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Eric Goska column: Rodgers' arm may have cooled, but Bears in worse shape

Dec. 23, 2011
 
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) shows his frustration after fumbling the ball in the first quarter during Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) shows his frustration after fumbling the ball in the first quarter during Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. / File/Press-Gazette

Cooling off

Teams with the greatest declines in passer rating from the first half of 2011 (Games 1-8) to the second half (9-14).

Change | Team | G1-8 | G9-14

-32.4 | Bears | 85.6 | 53.2

-26.4 | Bills | 90.4 | 64.0

-19.4 | Packers | 127.1 | 107.7

-16.1 | Eagles | 80.9 | 64.8

-15.1 | 49ers | 97.8 | 82.7

-15.0 | Giants | 98.8 | 83.8

-15.0 | Titans | 89.9 | 74.9

More

More than temperatures have fallen as Old Man Winter again has gripped the upper Midwest. Passer ratings for the NFL teams playing on Christmas Day have declined as well.

As the mercury has inched downward, so too have the passing efficiencies of the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers. But these slides tend to involve metaphorical rather than meteorological cooling.

The Bears’ passer rating has tumbled an NFL-leading 32.4 points since the first half of the season ended. The Packers’ downturn (minus-19.4 points) has been less precipitous, but could be cause for concern because teams prefer to heat up as the playoffs approach.

Green Bay has had more room to fall. Its 127.1 mark through eight weeks was one of the highest in league history.

Chicago’s midterm passer rating of 85.6 wasn’t nearly as impressive. But the plunge it has taken since has been significant.

The Bears’ rating these past six weeks (53.2) brings up the rear. The Bills (64.0) are their nearest competitor.

Jay Cutler started the first 10 games for Chicago. During that time, he compiled a passer rating of 85.7.

Cutler twice earned ratings of better than 100. In opening the season, he threw for 312 yards with two TDs and an interception (107.8 rating) in a 30-12 win over the Falcons. Five weeks later, he was interception-free while throwing for 267 yards and two TDs as the Bears routed the Vikings 39-10.

Cutler finished with a rating of better than 90 on three other occasions. Chicago won two of those games with the only loss a 24-13 setback to the Lions.

On Nov. 20 Cutler fractured the thumb on his throwing hand. He reportedly suffered the injury after attempting to tackle Antoine Cason after the San Diego cornerback intercepted a pass intended for Johnny Knox.

Caleb Hanie replaced Cutler and started the last four games for Chicago. The undrafted free agent hasn’t measured up.

Packers fans will remember Hanie from the 2010 NFC championship game. Entering the game late in the third quarter after Cutler was injured (knee) and Todd Collins proved ineffective (0-for-4), Hanie drove Chicago to two touchdowns and was advancing on a possible third before throwing a second interception with 37 seconds left.

With Hanie as the starter, the Bears have lost four straight. Chicago has been outscored 86-47 in those games and is one loss away from matching the longest losing streak under coach Lovie Smith.

Hanie’s passer rating is an abysmal 41.8. Statistically, his worst showings came at home against Kansas City (23.8 rating) and Seattle (33.3).

With Hanie at the controls, the Bears have gotten worse in all four components that factor into passer rating. Perhaps most troublesome is interception percentage, which has jumped from 2.3 percent in the first eight games to 7.1 percent in the last six.

Green Bay’s slide was always a possibility given the incredible level to which quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his receivers elevated the passing game. The team’s rating after eight games was 26.5 points higher than second-place New Orleans.

After opening with a rating of better than 110 in 11 straight games, Rodgers has performed below that level in each of the last three. Since his 120.2 rating against the Lions on Thanksgiving, he’s trending downward with marks of 106.2 (Giants), 96.7 (Raiders) and 80.1 (Chiefs).

Rodgers has tailed off in three of the four categories that compose passer rating. The one area of slight improvement: interception percentage which has decreased from 1.5 to 1.4 percent.

In looking to improve its passing attack, Chicago has opted to go with Josh McCown against the Packers. It will be his first start since 2007 for the quarterback who broke in with the Cardinals in 2002.

A change at quarterback is out of the question for Green Bay. Improvement will have to come via better protection from its banged-up offensive line and fewer drops from its receiving corps.

Even if all goes according to plan for both teams, it is quite possible passer ratings won’t take off Sunday. In the 15 regular-season December meetings that have taken place since 1998 between these rivals, neither the Packers (74.3 rating) nor the Bears (57.0) have done much to dispel the chill that arrives when late fall turns to winter.

Extra point

The teams that have produced the greatest increase in passer rating from the first half of the season are the Cowboys (+27.1), the Saints (+20.3) and the Patriots (+17.1).

Regular-season series

Overall: Chicago leads 91-84-6.

At Lambeau Field: Packers lead 30-22.

Starting quarterbacks

Packers: Aaron Rodgers (40-21 overall; 5-2 vs. Chicago).

Bears: Josh McCown (12-19; 0-1 vs. Green Bay).

Once a Bear, now a Packer

There are no former Bears on the Packers’ roster.

Once a Packer, now a Bear

There are no former Packers on the Bears’ roster.

— Eric Goska is a Press-Gazette correspondent, a Packers historian and the author of “Green Bay Packers: A Measure of Greatness,” a statistical history of the Packers. Email him at aegoska@sbcglobal.net.

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