Scouting the opponent: Bears are a rare favorite over Packers

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Bob McGinn

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By BOB McGINN

Not since 2005, when the Green Bay Packers finished 4-12, have they been as distinct of an underdog against the Chicago Bears as they will be Sunday at Soldier Field.

The Bears (9-4) are a 5 ½-point favorite over the Packers (5-7-1). Chicago was favored by six points in early December 2005 at Soldier Field before being favored by seven three weeks later at Lambeau Field.

With either a victory over the Packers or a loss by Minnesota (6-6-1) against Miami, the Bears would clinch their first NFC North Division championship since 2010.
They finished last the last four years.

“We got a chance to clinch this thing at home,” defensive end Akiem Hicks told reporters Tuesday. “There’s no way to approach this game without saying it’s going to be a big deal.”

The Packers have been favored in 19 of the last 20 meetings. The only game they weren’t came in November 2017 when Brett Hundley started at quarterback and the Bears were favored by 4 ½.

Green Bay’s largest spread during the Mike McCarthy era was 13 ½ at Lambeau Field on Christmas 2011.

Oddsmakers and bettors alike recognize the Packers’ dominance in the series. Under McCarthy, the Packers have won five games in a row, nine of the last 10 and 19 of 26 overall. The Bears have lost eight straight to their archrival at Soldier Field.

Since the Packers’ renaissance started in 1992 they’re 22-5 against the Bears in Illinois (21-5 at Soldier Field). McCarthy was 10-3, Mike Sherman was 5-1, Ray Rhodes was 1-0 and Mike Holmgren was 6-1.

From 1968-’91, the Packers were 8-15 in Chicago. Lindy Infante and Forrest Gregg were 1-3, Bart Starr was 1-7, Dan Devine was 3-1 and Phil Bengtson was 2-1.

Vince Lombardi’s teams finished 6-3 at Wrigley Field.

“We hate the Packers,” Anthony Miller, a rookie wide receiver, said Tuesday. “I know the fans, they hate them as well. When we go out there, it’s going to be like a playoff atmosphere. It doesn’t matter what their record is. I think it’s just gonna be a huge game.”

The Packers have gone 38-12 in the last 50 games to forge a 97-94-6 edge in the series. This will be the 198th meeting.

“It’s about to become 38-13,” an executive in personnel said Tuesday. “The Bears are going to get another win. It won’t be a high-scoring affair, 20-17.

“Two things work against the Bears. One is the quarterback. Is (Mitchell) Trubisky back to form? Also, it was such a big game against LA (Sunday night, a 15-6 victory for Chicago). It was an emotional game. Are the Packers catching the Bears at the right time? Can the Bears put together two good games?

“Chicago seems to be a much better team than this Green Bay team. If people play to their ability, then I think Chicago wins. The question is, can Trubisky score points? Because their defense will play well even against Aaron Rodgers.”

Men upfront: Kyle Long, the Bears’ best offensive lineman, was lost with a season-ending foot injury after seven games. In the opener, Long played all 70 snaps at right guard as did Eric Kush at left guard.

Kush lost his job to rookie James Daniels, a second-round draft choice, after six games. After Long went down Kush started Game 8 at right guard before journeyman Bryan Witzmann assumed the job for the past five games.

“Right now Daniels is winning on strength and toughness in there,” one scout said. “His coach at Iowa (Kirk Ferentz) is well-known for being a very good teacher of fundamentals for offensive linemen. (Daniels) battles.”

Witzmann (6-7 1/2, 315, 5.15) played in high school at Somerset, Wis., a small town located just across from the Twin Cities. After starting all 49 games at left tackle from 2010-’13 at South Dakota State, he embarked on a free-agent career with Houston in 2014.

Failing in stints with the Texans, Saints and Cowboys, Witzmann caught on in Kansas City and started 13 games at left guard last season. The Chiefs cut him at the end of camp but he went to Minnesota for a month before being waived. He joined Chicago Oct. 8.

