Thursday, September 13, 2012

Packers vs. Bears: week 2 preview and prediction

As Sports Illustrated's Peter King said Wednesday on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption, tonight's game at Lambeau Field versus Da Bearz is about as close to a must-win game for the Packers as a team can have in just the second week of the season.

After losing at home to the 49ers in the season opener on Sunday, the Pack didn't have much time to straighten out its flaws. Those flaws in the first game were many: no rushing game, little pass protection, an inconsistent pass rush, and pass coverage that was nearly non-existent. Oh, and did I mention poor tackling despite the supposed emphasis on that during training camp? While we're at it, toss in some questionable play calling and time management and it was not the way the Packers were expected to perform. At all. As a result, they trail each of the other teams in the division by a game. Yes, even the ViQueens (shudder!).

It's only the first game, of course. But this is where the sense of urgency that Mr. King referred to comes into play: lose this game and after just two games into the season the Pack would already be down to Da Bearz by two games. Not good.

The Packers need this game. They're at home, on a national stage. Again. There are lots of new and young players who are obviously still trying to understand what it takes to play in the NFL and for the Green Bay Packers. There's plenty of veteran leadership on the field and in the locker room, so that will not be an issue. Performance is what it's about. The offensive line needs to get some push and open some holes so that Cedric Benson can one-up his old know he is looking forward to that opportunity. And along these same lines, head coach Mike McCarthy can't be so quick to bail out on the rushing game. Benson had the ball a total of nine times the entire game Sunday; that's not going to get it done. Obviously, the offense is built around Aaron Rodgers and the receivers, but you still have to have enough of a run threat to keep the defenders honest. By bottling up the run and getting a pass rush with just three or four linemen, the Niners were able to disrupt the Pack's passing game all day long.

Another potential downside for the Pack in this game is that WR Greg Jennings is not expected to play because of a groin injury. The Packers are deep at receiver, as we know. But taking your top receiver off the field in a must-win game is not what you want to have happen. Someone will have to step up. Several receivers will have to step up. And TE Jermichael Finley will need to hang on to the ball when it's tossed his way. He had some great catches against the Niners. But he also had a key drop or two that killed drives.

Now, Da Bearz' defense isn't near the caliber of the Niners. But they will be jacked up, as always, for the game against the Pack. Execution at all levels must be much higher than it was in the opener. If not, the Pack will be 0-2 to start the season.

Still, let us remind ourselves that Da Bearz QB Jay Cutler is 1-7 against the Packers. For whatever reason, the Packers seem to have had his number over the years. One might argue that the odds have got to be in Cutler's favor at some point. Let's hope not. At least not tonight. Of course, being the diplomatic person he is, Cutler also opined on Tuesday that the Packers' defensive backs had better watch out. Let's hope he and his team pay for that challenging remark.

The way to make sure Chicago has a bad night is to get to Cutler often. When that happens, he gets happy feet and starts flinging the ball all over the place. Even fans of Da Bearz admit this (c'mon, you know who you are!) Assuming that the Packers can cover receivers better than they did Sunday, that would bode well for interceptions.

Of course, the receiving corps for Chicago got a significant boost with the addition of Brandon Marshall. If the Pack takes care of Cutler, Marshall will become less of a factor; if they don't get to Cutler, we could see a reprise of Alex Smith's aerial success Sunday. The Packers also have to contain Matt easy task...particularly after the way they let Frank Gore et al scamper about.

Game Prediction
The Packers are favored at the time of this writing by 5.5 points. I'd be happy to see that kind of margin. Many of these games, as all true Packer fans know, are slugfests. Sometimes they are decided by special teams, as this could well be. (Does the name Devin Hester ring a bell? Of course, we can now counter with Randall Cobb, can't we?) This could be a game where everything -- including wounded pride -- kicks in for the Pack. That would be great to see. The oddsmakers have the over-under at 51.5 so they seem to be counting on a shootout.

I think this will be a close one, as the Packers still have way too much to figure out. But I think they will have figured out enough. There will be more offense than defense on both sides.

I'm calling it 27-24 Packers. My good friend, Billy Da Bearz fan, agrees with the oddsmakers and says it's going to be a shootout, and calls it 38-35...for Chicago. (I'll refrain from going into his sad personal history which obviously has led to this wild-eyed hysteria on his part.)

Go Pack Go!!!