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Thursday, September 16, 2004
Game Preview: Packer vs Bears
by Thomas Pyc,
The rivalry between the Packers and the Bears offers the most history of any match up within the NFL. This Sunday will mark the 167th time these two teams have met head-to-head. The Bears hold a six game lead in the all time series, 83 wins to the Packers’ 77 (6 ties). Lately, the series has not been that even because over the past ten years the Packers have a record of 18-2 (.900) against Chicago. There have been only four other match-ups that were more lopsided than this one during a twenty game span: Miami over Buffalo (20-0), Miami over Indy/Balt.(19-1), Washington over Detroit (19-1) and San Francisco over L.A.’s Rams (19-1).
But this is a new era in the Windy City. This is the Lovie Smith era and it is boasting 11 new starters since last season (7 offense, 4 defense). Lovie knows the importance of this game and he has since the day he took the lead in Chicago. During his first day with the media he announced, “The number one goal is to beat Green Bay.” While with the Rams Lovie was able to complete the feat he deemed so important that day but the level of talent in St. Louis, at the time, far exceeds what he has to work with now.
Rex Grossman, second year man out of Florida, leads the offense on the field after a 2 interception, 3 sack and a 43.4 quarterback rating game. The only place to go after that performance should be up. One thing that Grossman might have going for him is the emergence of Chicago’s 8th pick in the 2001 draft, David Terrell. He racked up 126 yards receiving against Detroit last week but he also managed two costly penalties for pass interference and taunting. Bobby Wade and Justin Cage are the other receivers that Grossman will utilize. Desmond Clark provides a decent threat at tight end. Bryan Johnson and Thomas Jones have taken the load on in the backfield. Johnson spent his previous four years in a Redskins' uniform while Jones spent several sub-par years with the Arizona Cardinals and last year in Tampa.
Last year the biggest offensive weakness for Chicago was probably the play of the offensive line. Fittingly, this was also the area that experienced the most shuffle in the off-season. The 8-time Pro Bowler Ruben Brown arrived from Buffalo to play left guard. John Tait’s offer from Chicago was not matched by Kansas City and the 6-6, 315-pounder settled in at right tackle. The only part of the offensive line bigger than Tait is left tackle Qasim Mitchell (6’6”, 355), but he has yet to start more than 2 games in a row at that position. Mike Gandy played left tackle last season but is now being tried out at guard. Rounding out the shuffle is Olin Kreutz who still remains the Bears’ center and attended his third Pro Bowl last year.
Green Bay’s Defense
Going up against the new faces on Chicago’s offensive will Bob Slowik’s new ‘pressure’ defense. Last week, the Packers manhandled the 2003 NFC Champions by consistently pressuring the Panthers with a variety of looks and blitzes. This week should prove to be no different.
Early signs indicate that the strength of the defense is the linebacking crew, which is lead by middle linebacker Nick Barnett. Barnett received NFC Defensive Player of the week for last week’s performance against the Carolina Panthers (7 tackles, 1 int., 1 sack). Na’il Diggs is the weakside linebacker and is looking to improve on his Monday night performance where he missed three tackles. Hannibal Navies rounds out the linebacking crew on the strongside and is considered the best defensive player who receives almost no recognition.
Grady Jackson normally ties up a few offensive linemen for the linebacking crew at the nose tackle position but he is out for three weeks with a knee injury. In his place, James Lee (second year out of Oregon State) will start along side the underachieving Cletidus Hunt. Aaron Kampman plays the power end position and the Pro Bowler Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila plays on the opposite side.
Despite losing Jackson the Packers received some good news with the return of Mike McKenzie (46-day holdout) on Wednesday. McKenzie lead the team in interceptions last year (4) but its too early to know if he will start on Sunday. If he doesn’t Michael Hawthorne will most likely receive the nod to start his second game of the season. Hawthorne held up well last game against the Panthers and he was joined by a different Al Harris than the one Packer fans came to know last year. Harris has been tasked with guarding the number one receiver from the other team and loves to play physical. But physical is the theme for this secondary and Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper can confirm any doubts viewers might have. Last but not least is Mark Roman, signed from the Bengals this offseason. Roman has helped shore up the weakest link in the secondary and helped add a new dimension to the defense with his style of play.
