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Packers again looking to limit Bears' running game, keep Mitch Trubisky in the pocket

Jim Owczarski
Packers News

GREEN BAY – Tramon Williams didn’t intend to create a stir or take a shot at Chicago Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky after the Green Bay Packers’ season-opening, 10-3 victory at Soldier Field when asked about the Packers’ defensive plan. Rather, it was an explanation of coordinator Mike Pettine’s philosophy against the third-year signal caller – and the one the Packers employed in 2018 against the Bears as well.

In a nutshell, it was to limit the run game and the skill players, as well as keep Trubisky in the pocket and force him to test a confident secondary.

“We knew they had a lot of weapons, we knew they were dangerous,” Williams said that night. “We knew all of those things. But we knew if we could make Mitch play quarterback, that we’d have a chance. Plus, we have some new toys up front, too, who did their job up front and looked good. They did their thing today.”

And it worked. Trubisky put the ball up 45 times and had a passer rating of 62.1. He averaged 5 yards per attempt, was sacked five times and ran just three times for 11 yards. Packers linebackers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith made their debuts with 2.5 total sacks and two tackles for loss.

The Bears’ running backs weren’t involved, as they rushed just 12 times for an average of 2.9 yards per carry.

Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky looks to pass against as Preston Smith closes in during Thursday’s game at Soldier Field in Chicago.

The difference in a 24-17 Bears victory at Soldier Field on Dec. 16 of last year was that Trubisky didn't try to do too much.

The Bears were consistent in the run game, handing it off to running backs 26 times for 84 yards, and Trubisky ran it only three times for 16 yards. He didn’t push the ball deep but dumped it off for catch-and-run opportunities. He didn’t turn the ball over and the Packers' secondary widely credited him with working through his progressions and making accurate throws.

Within that, the Bears rarely reached third down in that December victory. They were highly efficient on first and second down, neutralizing any kind of Packers pass rush.

It’s something the Packers were much better at creating in September with 11 hits on Trubisky.

“I think on our end, especially the first game, we knew that If we could make them in second-and-long, third-and-long, that really brings in a whole different element to our pass rush,” Packers defensive lineman Dean Lowry said. “We can blitz, we can take more chances with winning one-on-ones. If we can get teams in third-and-long we feel good about our chances in getting off the field.”

The only time the Bears were productive on early downs in the opener, it led to their first-quarter field goal and the end-of-game drive that took them to the Packers’ 16 before Adrian Amos intercepted Trubisky in the end zone (on a third-and-10).

“It’s definitely the coverage,” Packers outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell said of how they got the Bears into those situations. “If there’s somebody open ‘right now’ for (Trubisky) to hit I think he’s OK taking that short gain. Especially on first and second down, but even on third down just given his guys an opportunity to make a play. I think Week 1 it was a great job by the back end of just kind of keeping guys covered up and then eventually …”

He stopped his sentence and pointed to the lockers of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith.

“It’s always good when we got 'em behind the sticks because it’s so easy on us,” Packers corner Jaire Alexander added. “When we get in those third-and-short situations it’s like damn, what are they; they can do anything: run it, they can throw it, underneath, deep shot. But when you got third-and-long you kind of know what’s gonna come.”

The Bears travel to Lambeau Field on Sunday having won three straight with their 31-24 victory over Dallas last Thursday being the highlight, and in it Trubisky had perhaps his best game of the year (23-for-31, 244 yards, 3 TD, one INT, 115.5 rating, 63 rush yards, rush TD).

The Packers noted Trubisky is using his legs more on designed runs and keeping it in the read option, which has translated to more plays through the air.

“He’s also playing with a lot more confidence, too,” Packers safety Darnell Savage said. “He just seems a lot more comfortable. Confidence helps any player. To play with confidence, that’s a big part of it.”

And with that – not surprisingly – the Bears were incredibly effective on early downs against the Cowboys and their top-10 defense. Chicago faced just two third downs through its first 19 plays and only four through the first 33 while scoring 17 first-half points.

Then during an 11-play, 84-yard scoring drive in the third quarter they faced only two third downs, which they converted. Such early-down success is something Trubisky and the Bears did well in their victory over the Packers in 2018, and something they wish to continue this weekend.

“That’s a huge part of this,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said. “That’s kind of common sense is any team that does that, you’re putting yourself in third-and-manageable. I think the first time we played these guys, we had a lot more third-and-longer-type plays. That’s a credit to Green Bay and what they did. They have good players and good coaches, so they got after us on defense. We want to be better on our end. That’s the biggest challenge this week for us.”