The first thing you need to realize about the Bears’ trip to Lambeau Field Monday night is these are not your father’s Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears.
When was the last time the Bears were one of the NFL’s worst defenses, but one of the game’s most explosive offenses? Not in my lifetime.
As the Bears prepare for the Packers, they are ranked 27th in the NFL in total defense, 31st in average gain per play allowed, 31st sacking the quarterback and 29th in points allowed, but they’re actually fourth in the league in average gain per offensive play and second in points scored.
Somewhere there are cows jumping over the moon.
Not everything is different in Green Bay.
The Packers are still No. 2 in total offense, first in average gain per play, third in third-down efficiency, seventh in time of possession and third in points scored. But when was the last time the Packers were fourth in the NFL running the football?
And if you look on the other side of the ball, you’ll find a Packers defense that was near the bottom of the league last year but is now 11th in total defense, fourth vs. the run, fifth sacking the quarterback and 10th in third-down efficiency.
The only statistic that actually favors the Bears in this game is one you’d expect with the Bears at +7 turnover Ratio and the Packers at - 2, but even that is misleading.
The Bears have actually turned the ball over 11 times to just nine for the Packers.
The new fearsome Packer ground game is keyed by rookie Eddie Lacy, who’s piled up 446 yards on 112 carries for a 4.0 average, while James Starks has chipped in 244 more with a 6.0 average and rookie Jonathan Franklin has averaged 5.6 a pop on 19 carries.
What is so troublesome about the Packers rushing attack is it’s the main reason they are seventh in the league in time of possession while the Bears are just 21st. The key to helping the Bears drowning defense is to keep it off the field.
Then, of course, there’s Aaron Rodgers who, in spite of all of the Packers’ injuries on offense, has compiled a 108 passer rating and is still the NFL’s fourth-rated quarterback behind only Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees.
Improvements on the Packers defense have come from a better team approach and significant individual improvements from defensive end Johnny Jolly, who is back after three years away from the game due to off-the-field issues. The move of Brad Jones to inside linebacker, a shift from defensive end to linebacker for Mike Neal and big bounce back seasons from B.J. Raji, A.J. Hawk and Sam Shields have helped.
One fascinating matchup to watch will be the occasions when massive nose tackle Ryan Pickett lines up on Bears rookie Kyle Long, and whether or not the Bears blockers and Josh McCown can handle the Packers’ fifth-rated pass rush.
Will the moment be too big for McCown and all those Bears rookies getting their first taste of the NFL’s oldest rivalry, or can the Bears force the Packers into a shootout and find a way to have the ball last?
For those of you who say “No way, the Bears just don’t have the horses with all their injuries,” there is this.
Seven of the past 10 meetings have been decided by eight points or less, and these two have combined for more than 37 points just twice in the last 10 meetings.
Obviously the fact the Packers have won the past six and eight of the past nine doesn’t inspire great confidence for Bears fans, but if the Bears are willing to make Matt Forte the focal point of the offense and McCown just takes care of the football, stranger things than a Bears upset have happened.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at [email protected]