Advantage: Packers – If last week is any indication of what the Packers’ defense is going to do this season than it could be a long day for Rex Grossman and company.
Not long ago the Chicago defense helped lead this team to a 13-3 record and a divisional championship. Ron Rivera is the new defensive coordinator and spent the last five years under mastermind Jimmy Johnson in Philadelphia. Lovie is also a defensive minded coach and right now this unit is probably the strength of the team.
During that 13-3 season the Bears’ defense was big upfront with tackles Ted Washington (365) and Keith Traylor (340), which allowed Brian Urlacher to roam the field and destroy ball carriers. This season they are utilizing the 14th pick of the draft Tommie Harris (300) and Alfonso Boone (314). Newly acquired Adewale Ogunleye lead the AFC in sacks last year but is average at best against the run. Alex Brown is the other defensive end and plays the run and pass equally.
Brian Urlacher is still the heart and soul of this defense. And at 6-3 258 he can wreak havoc on opposing offenses especially on lateral runs (sweeps, tosses). A hamstring has nagged him but that did not seem to be a problem during his 14 tackles performance last week. Lance Briggs returned a Brett Favre interception last year and is a force to be reckoned with in the run game. Joe Odom is the final starting linebacker but there is debate as to whether or not he should be.
The Bears secondary is lead by free safety Mike Brown. Lovie is using Brown much like John Lynch and Adam Archuletta were used in Tampa Bay and St. Louis. Mike Green is the strong safety and move to the nickel back during passing downs while Bobby Gray comes on the field to man the safety spot. R.W. McQuarters is starting for the injured Jerry Azumah and is short at 5-9 but plays with a good amount of quickness. Charles Tillman is the other cornerback and is probably the best defender in the secondary. Packer fans might remember him as the rookie who took the ball away from Randy Moss in the endzone last season and helped preserve the Packers’ chances at a 2nd NFC North Championship.
The Packers Offense
In a midweek interview Mike Sherman raved about the crispness and fluidity that the offense was practicing with in week one. That type of behavior was carried over to the field as the Packers’ worked the ball down the field on the Panthers’ defense time and time again. This week should be no different.
Brett Favre, 20-4 against the Bears all-time, is still throwing the ball well and is protected by arguably the best offensive line in football. Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher are the tackles and both look to make their 50 start of their professional career on Sunday. Mike Flanagan is the center and has been bothered by some tendinitis but he plays with enough grit that it should not effect him on gameday. Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera are phenomenal guards. Both finish interior blocks and are good at blocking in the open field.
Ahman Green ran the ball extensively last game against the Panthers. He racked about a significant amount of carries (33) and 119 yards. He follows several different lead blockers throughout the game from aging but solid fullback William Henderson, powerful Nick Luchey and 2nd string tight end David Martin. Bubba Franks is the starting tight end, has been to several Pro Bowls and showed a new dimension of running after the catch in the Packers’ first game.
The wide receivers are three strong with Donald Driver, Javon Walker and Robert Ferguson. Ferguson and Driver got the starting nod in week one but all three played approximately 40 snaps. Each receiver brings a different strength to the table and makes the group extremely dynamic. This could easily be the best group of wide receivers Brett has had to work with in a while.
Advantage: Packers – The Packers could very easily run up the score on an improved Bears defense but that depends on how well Lovie's stunts work against the counters that Green Bay loves to run.
The Bottom Line: It is not entirely out of the question to see the Bears come away with a victory but if that happens it probably will not be because they are the better team. Green Bay would have to completely malfunction by committing a significant amount of turnovers. If the Packers protect the ball this should be an easy win.
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