GREEN BAY – The 193rd renewal of Packers-Bears, the NFL’s oldest rivalry, is forecast to revert to the lopsidedness of 2014 on Thursday night at Lambeau Field as opposed to the tight competition last season.
On Tuesday, three NFL executives in personnel all predicted that Green Bay would surmount the eight-point spread with ease. They called it big for the Packers: 38-10, 31-17 and 24-10.
“I wouldn’t want to be the Bears after the way the Packers played last week,” an AFC personnel man said. “After getting a wakeup call from the (Tony) Romo-less Cowboys the Packers will rebound with a sound defeat of the (Jay) Cutler-less Bears.”
The Packers, a 30-16 loser to Dallas three days ago, had been beat worse at home just once in a decade.
“There’s no way they can lose to the Bears, can they?” another AFC scout said. “The Bears play their (expletive) off but I’m picking a blowout. The Bears aren’t very good, and I think the quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) will come to play.”
Green Bay (3-2) had a chance to tie the series on a rainy, cold Thanksgiving night a year ago but was stunned, 17-13, at Lambeau Field. If the Packers sweep this year it would be tied (94-94-6) for the first time since October 1933 (11-11-4).
The Bears (1-5) have won two of the last three meetings in Green Bay. In November 2013, backup Josh McCown won as a replacement for the injured Cutler. With Cutler out again, Brian Hoyer will make his fifth straight start.
“I don’t understand them,” another scout said. “Watching that tape their strength is on that offensive line. It speaks to being a run the ball type deal, especially when you have your backup quarterback in there.
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“But it’s been the opposite. They’re chucking the ball, just basically ignoring the run game.
“For a backup quarterback Hoyer has been pretty good. It’s showing up on the stats and making you feel good about where you rank yardage-wise and all that stuff. But I don’t think it’s winning football for this team. Things are so incongruent when I watch them.
“Hoyer throwing for 300 yards, that’s not going to last. No picks? That’s not going to last.”
The Bears blew a 13-point fourth-quarter lead Sunday and lost to visiting Jacksonville, 17-16. Still, one scout handed the motivational edge to the Packers.
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“Desperate teams with all this sky is falling, the end is near stuff, they usually play pretty good and they usually win,” he said. “And they’re playing at home.
“I don’t think the Bears are very good at all. I thought that in preseason and I’m not going to change that.”
When coordinator Adam Gase departed after one season to coach the Dolphins, coach John Fox promoted Dowell Loggains from QB coach. As play-caller, Loggains has slashed the run rate from 45.7% to 34%. It’s a short-passing game stemming off play-action and bootlegs. Pre-snap shifting is pervasive. The Bears rank seventh in yards (375.2), tied for 13th in giveaways (seven) and 31st in points (16.8).
WR Alshon Jeffery (6-3, 218), a five-year starter, isn’t especially sudden or fast (4.48) but has an enormous catching radius and made his mark with acrobatic contested catches downfield. He should be a major weapon in the red zone but has yet to score a TD. Minus Kevin White (out for year, leg), the No. 2 berth has fallen to Cameron Meredith (6-3½, 207), a second-year free agent from Illinois State. He also has 4.48 speed, a 39-inch vertical jump and excellent ability to elude and get north-south after the catch. His bugaboo has been fumbles. Ex-Bronco/Charger Eddie Royal (5-9½, 190), a quick, effective slot, probably won’t play (toe). There’s a major drop-off to Joshua Bellamy (6-0, 211), who has 20 catches in five years. TE Zach Miller (6-4, 243), a dynamic threat at times in 2015, has battled injuries since August and hasn’t been the same player. He has good hands and speed (4.55) but isn’t much of a blocker. Ex-Redskin Logan Paulsen (6-4, 268) is more of a blocker than receiver.
Much depends on if LG Josh Sitton (6-3½, 317) plays. Cut by the Packers on Sept. 3, he limped off late Sunday with an ankle injury. Sitton has been playing well despite a bad shoulder. It’s possible he’ll take a pain-killing injection to line up against his former team. If not, Eric Kush (6-4, 313) will make the second start of a four-year career that has encompassed six teams. Better suited for center, Kush is smart, technically sound and athletic but might lack the strength to play guard. The play of aggressive RG Kyle Long (6-6, 320), the unit’s other headliner, has diminished because of a left shoulder that will require surgery after the season. He has phenomenal movement ability and huge hands (11 inches) but is getting beat too much inside. After the Bears signed Sitton, rookie Cody Whitehair (6-4, 310), a second-round pick, was shifted from guard to center, where starter Hroniss Grasu (knee) had gone on IR. Whitehair does have short arms (32 inches), but with his agility and awareness he’s a keeper. LT Charles Leno (6-4, 305), a seventh-round pick in ’14, is a second-year starter with long arms (34 3/8) and good feet. However, he must get stronger. RT Bobby Massie (6-6, 320), a three-year starter for Arizona, arrived in March for $6.5 million guaranteed. He has arm length (35), athleticism and adequate run-blocking ability, but technical and mental mistakes make him a liability in protection.