“It shows you how bad they were before if they look at Witzmann being an upgrade over Kush,” said one personnel man. “I always just saw him as a depth-level player. He’s just a trait guy. His (strength) is size, and that’s helped him survive.”

Witzmann, who has 33 ¾-inch arms and a Wonderlic score of 30, played much better against the Rams than he did in a 30-27 overtime defeat against the Giants in Game 12.

“His technique is good and he can hold his own with people coming at him,” one scout said. “When people can get on his edge then he struggles. He struggles against athleticism or speed on his edge.”

Hole in secondary: The Bears have been remarkably free of injury on defense. The only starters to miss games were outside linebacker Khalil Mack (two, ankle) and cornerback Prince Amukamara (one, hamstring).

Now, however, Bryce Callahan, the starting nickel back when healthy since 2015, is out indefinitely with the foot injury that he suffered Sunday night.

“Callahan became a fan favorite,” one personnel man said. “Work-hard guy that made some plays.”

Sherrick McManis, 30, replaced Callahan in the slot and, in 35 snaps, led the team in tackles with seven (one for loss) and registered a quarterback hit. McManis (5-11, 193, 4.50) is an outstanding special-teams player but has just 45 tackles from scrimmage in nine seasons.

“McManis has toughness and speed. That’s what they’re counting on,” one scout said. “He doesn’t have very good hips and not very good instincts as a defensive back. Sherrick’s been around a long time but only because he has special-teams ability.”

The Bears lead the NFL in interceptions with 25, six more than the runner-up Dolphins. Cornerback Kyle Fuller shares the league lead with seven and free safety Eddie Jackson has six, including two of the team’s total of five returned for touchdowns.

“It’s such a well-coached defense with Coach (Vic) Fangio and they’re very fundamentally sound,” Rams pass game coordinator Shane Waldron said last week. “Then you combine that with good players up front that are consistently applying pressure … then those pressure throws end up in the hands of those DBs.”

Jackson, a fourth-round draft choice from Alabama in 2017, has eight picks (three TD returns) in his first 29 games.

“Jackson’s a very instinctive player,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said before the teams met in October. “He gets to a lot of plays that you normally wouldn’t think he would get to. He just anticipates them well.”

Man in the middle: Rookie linebacker Roquan Smith, the eighth pick in April, played just eight snaps against Green Bay after the Bears didn’t get him signed until 29 days into training camp.

Smith supplanted Nick Kwiatkoski in Game 2 and has been the starter since. He leads the club in tackles with 97 and has four sacks.

“The holdout forced them to bring him along the right way instead of just throwing him in there and making it feast or famine,” said one scout. “He’s kind of grown into it every week.

“He’s a natural fly-around guy, and he runs well. Now he’s had a chance to learn the defense and he’s playing faster.”

The Bears rank first in takeaways (34), third in yards allowed (309.9) and third in points allowed (19.0). As the second-ranked run defense with an average yield of 83.2, the Bears did give up 125 yards in 24 carries to the Giants’ Saquon Barkley.

The Mack effect: Mack had been Chicago’s property for just eight days when he played 42 of 60 snaps at Lambeau Field. He had a sack, interception, forced fumble and recovered fumble.

Mack leads the Bears in sacks (10) and has forced six fumbles.

“I think Reggie White was kind of like that when he went from Philadelphia to Green Bay but that’s a long time ago (1993),” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said last month before playing the Bears. “I think he’s added a lot of swagger to the football team … knowing they’ve got a guy of that caliber in there.”

Added Waldron: “Mack isn’t just a pass rusher. He’s an impressive point-of-attack player when you’re running at him. He’s a hard worker with a high motor when you’re running away from him. In passing situations, he’s able to have some one-on-one wins around the edge and then he does a great job of using their pick stunts when they’re moving guys around.”

Defensive end Akiem Hicks, with 14, actually has two more quarterback hits than Mack. Hicks is second in sacks with six.

