Thu, 02 Dec 2021

4 things to watch in Bears-Packers game

Chicago Bears
17 Oct 2021, 00:37 GMT+10

Larry Mayer

The Bears (3-2) will look to win their third straight game Sunday when they host the rival Packers (4-1) at Soldier Field. Here are four storylines to watch in the contest:

(1) How will the Bears defense fare against long-time nemesis Aaron Rodgers?

The Bears entered Week 6 leading the NFL with 18 sacks. Fueled by outside linebackers Khalil Mack (5.0 sacks) and Robert Quinn (4.5), they've been able to generate a consistent pass rush without having to blitz. It's been a group effort, with nine different players recording at least a half sack this season.

"One common thing that I've seen is just determination," said outside linebacker Trevis Gipson, who has registered one sack in each of the last two games. "I think our whole team is playing with that characteristic right now and I think it's showing in our pass rush games and our stunts and our 1-on-1s. It's gotten us to the No. 1 spot, but we still have a lot of games left and we want to keep that."

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Pressuring Rodgers Sunday at Soldier Field will be paramount. The three-time NFL MVP has dominated the Bears over the past decade, winning 19 of 21 starts since 2010-not counting a 2013 game in Green Bay that he exited early with a broken collarbone. In his last 13 contests versus the Bears, Rodgers has thrown 34 touchdown passes and two interceptions.

"He's seen a lot, he's super bright and he's super talented," said Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai. "All of that is a good formula for a quarterback in this league. He does it all and he's seen it all.

"It's about mixing it up and giving him different looks that are honest or not honest. Whether you're disguised or not, it's about giving him different looks and giving him different pictures. You just keep playing the game with him, and it's going to be a 60-plus minute battle for us to do that."

(2) Will the Bears be able to run the ball effectively despite a depleted backfield?

The Bears have started to establish an identity on offense the past two weeks, fueled by a productive running game. Rebounding from a disappointing Week 3 loss to the Browns, they rushed for 188 yards and three touchdowns on 39 carries Oct. 3 in a 24-14 win over the Lions.

Starting running back David Montgomery exited with a knee injury in the fourth quarter against Detroit and missed last Sunday's game in Las Vegas. Undeterred, the Bears ran for 143 yards and one TD on 37 attempts in a 20-9 victory over the Raiders, with rookie Khalil Herbert gaining 75 yards on 18 carries and veteran Damien Williams adding 64 yards and one TD on 16 rushes.

Unfortunately, Williams was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday and is not expected to play Sunday against the Packers. That means that Herbert likely will start, with four-year veteran Ryan Nall moving up into the complementary backup role.

"When you start going through and creating an identity, you start understanding that these players, they all have their own strengths and weaknesses," said Bears head coach Matt Nagy. "The thing we need to do as coaches is making sure we're using those strengths, whatever it is-whether it's a type of scheme in the run game, whether it's a protection in the pass game-just to make it a little easier."

(3) Will Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields continue to show steady growth?

Coaches have been pleased with the progress that the first-round draft pick has made over the course of his first three NFL starts. One especially impressive play came last Sunday in Las Vegas when Fields beat a blitz with a quick throw to Allen Robinson II, picking up 12 yards on third-and-7 to sustain a drive that resulted in a touchdown.

Another play that served as evidence of the young quarterback's development was his 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jesper Horsted. Fields escaped the pocket, rolled to his right and fired the ball to Horsted, who caught the pass with a defender draped all over him.

"A lot of guys come out of college and they look for their receivers to be wide open, and [Horsted] wasn't wide open," said Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. "He was more 'NFL open,' and [Fields] still gave him a chance. That's the big thing I took from it. That was just good."

Fields completed passes of 64, 32, 28 and 27 yards against the Lions two weeks ago. His longest pass play was just 18 yards versus the Raiders. On Thursday, Lazor said that he had hoped to call more downfield throws in Las Vegas, but circumstances dictated otherwise. The coach also vowed that he'll be ready to call those plays against the Packers if necessary.

"We have a big call sheet," Lazor said. "We have a lot [of long pass plays]. I mentioned earlier about not getting as many explosive plays in the Raider game as we would have liked. Some of them you think are staring at you on the sheet, but then you look up at the scoreboard and you see the time ticking down and you see how the game is going and you have to do what's best to win that game at that moment."

(4) Will the Bears defense be able to contain Packers star receiver Davante Adams?

Voted to the last four Pro Bowls, Adams entered Week 6 leading NFL receivers with 42 receptions and 579 yards. Last year he topped the league with a career-high 18 touchdown catches.

"He's one of the best as a route runner," Desai said. "He understands stems, he's got a wide array of toolbox of how to beat different looks, and that's a credit to him to develop that. That's what makes him great. There's a handful-maybe you can count them on two hands-of receivers that do that in this league, and he's one of them."

It's unknown whether the Bears will have top cornerback Jaylon Johnson cover Adams wherever he lines up as Johnson did a few weeks ago with Browns star Odell Beckham Jr. But the ascending 2020 second-round pick would welcome the challenge, saying: "I want to follow the best receiver every game. He's the best [Packers] receiver, so of course I'm looking forward to that matchup. We'll see what happens."

"He has good releases, good routes, good hands, [he's] just one of the top receivers in the league," Johnson added. "So, it's really just about kind of finding out the technique to be able to play against him because everybody is trying to play the same way against him and everybody has the same result. It's really about finding a switch-up, finding not even his weaknesses but what works best against him."

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