With Jay Cutler (sprained right thumb) out, starter Brian Hoyer (6-2, 215) brings in career marks of 85.4 (passer rating) and 16-14 (record) for five teams since entering the NFL as a free agent from Michigan State in ’09. Back then, he ran 5.06 and scored 26 on the Wonderlic intelligence test. He ranks seventh in rating at 100.8. Hoyer has average arm strength, touch and accuracy. He gets rid of the ball fast to the first open man, reading short to long. He’s no threat to run but can step away from pressure. He’s well-liked, tough and emotional. Red-zone ineffectiveness holds him back. Former Eagle Matt Barkley (6-2½, 227) is the backup.
Speedy Jeremy Langford (ankle) will miss a fourth straight game, leaving rookie Jordan Howard (6-0, 222) to start and Ka’Deem Carey (5-9½, 215) to back up. Howard, a fifth-round pick from Indiana, is off to a solid start with a 5.0 average in 66 carries. He’s a downhill, hard-nosed back with thick, strong legs and surprising tackle-breaking ability. Neither Howard nor Carey, a fourth-round pick in ’14, offers much when it comes to run vision and instincts. Carey, a tough guy, is limited by 4.69 speed; Howard ran 4.59. Neither is accomplished in the pass game. FB Paul Lasike (5-10½, 258) is marginal.
Vic Fangio, the plain-talking second-year coordinator, has been an NFL assistant for 30 years. His base is the 3-4 but he plays mostly nickel and some dime. A disciple of Dom Capers, he likes to play quarters coverage and minimize his blitzing. The Bears rank 11th in yards (341.2), 19th in points (23.8) and tied for 19th in takeaways (six).
One of GM Ryan Pace’s best free-agent signings was 5-technique Akiem Hicks (6-4½, 336), who left New England for $5.5 million guaranteed over two years. He uses his long arms (35 1/8), big hands (10¼) and superb strength to shed blockers at the point and separate as a power pass rusher. A Canadian college player, he’s underrated. NT Eddie Goldman (ankle) will miss a fifth straight game, forcing 3-technique Will Sutton (6-0½, 297) to play over center. Sutton does show some quickness and effort but gets overwhelmed too often by double-teams. Former Broncos DE Mitch Unrein (6-3½, 299) doesn’t offer much rush or penetration but, for the most part, he’s quietly effective. Rookie DE Jonathan Bullard (6-3, 290), a third-round pick, isn’t explosive but can stack blockers. Cornelius Washington (6-4, 292), a sixth-round pick in ’13, plays inside on passing downs. A magnificent testing athlete, he’s like a bull in a china shop. He barges around and, almost by accident, creates disruption.
Pace shelled out $18 million in guaranteed money to sign ILB Jerrell Freeman (6-0, 236) from the Colts and ILB Danny Trevathan (6-0, 239) from Denver. Freeman ($6 million), a five-year starter in the NFL and three-year starter in the CFL, has the range and instincts to stop the run but will get covered up by bigger bodies. His tightness limits him in man coverage. Trevathan ($12 million), a three-year starter, is playing with a club on his hand in an injury-filled first season. Much like Freeman, he’s a tough, active player but hasn’t been a difference-maker. By far the team’s best pass rusher is Willie Young (6-5, 258), a backup DE in the Lions’ 4-3 from 2010-’13 who has blossomed under Fangio. He uses his length (34½ arms), deceptive stride, height, work ethic and pass-rush feel to win more than his share of one-on-one rushes from a four-point stance. Powerful OLB Pernell McPhee (knee) continues to limp and isn’t ready to resume his career. Rookie OLB Leonard Floyd (6-5½, 240), the ninth pick, has missed two games (calf) but figures to return. The athletic gifts are evident but he needs time to get bigger and learn how to cover. If Floyd sits, the Bears are down to Sam Acho (6-1½, 260) and Christian Jones (6-3, 251). Acho is smart and tough but is too stiff to be a threat rushing. Jones plays small as a rusher.