“Hicks kind of gets in these awkward alignments or stances and you think, ‘All right, he’s not going to be able to generate any power off the ball,’” Lions coach Matt Patricia said last month. “And then all of a sudden he just gets into you and just knocks you back.

“He’s very violent with his hands. He’s really good at being able to grab the offensive lineman’s arms and just open them up and get that leverage and go into the pocket or play the run.”

Diversified offense: The Bears constantly shift their personnel pre-snap on offense, have a million plays and some bizarre personnel groupings. They rank seventh in points (27.6), tied for 22nd in yards (347.2) and tied for 25th in giveaways (21).

“Matt Nagy’s done a great job with them,” Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said last week. “These young, innovative offensive people are making me get gray hair, I think.

“They throw a lot of balls downfield. They’re not just a dink-and-dunk team, similar to Kansas City, which is what you’d expect.”

The Bears’ three leading wide receivers (Taylor Gabriel, Allen Robinson, Miller) are in their first seasons with Chicago. Another newcomer is tight end Trey Burton.

“Offensively, I think they’ve really improved,” said Zimmer. “A lot more speed offensively than they’ve had in the past. They’re opening things up a lot more. This isn’t two yards and a cloud of dust deal.”

The key player: Trubisky went the distance against the Rams after missing the previous two games with an injury to his right shoulder suffered on a scramble against the Vikings on Nov. 18. He forced one sideline interception and missed open receivers on the other two, finished with a passer rating of 33.3 and admitted to being “pretty disappointed” in his performance.

“He’s not really back from injury,” one personnel man said. “Physically, he was out there but he’s struggling right now, for whatever reason.

“His accuracy is inconsistent. His mechanics are inconsistent. He’s kind of what you thought he would be when he came out of North Carolina because he was a one-year starter and didn’t taste a lot of adversity. Now people have figured him out and he’s facing some adversity.

“The defense is certainly winning those games. They’re hoping the offense doesn’t screw them up. He needs to get healthy and get his rhythm back.”

Trubisky ranks 22nd in passer rating at 92.1. He also has rushed 57 times for 386 yards (6.8) and three touchdowns.

“One thing he does really well, he throws a great deep ball,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said in October. “And if things open up in front of him, he’s gone for 30 yards because he’s very athletic and makes guys miss. If you’re rushing, understand it’s not a guy that’s just going to sit in the pocket.”



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The post Scouting the opponent: Bears are a rare favorite over Packers appeared first on Bob McGinn Football.

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TW

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I think there's an easy way to condense this. The Bears are a better team at this point than the Packers.
 

Keg Man

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The Bears with Trubisky as QB went all in on Mack. The Pack with Rodgers did not and bet on their ability to draft a player who makes as large an impact.

Mack was, is, and appears that he will continue to be a "Reggie White" type impact player (yes, I stole that). Mack's presence, intensity, and pressure made a very good defense fantastic. I believe Mack would have at least improved our defense to very very good.

I fear that this one bet on our ability to draft a player rather than trade for the "sure" thing will have the Bears on paper better than the Pack for years.

I think we get crushed, and Rodgers bruises will make it look like he's wearing a Bears' Jersey.

Hope to hell I'm wrong, but I think they took our torch.
 

Packinatl

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The Bears with Trubisky as QB went all in on Mack. The Pack with Rodgers did not and bet on their ability to draft a player who makes as large an impact.

Mack was, is, and appears that he will continue to be a "Reggie White" type impact player (yes, I stole that). Mack's presence, intensity, and pressure made a very good defense fantastic. I believe Mack would have at least improved our defense to very very good.

I fear that this one bet on our ability to draft a player rather than trade for the "sure" thing will have the Bears on paper better than the Pack for years.
.
Agree with this and let me add Mack was very much a financial decision than betting on a draft pick. I know they are tied together in a sense but the financial part was the key driver...JMHO
 

GBP4EVER

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Bears also have QB on rookie deal makes it a lot easier to fit guys like Mack into budget. With Rodgers who was not going to take a team friendly deal limits what you can do in other area's Packers trade for and sign Mack and with Rodgers and other few guys above 10 million a year you have 30+ guys who will need to be on rookie deals.
 

