3TFO: Bears @ Packers, Week 9
Due to the Bears’ and Packers’ common propensity for injuries, the game will be lacking some of the star power the league had expected when scheduling this game for Monday Night Football. Three Week 1 starters are out for the Packers and possibly as many as three more, while the Bears will be without at least four of their own starters. Only a half game separates the two teams in the standings, yet they seem to be going in opposite directions. The Packers have won four straight games since their bye week while the Bears have lost three of their last four. However, if there is one thing we know about the rivalry, it is that either team can win regardless of their performances during the rest of the season. Let’s take a look at a few important matchups to watch for on Monday night.
Can the Bears Slow Lacy?
With major injuries to the Packers’ receiving corps, the emergence of Eddie Lacy could not have come at a better time. Lacy leads the league with 395 rushing yards since returning in Week 5 from his own injury. With 15 forced missed tackles and 208 yards after contact on 97 carries, his performance has been hard-earned. Most surprising is that he has been able to perform so well without much help up front. Josh Sitton is the only offensive lineman with a positive run blocking grade (+0.1) over the last four weeks. Lacy could be in store for another big game going against a Bears’ defense whose cumulative run defense grades 31st as a team.
Injuries to the Bears’ front seven have been devastating and it is obvious they are struggling to replace their lost teammates. Opponents have averaged 138.5 rushing yards per game the last four weeks and found the end zone seven times. Corey Wooten has been their best run defender along the defensive line, but knee injuries to Henry Melton and backup Nate Collins have forced the Bears to move him from end to tackle. He has not made a huge impact in the run game since the switch, yet he has not been a liability either. The move has allowed Shea McClellin more playing time at defensive end. Last year’s first-round pick has consistently been overpowered and outmatched as he continues his transition to a down lineman. His -8.5 run defense grade ranks 45th out of 46 4-3 defensive ends. D.J. Williams’s injury has thrust rookie Jon Bostic into a starting role at middle linebacker. Unfortunately his struggles against the run (-3.7) have demonstrated why he did not win the starting job in training camp. Yet the loss of Lance Briggs will hurt the most as he has been one of the most consistent linebackers over the last several years, especially against the run. This year has been no different, ranking fourth among 4-3 outside linebackers with an 11.2% Run Stop Percentage.
Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett
Jay Cutler’s absence from the lineup will be a detriment to the Bears’ offense, but they are certainly capable of winning with Josh McCown under center. McCown filled in well against the Redskins, finishing the game with a remarkable 88.2% Accuracy Percentage and a +2.6 grade. To take some of the pressure off McCown, the Bears need to get Matt Forte going early. Forte has created a few big plays this year with three 50-plus-yard runs, yet only 27 of his 65 first-down carries have gone for more than three yards. Forte has a challenge ahead of him as the Bears face a Packers’ defense that is allowing a fourth-best 83.6 rushing yards per game, despite several injuries in the front seven. Even though Mike Daniels has been limited in playing time, his emergence has been an asset to the Packers. His 13.0% Run Stop Percentage ranks second in the league among 3-4 defensive ends.
Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey will surely command the attention of the Packers’ secondary, but Forte, along with Martellus Bennett, could be the key to success. Forte’s 35 receptions are fourth-most for running backs while also ranking in the Top 10 for yards and yards after the catch. Although the amount of targets to Bennett have been somewhat inconsistent, he has been incredibly effective when getting the ball. Of Bennett’s 32 receptions, 22 have gone for first downs, including six on third down. He also leads all tight ends with 13 forced missed tackles.
The Packers have done well containing running backs in the passing game. Detroit possesses one of the most prolific receiving backfields and the Packers held them to 55 yards on eight catches. Still, they have not had the same success against tight ends. Opposing tight ends have averaged over six receptions and 73.5 yards per game against the Packers. Tight ends have also accounted for five of the twelve receiving touchdowns allowed by Green Bay. A.J. Hawk and M.D. Jennings have been the biggest offenders, with Hawk allowing eight catches and Jennings giving up two of the touchdowns. Bennett’s combination of size and speed should give him the advantage against anyone the Packers assign to cover him.
Nelson vs. Tillman and Jennings
Jordy Nelson has developed into one of the most reliable receivers in the league. He is on pace for career-highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns. His 75% catch percentage is the second-highest for wide receivers with at least 40 targets. Surprisingly, Nelson has averaged fewer targets per game the last two weeks (without James Jones and Randall Cobb) than the first five games. He has been as effective as he has ever been, with 14 receptions on 18 targets for 238 yards and four touchdowns. Nelson’s two touchdown catches last week against the Vikings shows the level in which Aaron Rodgers and Nelson are on the same page.
Nelson will have arguably his toughest test yet as he faces Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, one of the best cornerback tandems in the league. Tillman is not performing as well as last season, but still has intercepted three passes in six games. Tillman typically plays well against the Packers though, as evidenced by allowing 50-plus receiving yards in only one game since 2008. On the other side, Jennings is attempting to follow up his nine-interception season a year ago with another impressive season. Although he hasn’t had the same impact as last season, he is holding opposing quarterbacks to a 59.3 QB Rating and 59.5% completion rate when targeted. This matchup will be one of the most important, as well as entertaining, battles to watch this week.
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