The Green Bay Packers return to action after their bye as they host the Chicago Bears in an NFC North rivalry game. The Packers beat the Los Angeles Rams 36-28 two weeks ago and improved to 9-3 on the season. The Packers magic number to clinch the NFC North is two so any combination of Packers wins and Minnesota losses will officially send the Packers to the playoffs. The Bears fell to the Cardinals at home last week 33-22 and fell to 4-8 on the season.
The Packers lead the all-time series 101-94-6. This series started in 1921 when the Bears were known as the Chicago Staleys. The teams have split their two postseason meetings. The Packers have won 10 of the last 11 games between the clubs including five straight. That includes the firsts meeting this season when the Packers beat the Bears 24-14.
Here is a look at six key factors that will determine who wins Sunday night’s game at Lambeau Field:
- Slow Down the Chicago Running Game
David Montgomery enjoyed his best game last week since returning from an injury four games ago. The Bears top runner gained 90 yards on the ground and ran for a touchdown while catching eight passes for 51 more yards.
Montgomery is the key to the Chicago offense especially since they are playing a rookie quarterback who is still adjusting to life in the NFL.
Montgomery did not play in the first meeting between the teams. He has one 100-plus yard game in four previous games against the Packers.
The Bears passing game is ranked 31st in the NFL so if they cannot run the ball effectively, they will struggle to move the football.
The Packers will need Kenny Clark, Krys Barnes and De’Vondre Campbell to help control the middle of the Bears offensive line. Clark should have a big advantage against Bears center Sam Mustipher.
- Protect Aaron Rodgers
The Packers will once again be without Elgton Jenkins and David Bakhtiari so Yosh Nijman will play left tackle. Add the fact that Aaron Rodgers will be playing with a broken toe and it becomes even more important to protect the Packers quarterback.
Khalil Mack is out for the season, but Robert Quinn has been outstanding at rushing the passer for Chicago and leads the team with 12 sacks in 11 games.
Expect the Packers to give Nijman help on Quinn with Marcedes Lewis, Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon all getting involved in chipping or double teaming Quinn. The Bears will try to move Quinn around to get favorable matchups and to try to free him up to get at Rodgers.
Look for the Packers to call more quick release passes to make it more difficult for the Bears to get to Rodgers.
If Rodgers has time, he should be able to move the football even against a solid Chicago secondary.
- Run the Football Enough
The Packers offense ran the ball 32 times and controlled the clock against the Rams two weeks ago. They will likely do something similar against a Bears defense that is vulnerable to the run. Entering this game, Chicago is ranked 23rd in the league against the run, allowing an average of more than 120 yards per game.
The one-two punch of Jones and Dillon give the Packers two strong backs with complimentary skill sets. Jones should be healthier after the bye week. He returned to action against the Rams after suffering a knee injury two weeks prior. Jones is a quick, one cut runner who is a threat to break a long gainer on any play.
Dillon is more of a tough, inside runner who can help the Packers keep the chains moving.
When both backs are healthy, Jones usually gets more carries although the situation and matchups can dictate which back gets the carry.
- Pressure Justin Fields
Fields returned the practice and is expected to start after missing time with injured ribs. The rookie first- round pick out of Ohio State is a talented quarterback with a strong arm but he’s still learning to read NFL defenses and adjusting to the pro game.
The Bears offensive line has struggled to protect their quarterbacks even though Fields is mobile. Chicago signal callers have been sacked 40 times this season and that means that Rashan Gary and Preston Smith should have plenty of chances to apply pressure. The Packers will also have Jonathan Garvin back as they activated him off the Covid-19 reserve list earlier this week.
When Fields is under pressure, he is more likely to make mistakes. He has thrown twice as many interceptions as touchdowns this season and has completed just 58.1 percent of his passes.
If the Packers can pressure Fields, he is more likely to make mistakes and his accuracy will be reduced.
In the first meeting between these teams, the Packers sacked Fields four times, intercepted him once. Fields did run for 43 yards on six carries and the Packers can’t afford to let him make plays with his legs either. Look for Campbell to be deployed as a spy on obvious passing downs to limit Fields’ ability to break off long runs.
- Spread the Ball Around On Offense
In the first meeting between these teams, the Bears defense prioritized slowing down Davante Adams. Adams still made four catches for 89 yards including a 41-yard play.
The Bears are again likely to try to contain Adams so Rodgers will have to spread the ball around to other targets. That means Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Josiah Deguara, Jones and Dillon will all be involved in the passing game.
The Packers will still be without Randall Cobb who suffered a groin injury late in the first half against the Rams and won’t be ready to return this week.
Adams will get his touches, but the Packers will need to keep their other receivers involved in the passing game on Sunday.
- Don’t Take This Game Lightly
The Packers are one game behind the Cardinals for the top record in the NFC and need this game to stay in the race for home field advantage throughout the playoffs and that valuable first round bye.
The Bears, on the other hand, are a team with only faint playoff hopes and feature a coach who is so close to being fired that most articles about the team now openly ask who their next coach is going to be.
The Packers cannot take this rivalry game lightly. The game is on national television and it’s a divisional game. It would essentially make the Bears season if they could pull off the upset at Lambeau.
The Packers have also struggled coming off the bye under LaFleur losing both games and coming out very flat each time in both 2019 and 2020. They cannot allow that to happen again in 2021 and let it become a pattern.
There is no doubt the Packers are the better team on paper. It would take a very sloppy game by the Packers and a nearly perfect game for the Bears for Chicago to pull off an upset.
Chicago will try to control the ball on the ground, keep the Packers offense off the field and hit the occasional long pass by Fields who has a strong arm.
The Packers will win this game if they don’t make major mistakes and play their game. Rivalry games are rarely easy, but the Packers should win this one.
Packers 28, Bears 17
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