Packers dominate Bears' vaunted defensive front with 'attitude football'
GREEN BAY - Aaron Jones had options. A buffet of running lanes to choose from. If the Green Bay Packers running back wanted the B gap Sunday night, he had the B gap. He had the A gap, too.
Wherever Jones wanted to run, he could.
Aaron Rodgers had time. Lots and lots of time. He stood in the pocket all night, so comfortable it could’ve been his living room sofa. The Chicago Bears have a vaunted defensive line, one of the NFL’s best. That defensive front is the franchise’s headliner. With the mess of a quarterback situation in Chicago, an embarrassment that only gets worse with each Mitch Trubisky snap, the defensive front is asked to keep the Bears competitive.
Consider, then, the final numbers. No sacks. No quarterback hits.
Nothing but time.
“For a soon-to-be 37-year-old quarterback,” Rodgers said, “I mean, that’s my dream.”
Matt LaFleur had flexibility. Any play the Packers head coach wanted to call, he didn’t think twice. LaFleur’s offense isn’t short on superstars. Rodgers is a future Hall of Famer. Jones is a Pro Bowl talent. Davante Adams is perhaps the NFL’s best wide receiver.
In this offense, during this 41-25 drubbing of a Bears defense that hadn’t allowed that many points in four years, the Packers' offensive line took a backseat to nobody.
“Our line just did everything that we needed them to do,” LaFleur said. “It makes it a lot easier. No doubt about it. When you have your whole playbook open, and you can call plays that are complementary, and then we're getting big yards in the run game. … I thought they did a fantastic job. It starts up front. We knew that controlling the line of scrimmage against one of the better front sevens in the National Football League was going to be critical.
“It opened up the whole game for us, and it was a big reason why we're successful to them tonight.”
The chasm between the Packers and Bears can be seen throughout most of their rosters. It starts with quarterback, where the gap between Rodgers and Trubisky is the gap between an aircraft carrier and tugboat. The one matchup that's supposed to favor the Bears is in the trenches.
The Packers owned that matchup all four quarters. What the offensive line did Sunday night does not happen to this Bears defensive front. That star defensive tackle Akiem Hicks was unavailable, inactive because of a hamstring injury, certainly did not help the Bears defense. The Packers offensive line was so overpowering, Hicks' presence might not have made much difference.
Since Chicago traded for Khalil Mack before the 2018 season, plucking him from the then-Oakland Raiders to ensure an interested Packers front office couldn’t pull off its own trade, the Bears have been maybe the NFL’s fiercest defensive line. This season is no different. Even as the Bears plummet in the standings, now losing five straight games behind a putrid offense, they entered Lambeau Field ranked among the top 10 in most defensive categories.The Bears hadn’t allowed 40 points in a game since Christmas Eve of the 2016 season, a 60-game streak that predated Mack’s arrival.
There was Mack late Sunday night, wearing an N95 mask outside Lambeau Field’s visiting locker room, talking about a low point in his three seasons with the Bears. Jones and Jamaal Williams combined for 163 rushing yards on 34 carries, a 4.8-yard average against a Bears defense that ranks eighth in the NFL allowing only four yards per rush. Jones had 90 yards on 17 carries, running through holes so big they were hard to believe.
“They definitely seemed big,” Jones said. “I was able, on certain runs, was able to pick and choose when to go. I could see them flowing over the top. I felt like I was able to get in a little groove.”
That groove started early. On the Packers’ opening touchdown drive, Jones had five carries. His first went 14 yards up the middle, untouched until he was 9 yards downfield. His third went 9 yards up the middle, untouched for the first 5. His fourth went 8 yards up the middle, same thing.
The Packers ran over the Bears' defensive line like it wasn’t even there.
“It’s attitude football,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “Especially when we get the running backs in a rhythm early and often, they’re going to consistently hit the right holes. They’re going to be hitting the runs more times than not. When it starts early, it’s going to happen often throughout the game.”
The Packers' offensive line has played well all season, allowing just 12 sacks. Only the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers have allowed fewer. It’s no coincidence. If there’s one thing a good offensive line could use, it’s stability. The Packers have hardly had any, shuffling different combinations since their first game to compensate for injuries, but they’ve had the next best thing.
This offensive line is built on flexibility, from Elgton Jenkins playing all five spots to Billy Turner playing anything but center. When there’s a leak at one position, the parts shift smoothly to plug the hole. It happened again Sunday night when center Corey Linsley, who exited the previous week at Indianapolis with a back injury, limped off the field with a knee injury that cost him the rest of the game but unlikely the rest of this season.
Jenkins slid to center. Jon Runyan Jr., an increasingly impressive rookie, filled in at left guard.
The offensive line – and, by extension, the offense – did not miss a beat.
“There was no drop off,” Jones said. “Those guys did their thing.”
The Packers' offensive line has been a rock through much of LaFleur’s two seasons as head coach, but Sunday night might have been its zenith. As well as the group has played, it has struggled against the league’s top defensive fronts. Of the dozen sacks the Packers have allowed this season, almost half came in their early-season trip to Tampa Bay. Rodgers was harassed in both trips to San Francisco last season.
Finally, the Packers' offensive line dominated a defensive front built to wreak havoc. If this is the new standard, the Packers offense could be special.
“It’s something that we’ve got to build off of,” Bakhtiari said. “To have that type of game against a rival, let alone a division rival, that’s the kind of games you want to have. That’s attitude football, and that’s something we’ve got to carry over. Because we were very productive in the run and the pass in neutralizing their front, and that’s a standard that we need to keep.”