ReFo: Bears at Packers, Week 9
In what turned out to be a battle of backup quarterbacks, the Bears got their season back on track with a fine win over the Packers as Ben Stockwell explains.
ReFo: Bears at Packers, Week 9
The decimation of the Green Bay Packers‘ passing game was capped off last night and the Chicago Bears took full advantage of the early departure of Aaron Rodgers to seal a victory that sets up a three-way tie at the top of the NFC North as the season hits the halfway stage.
Packer fans now find themselves in a similar situation to Bears fans only two weeks ago, awaiting news on how severe the injury to their starting quarterback is, when they’ll get him back and trying to mentally picture what will be left to fight for by the time that happens.
In the battle of No. 2 quarterbacks there was a clear victor with Josh McCown again belying his status as Jay Cutler’s backup with an excellent performance. Utlizing the Bears’ balanced attack, McCown led Chicago to a victory that could carry even greater significance at the end of the season for both teams.
For the Packers, this is really now a nervous waiting game, there were isolated strong performances on offense but the defense was bested and as of right now you feel their season hangs in the balance on the severity of Rodgers’ injury. If he is down for a significant period of time we will get to see just how well and how far Eddie Lacy can carry this offense in what is suddenly a tight and exciting race for the NFC North crown.
Chicago – Three Performances of Note
A Tale of Two Drives
At the end of each half in this game the Chicago Bears made two statement drives on offense, as impressive as you’re likely to see this season. Though neither drive ended in a touchdown, the drives produced, with a balance of run and pass, chewed up both the clock and the yards that would have made it tough on the Packers to answer even if Aaron Rodgers were still in the game. At the end of the first half the Bears started from their own goal line with 4:16 left in the period, driving 93 yards to establish a seven point lead before the half. Prior to the two-minute warning, Matt Forte collected 27 yards on three carries to take the Bears from inside their own 20 towards midfield, potentially changing their outlook from just getting to the half with a four point lead to looking to extend the half. After that, McCown picked up the yards with his arms and his legs, gaining the final 20 yards on a scramble up the left side to set up Robbie Gould’s 24-yard score.
If that drive to end the first half was impressive then their final drive of the game sucked the life out of the Packers. Again it was Forte getting things started stiff-arming his way out off right end on the opening play for a 12-yard drive starter before converting a fourth down, beating two defenders in the backfield off left end for a 3-yard conversion with 6 yards after contact. From there, with sprinklings of the pass to keep the Packers honest, not allowing them to zero in completely on the run, the Bears made excellent use of inside runs in combination with rushes off end using the combination of their pulling linemen and physical receivers pinning defenders inside to spring Matt Forte and Michael Bush on key gain after key gain off end. Without Rodgers ready to take the field if they played there was less of a threat if the Bears’ grinding drive failed, but the Chicago offense showed no interest in allowing Seneca Wallace the chance to play the role of the heroic backup coming off the bench to lead the Packers to victory.
More Safety Struggles in Run Defense
This isn’t the first time this season the Bears’ safeties have been faced with a physical running back steaming at them through the front seven, but unlike against the Giants a few weeks back when they chopped down Brandon Jacobs every time both Chris Conte (-2.7 run defense) and Major Wright (-4.7 run defense) came up short in this game. Combining to miss five tackles against the run, the Bears’ starting safeties have now missed 14 tackles against the run this season and are both among the league’s worst safeties in our Tackling Efficiency metric.
On top of their tackling woes both were guilty of poor angles at times with Wright and Conte combining to help almost gift wrap Eddie Lacy his 56-yard rumble with a combination of a poor angle in the box and a missed tackle downfield, only spared giving up the touchdown on the play by Tim Jennings running down Lacy inside the 1-yard line.
Veteran Linemen Rise to the Occasion
This may have been the first time that Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson have played in a Bears-Packers game, but they both rose to the game with terrific efforts in the trenches. Bushrod (+3.5) shone in pass protection ensuring that the Packers’ depleted pass rush didn’t get any cheap pressure surrendering only one hurry to Andy Mulumba spinning inside of him to force an awkward throw for Josh McCown.