Despite marginal talent the Bears have allowed merely one pass for more than 35 yards. The problem is that No. 1 CB Tracy Porter (5-11, 200) probably won’t play (knee). He has lost a step but still has instincts and will gamble to make a play. CB Bryce Callahan (5-9, 191) might be small but he’s fast (4.47), quick and feisty. He’d be much better in the slot. In the slot figures to be Cre’Von LeBlanc (5-10, 190), a rookie free agent cut by the Patriots. He’s slow (4.67) and not very smart (Wonderlic of 12), makes mistakes and has been exploited frequently. The other outside starter has to be Jacoby Glenn (6-0, 175), a second-year free agent who lacks speed (4.59) and grabs all the time. FS Adrian Amos (6-0½, 214), a second-year starter, is marginal against the run but has the speed (4.47) to match up. SS Harold Jones-Quartey (5-11, 210) is an enforcer-type hitter but can’t run and often is lifted on passing downs for faster veteran Chris Prosinski (6-0, 213).
K Connor Barth, the successor to Robbie Gould, has made 83.7% for four teams but is off to a shaky start. P Pat O’Donnell, a three-year regular, ranks last in net average (35.6). KR Deonte Thompson hasn’t regained his explosive form of ’15. Without Eddie Royal, Cre’Von LeBlanc might handle punts. CB Sherrick McManis leads coach Jeff Rodgers’ adequate units.
Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery’s team-leading total of 487 receiving yards ranks 10th in the league. He has 13 100-yard games in 4½ seasons but none have come against the Packers in eight appearances. In all, Jeffery has caught 31 passes for 417 yards, a 13.5-yard average and two touchdowns against Green Bay. His only reception for more than 25 yards occurred in the 2013 finale at Soldier Field. On the play, Morgan Burnett was out of position deep in Cover 2 and Jay Cutler found Jeffery.
It’s possible that only one of the top six cornerbacks for the two teams will play Thursday night. The Packers’ top three are out; for the Bears, No. 1 Tracy Porter is iffy and No. 2 Kyle Fuller is on injured reserve, but No. 3 Bryce Callahan is expected to play. Minus Porter, the Bears will be grasping for straws. Joining Callahan in the nickel package probably will be Jacoby Glenn and Cre’Von LeBlanc, a pair of youthful free agents. The Bears already have released Glenn twice; LeBlanc was claimed off Patriots’ waivers Sept. 4.
Dallas plays a base 3-4 defense and Chicago uses a base 4-3. However, if past results are meaningful, the Packers and Aaron Rodgers can expect to see the same type of bend-but-don’t-break scheme from Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio as they did Sunday from Rod Marinelli of the Cowboys.
Despite wholesale injuries on defense the Bears have remained competitive, allowing no more than 31 points in a game and yielding more than 400 yards only once.
“This isn’t a stellar collection of talent but they play well together,” one personnel man said. “They have played tough and aren’t giving up big plays.”
Fangio, a close friend of Green Bay’s Dom Capers, will be coordinating his seventh game against Rodgers. He was 4-0 for San Francisco in 2012 and ’13, and is 1-1 for the Bears.
“There’s some moving pieces there with some injuries and some guys maybe coming back,” Rodgers said Tuesday. “But Coach Fangio always does a good job of getting his guys prepared. I’m sure they feel it’s about consistency and being efficient in their own scheme. When it’s a common opponent, it comes down to just really those two things.”
In their last meeting, the Packers were a nine-point favorite on a rainy Thanksgiving night but were upset, 17-13. Rodgers’ passer rating of 62.4 remains his lowest at Lambeau Field.
Without a timeout, the Packers marched from their 20 to the Bears 8 in the final 2 minutes, 45 seconds needing a touchdown to win. Rodgers then threw four straight incompletions to end the game.
Unlike Capers, who refuses to sit on his hands in crunch time and often blitzes, Fangio disdained pressure for a standard four-man rush on all 13 plays of the final drive. He gambled, and won, that the Packers couldn’t beat the Bears’ coverage.
“They played coverage,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said afterward. “Aaron didn’t have anywhere to throw the football (on fourth down).”
In the six meetings, Fangio has blitzed on merely 41 of 262 dropbacks, or 15.7%. Only once did he rush more than five.
Rodgers has completed 134 of 212 passes (63.2%) against Fangio’s units for 1,461 yards, 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. He has a passer rating of 94.5, he has been sacked 12 times and he has run 24 times for 147 yards.
The Packers have scored 145 points in the six games, an average of 24.2.