The Bears find themselves with their backs up against the wall as they head into Sunday's divisional showdown with the Green Bay Packers. They've lost several key players to injury and after a rough month, Chicago now finds itself in a do-or-die situation.
They welcome a Green Bay Packers team getting back the key to their pass rush in Clay Matthews—a key which was instrumental in hammering Jay Cutler into the ground from their previous matchup in Week 2.
Quite simply, the Bears cannot have a repeat of Week 2, when Cutler was sacked almost at will. This is especially true now given that he will be playing with a sprained MCL (h/t NBC Sports) and should have issues with mobility.
They cannot afford to lose Cutler, because while Jason Campbell is an OK backup quarterback, what we've seen from him during the last few games that he's played in is that he in no way replaces what Cutler can do.
Though Matthews is back, he's still dealing with the hamstring issue that took him down in the first place. Still, even if they meter his reps out, Matthews adds an extra wrinkle to the Packers defensive attack.
For too long the Bears have allowed other teams to impose their will on the game. It's time for both sides of the to get back to what they did so well not that long ago.
The Bears have actually done a fairly solid job protecting Cutler, despite injury issues along the offensive line, and that has to continue.
However, alongside the three-step drops and short crossing routes which have kept him going in the last few weeks, Cutler needs to be handing the ball off more.
Matt Forte is a tremendous running back who is just not being utilized enough. His carries and his targets are down under offensive coordinator Mike Tice but this week, they need to jump back up.
Even with Matthews back, the Packers are very vulnerable against the run.
Yes, the Bears need to keep Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery involved, but the key to this game is Forte, especially on the ground.
Much like the Vikings did to Chicago last week, the Bears need to attack the middle of the Packers defense early.
This will do two things.
First of all, it will keep the pass rush off of Cutler and relieve some of the pressure off of the offensive line. If the Packers have to focus on Forte either running off tackle or sliding out onto the flat for a screen pass or if they need to assume that every time he lines up anywhere in the backfield that he could take the ball and head for the edge, they will be unable to line up and tee off on Cutler.
Secondly, it will immediately set the tone for the game and it will set it according to the Bears' terms. Last past two weeks, the Bears have allowed other teams to set the tempo and tone for the game. Two weeks ago, the defense collapsed when Seattle marched Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson down their throat.
The exact same thing happened against them last week when the Vikings unleashed Adrian Peterson.
In both instances, their opponents wore down the defense by pounding the ball on the ground. For Seattle, they applied it most effectively in the second half. For Minnesota, who have a truly special back in Peterson, they hit them hard early and then applied the pressure evenly across the rest of the game.
The Bears need to reverse that.
They need to be the ones who strike early and they need to be the ones to wear down the opposing defense.
Though the Packers' secondary is banged up, it is still effective enough to be a problem if Matthews and company can apply a little pressure.
What it's not good at, in the least, is stopping the run.
Along with everything else, running the ball will also keep Aaron Rodgers off the field.
Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are a tremendous cornerback duo, but with the amount of weapons the Packers have, but they can be overcome.
It would be better for Chicago if they can limit Rodgers' presence on the field.
And they can do that the most effectively by using Forte more heavily than they have all season long.
Tice and head coach Lovie Smith have yet to show a real interest in running the ball in a significant manner. But with Cutler injured, the offensive line struggling and the Bears in danger of missing the playoffs, it's time to go in a new direction.
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