already been using a rookie at center in Corey Linsley although the Ohio State product has generally performed very well.
"The best offensive lines in my opinion are the ones that play week in and week out," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who was recently awarded with a three-year contract extension. "The timing, the communication, particularly the non-verbal communication, happens so fast at the line of scrimmage, so it's definitely a big part of the flow of your offense."
"It's an opportunity for a number of people (if Sitton and Land can't play)," He continued. "We had a series of guys rotating through there."
Those series of guys could be the returning J.C. Tretter, who Linsley replaced at center, as well as Lane Taylor.
Cutler is a talented athlete but he doesn't strike many as a mentally-strong guy when things are going his way and it's pretty evident he's got some significant confidence issues when he sees the Green and Gold coming.
Trestman's game plan should be for Cutler to turn around and hand it off to Matt Forte, who had a season-high 122 yards on 23 carries against Green Bay in September, about 30 times. That scenario not only preys on the notorious undisciplined play of Clay Matthews and the Green Bay front, it will also play keep away from Rodgers, which is Chicago's only real chance in Lambeau.
For all the criticism Cutler gets, though, he's far from the only issue in the Windy City. Trestman has never flashed the ability to play the patience game and that's not changing here.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Packers 31, Bears 20
11/09 11:04:48 ET