NFL Preview - Chicago (4-3) at Green Bay (5-2)|
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Football's oldest rivalry resumes in Titletown for the
185th time on "Monday Night Football" when the Green Bay Packers aim for their
seventh straight win over the Chicago Bears.
Both teams come in banged-up but Green Bay has won four consecutive games and
sits atop the NFC North after Aaron Rodgers completed 24-of-29 passes for 285
yards and connected with wide receiver Jordy Nelson for two touchdowns (11 and
76 yards) in an easy 44-31 win over hapless Minnesota back in Week 8.
"Aaron and I were able to connect and make some big plays," said Nelson.
"We're two guys that communicate a lot to one another. We're students of the
game, we try to be detailed at what we do and make sure we're on the same
The Bears have had extra time to prepare for this one and will be coming off a
bye week but will be without starting QB Jay Cutler and star linebacker Lance
Veteran signal caller Josh McCown will make his first start this season after
completing 14-of-20 passes for 204 yards with one touchdown and a 119.6
passer rating in relief of the injured Cutler during a 45-41 loss to the
Washington Redskins on Oct. 20.
"Josh has been in the league for a long time," said Bears tackle Jermon
Bushrod. "He's played a lot of games. He has a lot of experience. So we're
excited about the opportunity."
Perhaps they shouldn't be, however.
Rodgers and the Packers converted on 13-of-18 third-down attempts and were
two-for-two on fourth down against the Vikings as Green Bay never punted and
scored on all seven drives that didn't end either the half or the game.
And understand Green Bay did all of that without the services of receivers
Randall Cobb and James Jones -- two of their top three outside the numbers
threats who were lost to injury against the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 13 --
and dynamic tight end Jermichael Finley, who suffered a scary neck injury
during a win over Cleveland on Oct. 20.
Cobb has a fractured fibula and may return near the end of the season, while
Finley was released from the ICU last Monday after being diagnosed with a
bruised spinal cord, something that will keep him on the sidelines
indefinitely. Jones, who has a knee sprain, is expected back soon.
Three of the seven Green Bay receivers who played against Minnesota appeared
in their first game a week earlier. One of those players, Jarrett Boykin, who
had eight catches for 103 yards and a score in his debut, registered five
grabs for 89 yards versus the Vikes.
"We've got a great team, very well-coached," Rodgers said. "Guys are ready to
Running back Eddie Lacy, the NFC's Rookie of the Month for October, also
contributed by carrying the ball 29 times for 94 yards and a score in the
"Aaron's had a lot of challenges Monday through Saturday that don't show up on
the stat sheet, just trying to get on the same page with younger players and
trusting the game plan," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said.
The extra week of rest couldn't help Cutler all that much. The strong-armed
veteran is expected to miss a month of action with a torn muscle in his groin.
The Bears' leader sustained the injury while being sacked in the second
quarter of what turned out to be a very costly setback at Washington. In
addition to Cutler, the seven-time Pro Bowler Briggs went down for six weeks
with a shoulder injury.
Cutler had been performing well in new head coach Marc Trestman's system,
having completed nearly 65 percent of his passes for 1,658 yards and 12
touchdowns through the first seven games while helping Chicago get off to a
And his unavailability comes at an inopportune time. After Monday's
game against the Pack, Chicago has another important divisional game the
subsequent week, when the team hosts Detroit.
McCown, a journeyman, has his coach's confidence, though.
"He's going to put us in position to win games," said Trestman.
Briggs' injury further depletes a linebacker corps that saw fellow starter
D.J. Williams go down with a season-ending pectoral tear in a win over
the New York Giants earlier in October.
The 32-year-old Briggs, who serves as Chicago's on-field signal-caller on
defense, was in the midst of another strong campaign. The 11-year veteran had
amassed 64 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and eight passes defensed
over seven games.
"We're losing a great leader in Lance," said Trestman. "We're going to have to
work very hard to recover."
The Bears hold a slim 91-87-6 edge in the all-time series but the Packers have
dominated recently, winning six straight and eight of the last nine meetings
(including playoffs). Green Bay also has swept the season series in three of
the last four seasons (2009, 2011-12).
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
This is a matchup between two of the top three scoring teams in the NFL,
with Chicago checking in at No. 2 (30.4) and Green Bay just a tick behind at
No. 3 (30.3).
The Bears, though, are behind the 8-ball without the underrated Cutler.
Chicago has generally struggled against the Packers with its signal caller in
the lineup while Rodgers is 9-2 as a starter against the Bears, upping his
success in recent contests by completing 69.6 percent of his passes while
throwing 12 touchdowns against two interceptions in his last four against
Trying to stop perhaps the game's best player without injured defensive
tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins, along with the more recent nicks to
Williams and Briggs at linebacker seems like a long shot even with Green Bay's
issues at the receiving positions.
The Bears will certainly make things tougher for Rodgers than the Vikings and
the fact that big-play cornerback Charles Tillman plans to play despite a
balky knee helps but at the end of the day this is a defense that, while
still opportunistic, is 27th in the NFL, allowing 391 yards per game.
"We need to prepare and stay focused on our opponent and the changes they've
made," McCarthy said. "At the end of the week, we want to make sure we're
focused on winning and that our quality of play is as high as possible."
McCown will be starting for the first time since going 1-1 in Chicago's final
two games of the 2011 season. His first start back then came in a 35-21
setback at Green Bay on Christmas Day, in which he threw for 242 yards with a
touchdown but had two interceptions.
"Josh is going to do the job," Cutler said. "We've got a good game plan coming
in. Josh fared well against (the Redskins). He'll play well again this week."
McCown will lean on a solid group of playmakers around him, including big-
bodied receivers Brandon Marshall, who leads the Bears with 46 receptions for
540 yards and five TDs, and Alshon Jeffery, along with tight end Martellus
Bennett and dual-threat running back Matt Forte.
"We really have to play together more than ever now and I think that's
something that we're capable of doing," Trestman said.
The Bears can't let Green Bay run away from them in the NFC North but things
don't exactly trend toward Chicago in this one. The Packers have also won 11
straight home games (including playoffs) and 23 of their last 24 at Lambeau
Field. During the current run they have allowed just 14.7 points per game.
Meanwhile, when they are playing division foes Green Bay only amps up the
dominance, winning 14 of its last 15 regular-season games against NFC North
opponents, a .933 winning percentage which ranks No. 1 in the entire NFL over
Dating back to 2006, Green Bay is 34-10 in NFC North games (No. 2 in the NFL)
and 19-3 at home.
Good luck with all that.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 27, Bears 13
11/01 14:31:34 ET