Packinatl

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Bears also have QB on rookie deal makes it a lot easier to fit guys like Mack into budget. With Rodgers who was not going to take a team friendly deal limits what you can do in other area's Packers trade for and sign Mack and with Rodgers and other few guys above 10 million a year you have 30+ guys who will need to be on rookie deals.
We had the cap space it was workable, it was more signing bonus / cash flow. Gute reached out so it was not for lack of interest, he knew what the compensation parameters were This team is in win now mode with the Rodgers singing, be aggressive. Not conservative
 

57packer

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I disagree about it being a cash flow decision. I agree with GBP - they didn't want to up the ante on draft pick compensation.

If this had been strictly a cash flow issue why would they even have made the offer they did? What if it had been the offer Oakland had taken? You're not going to back down later. I think they were prepared to spend the money - knowing full well that there were few, if any, signing bonuses for the next couple of years. There was time to restore the cash reserves.
 

Packinatl

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I disagree about it being a cash flow decision. I agree with GBP - they didn't want to up the ante on draft pick compensation.

If this had been strictly a cash flow issue why would they even have made the offer they did? What if it had been the offer Oakland had taken? You're not going to back down later. I think they were prepared to spend the money - knowing full well that there were few, if any, signing bonuses for the next couple of years. There was time to restore the cash reserves.
The negotiations on this deal were on parallel paths One agree with Oakland on compensation and also agreeing with Mack on compensation. You agree 1st with Oakland They both have to work. The picks were IMO not that steep considering what Chicago got back. You basically gave 1.5 #1. No brainer, you knew what your getting minimal risk. Sure maybe the #1 from Chicago was projected to be higher but I don’t think it’s that significant

You just have a significant SB to Rodgers, are you willing to cut another check for $60m to Mack? Also the #1 pick was also cheaper and you have financial certainty for 5 years. Your betting your #1 pick you keep is as productive as Mack or better. Not doing the deal gave you financial certainty but not from a production side. If you are in a win now mode why not be get aggressive
 

TW

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I heard a similar argument years ago when the Minnesota Vikings traded away:

  • LB Jesse Solomon
  • LB David Howard
  • CB Issiac Holt
  • RB Darrin Nelson
  • DE Alex Stewart
  • Minnesota's 1st round pick in 1990
  • Minnesota's 2nd round pick in 1990
  • Minnesota's 6th round pick in 1990
  • Minnesota's 1st round pick in 1991 (conditional on cutting Solomon)
  • Minnesota's 2nd round pick in 1991 (conditional on cutting Howard)
  • Minnesota's 1st round pick in 1992 (conditional on cutting Holt)
  • Minnesota's 2nd round pick in 1992 (conditional on cutting Nelson)
  • Minnesota's 3rd round pick in 1992 (conditional on cutting Stewart)
to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for
  • RB Herschel Walker
  • Dallas's 3rd round pick in 1990
  • Dallas's 10th round pick in 1990
  • Dallas's 3rd round pick in 1991

As good as Mack is, one injury can make the trade look like a franchise buster. They gambled, and if they don't get results for it beyond this year, the fans will be clamoring as to how bad the deal was.

I realize draft picks are a crap shoot, but so is the health of Mack. You don't know what will happen, game to game.
 

TW

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1988 Vikings 11-5 No Herschel Walker
1989 Vikings 10-6 Walker's stats 669 - 5
1990 Vikings 6 -10 Walker's stats 770 - 5
1991 Vikings 8 - 8 Walker's stats 825 - 10
1992 Vikings 11-5 Walker is gone!

Despite giving up so much of their drafts over that period of time, and Walker being a wash out based on what they'd projected, the Vikings did have some productive seasons. The one thing missing of course was a Lombardi Trophy.

I've often wondered, had the Vikings not made this trade with the Cowboys, would they have had a ring? I think that's probably the case.
 
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