Slauson, meanwhile, shone as a run blocker (+4.7) earning the highest single game run block grade of his career to date. The former Jet shone both in line and playing a key role as the pulling lineman for a very effective trap play that the Bears pulled out a handful of times in the game. It failed the first time when Roberto Garza missed his block on B.J. Raji, but after that it was a consistent success with Slauson pulling to wipe players like Johnny Jolly and Mike Daniels to the outside of the gap. Slauson capped his night by getting just enough of A.J. Hawk on a second level block to slow his pursuit on Matt Forte’s 15-yard carry with 3:39 left in the fourth quarter that sent the Bears into field goal range just outside the two-minute warning.
Green Bay – Three Performances of Note
Forcing missed tackles for fun
When we analyzed this year’s BCS national title game between Alabama and Notre Dame back in January, we charted Eddie Lacy with a slew of missed tackles and last night in his bow against the Packers’ biggest rivals he hit that vein of form again. A career-high nine missed tackles forced on the ground helped him to collect 150 yards with 4.6 yards per carry coming after initial contact proving tough to take down for defenders who both missed and finished tackles on him.
Lacy had success both inside and out driving the Packers’ ground game with James Starks again providing able support and capitalizing on a favorable situation to rumble 32 yards for the Packers’ first score. With the loss of Rodgers at quarterback more pressure will come on Lacy’s shoulders, but the Bears’ dominant drive to end the game robbed him of the opportunity to get to work in this role as the spearhead of the offense this time out. Strong blocking from Josh Sitton and Don Barclay (after he moved to guard) proved vital contributions and if the Packers are without Rodgers for an extended period they will need Lacy and his line to continue this form.
Pass Rush Continues to Hurt
Once again with the exception of Mike Neal (six pressures, +1.4) the Packers were sorely lacking any sort of identity as a pass rushing unit this week. With a 2.8 average time to release and 29 of 43 drop-backs with a hold of 2.6 seconds or more, they had plenty of time to get home, but they just couldn’t do it and the one-dimensional nature of the Green Bay pass rush is really coming back to hurt them in the absence of their star pass rusher.
The Packers applied pressure to McCown on only 13 of his 43 drop-backs (taking him down once) but McCown was able to rise above what pressure they could generate with a +2.4 PFF grade most notably born out in the opening score when he shrugged off immediate pressure from Neal to launch a ball to Brandon Marshall for the Bears’ touchdown. In that one moment, failing to finish one of their 15 pressures on the night, the Packers surrendered seven points instead of forcing a field goal attempt of 45+ yards. If you aren’t getting much pressure you need to convert it and with only one sack and three hits the Packers weren’t doing it.
Struggling to Match up to the Pitch-outs
As previously stated, the Bears like to use pitches and their physical wide receivers to get runs to the outside quickly and the Packers didn’t tackle this part of the Bears’ ground game adequately last night. On 12 carries off end, the Bears racked up 79 yards with a trio of missed tackles and carries in excess of 10 yards in each direction. On the final drive, Nate Palmer was sealed by Brandon Marshall on two such pitch-outs while Mike Neal and Andy Mulumba also had trouble dealing with these blocks from receivers, tight ends and extra linemen. The struggles to widen these runs was extended to A.J. Hawk inside who had trouble quickly diagnosing and flowing to the plays, getting sealed or slowed by interior blockers climbing to the second level to cut off his pursuit on more than a couple of occasions. They won’t face a more proficient team on these plays all season, but their inability to counter them played a crucial role in the momentum of the Bears’ final drive.
– After another trio of missed tackles last night Major Wright has already surpassed his missed tackle total from last season (10) by three.
– Five of Eddie Lacy’s nine forced missed tackles came on his eight carries through the A-gaps which netted just shy of 5 yards per carry.
– On his 24 carries, Matt Forte registered 3.0 yards per carry before contact sometime through his own work outrunning defenders but often through strong work up front by his offensive line.
PFF Game Ball
There were strong performances in front of him on the offensive line but Matt Forte made telling contribution after telling contribution to lead the Bears to victory on the ground and through the air.
Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.