ReFo: Packers @ Bears, Week 15
It felt like there were two different games that happened in Chicago on Sunday. One from the first whistle to mid-way into the second quarter, where we saw a classic ‘Black-and-Blue’ division battle where both teams tried to establish the run and defenses controlled the game. Once Chicago scored their first touchdown, it was a whole different ball game. The Packers responded with three Aaron Rodgers-to-James Jones touchdowns over the next 15 minutes of play to take control of the game, and ultimately, the division.
It was a long climb for the Packers to return to the division championship after losing three of their first five games, but the Bears have been in freefall after a handful of injuries coming at the hardest part of their schedule.
For now the people of Wisconsin have the bragging rights, but the Bears have the Cardinals and Lions on the schedule, so it isn’t too far-fetched to think that this might not be the last we see of the oldest rivalry in the NFL.
Green Bay – Three Performances of Note
The Return of the Raji
The game plan for Chicago early on was run over and over until the Packers could do something to stop them. B.J. Raji (+4.4) was coming off his highest-rated game in the past two years in terms of run defense, and managed to play even better in this game. It started on the very first play where he pushed Roberto Garza into the running lane and helped take Matt Forte down for a 2-yard gain. Then he swung right by James Brown to make a tackle for a loss, which effectively ended the second drive. On the third drive he aggressively went to the outside of Gabe Carimi, and would have likely made another tackle for a loss had it not been for Carimi holding him — that penalty prevented Chicago from getting another first down on the drive. While the Bears had a number of positive running plays early in the game, all it takes is one big stop to kill a drive, and Raji was highly responsible for Chicago putting up zero points in the first quarter.
Offensive Line Philosophy
When Bryan Bulaga was lost for the year in Week 8, the Packers moved T.J. Lang (+1.7) from left guard to right tackle, and inserted Evan Dietrich-Smith (+0.5) into the starting lineup at left guard. In Week 13, when Lang was lost for a game and a half, it was undrafted rookie Dan Barclay (+1.7) who replaced him at tackle. With Lang healthy, the Packers decided to move him back to his usual left guard spot, which left Barclay as a starter instead of Dietrich-Smith. Dietrich-Smith is the best run blocker of the three, and without him the run game struggled in this one. The trio of backs in Green Bay averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, despite the Bears missing a number of players in their front seven.
On the other hand, Lang allowed just a single hurry after struggling in pass protection in previous games at right tackle. Barclay also had his best game so far, allowing just two pressures in his 45 pass blocks after allowing eight in his previous 57. It looks like this move helps the pass game and hurts the run game, but it’s hard to blame the Packers for wanting to boost their pass protection when Aaron Rodgers had a quarterback rating of 130.4 when he was not under pressure this week.
Shields Defends His Start
For most of the middle part of the season, the Packers have been without Sam Shields (+2.4) and Charles Woodson. This has allowed Casey Hayward to emerge as the potential defensive Rookie of the Year, while second-year corner Davon House has also shown sparks of quality play. Despite the excellent efforts of the young players, Shields was given the start which restricted Hayward to the nickel defense and House to play on special teams only. While you could argue with the decision prior to the game, it’s hard to argue with the results.
Throughout the game Shields was responsible for the Bears’ second receiver, which more often than not was rookie Alshon Jeffery. Over the last 16 minutes of the game, Jeffery had three penalties for offensive pass interference or offensive holding with Shields as the victim. While those three penalties did a lot to kill Chicago’s chances at a comeback, what was more impressive for Shields was that he defended two late passes to Jeffery. On the game, he was thrown at four times, had three total pass defenses, and didn’t allow a catch. While Shields stole the show late in the game, Hayward did what he could to show he still deserved playing time, intercepting the only ball thrown his way — even though it wasn’t a difficult interception to make. Having too many good cornerbacks is a problem every team in the league would like to have.
Chicago – Three Performances of Note
Backups Stepping Up
The Bears were thin in the front seven, with defensive linemen Henry Melton and Shea McClellin, and linebackers Brian Urlacher and Geno Hayes inactive. All a team can do in those situations is bring the next man up and hope they perform. Chicago’s front seven played very well in the run game, and it was in large part due to players playing outside of their typical roles. Journeyman special teams linebacker Blake Costanzo (+2.9) received his first start after six years in the league, and played in the Bears’ base defense. Late in the game when the Packers tried to run out the clock, Costanzo had two tackles for short gains, and one for no gain. Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye was cut by the Bears earlier this season, and then re-signed Wednesday. He rotated in at defensive tackle, and had a tackle for no gain and a tackle for a loss in his limited snaps. Last week Israel Idonije played a significant number of snaps at defensive tackle, and this week was at tackle for 58 of his 67 snaps. At tackle he managed a stop for no gain, and three for short gains. While you would like to see a team be healthy for the playoffs, it’s good to know the Bears have the depth to stop the run.
Musical Offensive Linemen
The Bears have been set this season at left tackle with J’Marcus Webb, and center with Robert Garza. The other three positions haven’t seen as much consistency. Making his third start at right guard was Gabe Carimi who was benched in favor of Chris Spencer soon after an offensive holding penalty. After three straight games with a negative grade at right tackle, Jonathan Scott received another start. He was on pace for his best game of the year after allowing just one hurry, but a hamstring injury took him out of the game, with Carimi coming back in at right tackle to replace him.
While players were coming in and out of the game on the right side of the line, undrafted rookie James Brown saw his first start at left guard. Twice the Packers stunted the defensive end to the outside while bringing Clay Matthews to Brown’s inside. Brown was unable to pick up the block on either, and Matthews came up with the sack. He was equally poor in run blocking with a -3.4 Run Block rating, and after Brown allowed his second sack he was benched in favor of Edwin Williams. For the past several years, the Bears have had problems along the line, and those problems seem to be as bad as ever.
Missing Tim Jennings
For the second straight week, the Bears were without Tim Jennings at cornerback. The absence of Jennings made it even easier for the Packers to avoid throwing in the direction of Charles Tillman, and instead go after the other cornerbacks. Kelvin Hayden played at left cornerback, and D.J. Moore in the slot regardless of which Packers receivers they lined up across from. The Packers’ trio of receivers Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb and James Jones typically got the best of these matchups, catching 10 of the 15 balls thrown their way for 160 yards and two touchdowns. Luckily for Chicago, their next two opponents are the Cardinals and Lions. These are two teams that have one very dangerous weapon at wide receiver to go up against Tillman, and are thin at WR outside of their superstar.
– Jay Cutler attempted only 10 passes that were in the air for 6 yards or more. Only three of those passes were completed, for 46 yards, and he had one interception.
– Bears defensive linemen Corey Wootton, Israel Idonije, Stephen Paea and Julius Peppers all saw 61 or more snaps, which was 80% or more of the team’s defensive snaps. For all four players, this was their season-high, and for all but Paea it was their season-high for snap percentage.
– In his return to the lineup, Clay Matthews had four run stops, which is a season-high for him.
PFF Game Ball
While this was in many ways a team win, B.J. Raji was the player to set the tone for the game while the rest of the players in Green Bay took a quarter to really get rolling.
Follow Nathan on Twitter: @PFF_NateJahnke