One week after dismantling their biggest current rival in the NFC, the surging Packers (7-6) will now travel to Chicago to take on the franchise’s oldest rival for the second time this season.
The previous game between these teams was an ugly week 7 affair on Thursday night, but both squads were playing significantly worse than they are right now.
The Packers had just lost Eddie Lacy to the IR a week earlier, and the offense still looked mired in the slump it was in for much of last season. Rodgers was in check-down mode all night, totaling 326 yards on 56 attempts (an average of just 5.8 yards per attempt), and the Packers would go on to lose their next four games following the win.
It’s hard to believe the offense that took the field that night is made up of the same players that are lighting up scoreboards today.
Despite dealing with multiple leg injuries, Aaron Rodgers has been unstoppable with a 100+ QB rating in four consecutive games, thanks primarily to the resurgence of Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson (who have combined for 21 TDs so far this season). Even the running game has shown signs of life, with Montgomery and Michael combining for 77 yards last week against Seattle.
The Bears team (3-10) that takes the field this Sunday will also look much different than the one the Packers saw back in October.
It was in that game that Chicago’s original backup QB Brian Hoyer went down with an injury, forcing current starter Matt Barkley into action. Barkley has done a serviceable job since taking over and will get a big boost from WR Alshon Jeffrey, who had been suspended the last four games.
The strength of this Chicago team may be a defense that’s been surprisingly stingy at home, allowing only 17 points per game despite a number of missing starters. Led by old Packers nemesis Vic Fangio (the former defensive coordinator of Harbaugh’s Niners teams), the competitive Bears defense has been playing over its head all year.
Here is a closer look at the key players and match-ups for this game.
The real offensive difference-maker for Chicago is running back Jordan Howard, who has averaged 102.8 rushing yards per game since managing only 22 in the first matchup. He’s been one of the best and most efficient running backs in the league since then, averaging 5.1 YPC.
With Nick Perry highly questionable to play and ex-Packer Josh Sitton recovered from his ankle issues, the GB run defense will be facing a much stronger unit than the one they saw in Week 7. ILB Jake Ryan has been playing limited snaps while recovering from an ankle injury, but may be called on more this week than he was against Seattle. SS Morgan Burnett will also likely play significant snaps in the box to offer additional run support.
The Thursday night Week 7 game was a national coming out party of sorts for Montgomery: The Running Back. He amassed a career-high 60 rushing yards on just 9 attempts and added 66 receiving yards on 10 catches (mostly out of the backfield). McCarthy also removed any doubt this week about Montgomery’s role going forward when he definitively declared Ty as a running back.
On the other side of the field, the Bears will be missing both starting ILB’s Jerrell Freeman (suspension) and Danny Trevathan (knee injury), forcing fourth-round rookie Kwiatkoski and UDFA John Timu into feature roles. Needless to say, this is a significant mismatch that McCarthy will be looking to exploit early and often.
A-rod’s mobility is going to be significantly hindered as he deals with both hamstring and calf issues, especially considering the subzero temperatures that are expected in Chicago. The Packers’ offensive line has been nothing short of outstanding all season but will now need to work even harder to give Rodgers a clean pocket to work with.
Leonard Floyd, the freakishly athletic pass rusher taken 9th overall in this year’s draft, managed 2 sacks and a fumble recovery back in week 7. It’s a safe bet that Bulaga, who is having an All-Pro worthy season as a pass blocker, will be looking to blank Floyd on the stat sheet this week.
Although the Bears have been playing tough football of late and nearly upset the Lions in Detroit last week, I think the Packers continue rolling in Chicago, 21-9.
Go Pack Go.
Follow Faris on Twitter @Chef_BoyarG!