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Thursday, December 30, 2004
Game Preview: Packers @ Bears
by Thomas Pyc
Once the Green Bay Packers locked up the No. 3 seed in the NFC Playoff bracket the debate surrounding the amount of playing time the starters should receive began. Monday night’s game displayed the lack of effectiveness a second team can have against a first team as St. Louis dismantled Philly. A year ago the Packers faced the bare bones of a similar foe as the Denver Broncos rested their starters in their final regular season game. The Packers pushed the second-string Broncos all over the field while the first-stringers developed rust and found themselves out of place in their first round playoff matchup against the Colts the following week.
If Packer fans look deep down they will probably find a subtle desire to avoid a seasonal sweep by the Bears and the respect of a winning season tallying up in the double-digits. But odds makers are already reading through the hype and/or hope and giving the Bears a 3 point edge considering that the desire for either of the above arguments is irrelevant compared to avoiding a devastating injury right before a first round playoff game.
The Bears’ Offense vs. the Packers’ Defense
The Bears’ offense is absolutely dismal, pathetic, profoundly confused, etc. They rank last in the league in yards (238/game), points (14.5/game), passing yards (137.1/game) and third down efficiency (25.5%). Add those numbers to their record setting 57 sacks allowed and 36 turnovers and there’s not too much for Chicago fans to go on. In the last meeting the Bears successfully used Thomas Jones to slice up the Packers run defense for 154 yards. But since the last game both of the Bears starting guards have went down with injury and left tackle Qasim Mitchell was also benched.
With Mike Sherman not showing his hand yet it is hard to say who will be on the field for the Packers’ defense come Sunday. After watching the Vikings score quickly a few times last Friday there are probably several fans calling for the entire defense to be ready. If the Packers have improved anywhere on this side of the ball since they last faced the Bears it can be found in their run defense. Grady Jackson was not around during their last matchup but there’s no guarantee that Sherman will require him to be on the field this week either. But backup nose tackle James Lee was recently added to the injured reserve list leaving Colin Cole the only remaining true nose tackle. Fortunately for the Packers defense their most porous area is their secondary, which will be facing a passing attack that is truly impotent.
The Packers’ Offense vs. the Bears’ Defense
The Packers’ offense fell victim to an extremely aggressive Bears’ defense on the second week of the season. Ahman Green single-handedly lost the football, the momentum, the game and maybe the three following games. His goal line fumble proved costly and it created a hangover that took four weeks for the Packers to overcome. But now the Packers are fully recovered and playing good sound football on the offensive side of the ball. They are deep at every position except tight end so it has to be expected for Sherman to use the backups extensively. Then again, he does not need any rust to accumulate prior to a playoff engagement back at Lambeau Field. Key backups Najeh Davenport and Kevin Barry are key elements to the offense and both will probably allow for the first stringers to play extensively.
The Bears’ defense is without several key players that helped manhandle the Packers during their last meeting. All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher, defensive end Ogunleye, and safety Mike Brown are three key players at each level of the defense that will be missed. Urlacher and Brown were the perpetrators on the goal line fumble by Green. This is still an effective unit but injuries have taken their toll. Overall, this unit could still be effective facing the Packers’ second string.
The Bottom Line
Mike Sherman is not going to be able to win ALL of the fans over with his decision making unless the Packers win the game and play their backups for the majority of the game. If Sherman plays his starters he will be criticized for being risky, if he plays his backups then his conservative approach will be attacked. Ideally, if first string Packers can come out and build a big enough lead through one and a half quarters, then insert backups at key positions and still maintain the lead for the duration then all criticism might be lost. Ah, whom am I kidding? The likely hood of that happening is minimal and the chance of Packer fans remaining complaint-free for a week would be a bet anyone would take.