Tony: Wes, I’ve been spending a lot of sleepless nights since last Thursday wondering about how the ground game for the Packers lines up against the run defense of our Bears. I wake up, clutching the pillow in my buddy’s guest room wondering if the Bears could patch up the defense enough to take away the combo of Aaron Jones and Jamal Williams. The last time these two teams met in week 1, the Bears held Green Bay in check, but now they are missing several key pieces that will have an impact.
Both starting inside linebackers in Chicago’s 3-4 front are out for the season, and the hope is that Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis fill in without a significant drop in production. Kwit has looked good, and Pierre-Louis graded out as the 6th highest individual player last week from PFF, going against a stout Cowboys rushing attack. There is still hope. Akiem Hicks returns this week too, which should not only open up run stuffing lanes for the backup linebackers, but hopefully will also free Eddie Goldman to show up on a stat sheet and possibly be on the field for more than 50% of snaps again. This defense stops the run best when Hicks clogs the middle and lets Leonard Floyd do what he does best: setting the edge in the run game. In spite of Floyd’s lack of consistent pass pressure, he has done fairly well in the run game based on the eye test alone.
Hicks is the secret to stopping Green Bay’s rushing offense, since the defense didn’t allow 100 team rushing yards in the beginning of this season with him anchoring the line. His presence opens up everything for everyone else, and the hope is they can build off of holding Dallas to 82 ground yards and shut down the Pack.
Green Bay averages 107 yards on the ground per game this season, but it’s been uneven. For every 47-yard game, they can go off for 120 or more depending on the match up. However, the Bears aren’t Carolina, or Washington, or Detroit. This is a tough match up for the Packers on the ground, and they might be looking to target the Bears secondary that should be missing at least one starter. However, if the Bears shut down the run game, it allows the pass rushers to pin their ears back (a phrase I’ve never understood) and with Hicks in the lineup even Leonard Floyd might find himself in the backfield again.
The two teams meeting on Sunday are far different than the ones that met in the first game of the season. This game is the second time this year we will have seen a Chuck Pagano coached Bears defense go against a divisional opponent for their second match up, so it will be interesting to see if the game plan changes or if the Bears can finally score against Green Bay’s defense and put their own D in a position to win.
Wes: Man, I am excited to see Akiem Hicks back in the center of that line come Sunday. I’m also excited to see what the new old look Bears offense can do on the ground against a suspect Green Bay rushing defense.
The Packers come in allowing 122 and change on the ground for the season, including a few 150+ yard efforts. That 150 number is fitting, as the Bears are coming off a 151-yard rushing effort in Week 14 – easily their best of the season. Can they keep it up against the Packers that clearly have problems with the run? TO THE MOUNTAIN TOP.
As you noted early with the Green Bay running game on offense, the defense is equally as up and down. They’ve held a few teams under 90 yards, but they’ve also given of some huge days on the ground with team totals over 150 in nearly half their games. The last time these two met, in Week 1, the Packers held the Bears to a scant 46 yards on the ground. Take out that effort as we all know Matt Nagy abandoned the run completely, and the Packers are probably a few notches lower from their already poor ranking.
The Bears have finally been moving the pocket and using more motion and play action, to positive results from Mitchell Trubisky, David Montgomery and the rest of the Bears rushing attack. Mitch was vocal about not doing enough of what he likes a month or so ago, and it’s coincided with an uptick in his own rushing and paying dividends for a three game win streak. Mitch turned in his best overall effort of the season, possibly of his short career, including 63 yards and a TD on the ground. All that movement helped to shuffle the Cowboy linebackers pre-snap, allowing Trubs and Monty to stay away from Jaylon Smith as often as possible.
The Bears would be wise to continue this effort, though the players they’re likely to try and avoid are OLBs Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. The Smiths were the Packers big off-season signings, costing a ton of money but showing out as well worth it in their first seasons in Green Bay. The two have been great at getting into opposing backfields, combining for 93 tackles, 21.5 sacks and 23.5 TFL through 13 games. Chicago could use the movement and also pull guards to run right by either edge as they look to fly around the Tackles and into the backfield.
The Bears coaching staff has praised recent O-Line plug in Rashaad Coward over the last few week, and he can solidify his place on this team and into 2020 with another big performance Sunday afternoon. Getting Tarik Cohen involved a little more in these types of plays, running delays or misdirection right by one of the EDGE rushers, could also pay big dividends for the Chicago offense.
Chicago should easily blow past the 46 yards gained in Week 1, and have a legit shot to steal a game in Green Bay and keep the slim playoff hopes alive. Nagy just has to not be too proud and stick with what’s gotten him here by committing to the ground game no regardless of a slow or sluggish start. Here’s to hoping he’s learned from his early season mistakes.