<
>

Bears vs. Packers preview

In a prime-time game between teams coming off their byes, the Green Bay Packers (5-3) host the Chicago Bears (3-5) on Sunday night at Lambeau Field.

The Packers need a victory to stay in contention for the NFC North title, and the Bears need one just to get back into the race. ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky and Bears reporter Michael C. Wright discuss the matchup:

Wright: Rob, let's start with the question on everybody's minds here in Chicago. What's the latest with Aaron Rodgers' hamstring injury coming out of the bye, and how do you think it will affect how the Packers' offense attacks the Bears?

Demovsky: The bye week appears to have done wonders for Rodgers. Even though he said he could have played last week if the Packers had a game, the extra time off has benefited him. Several players said this week that Rodgers looked like his old self, and if they didn't know he had an injury, they wouldn't have been able to tell. As long as he doesn't have a setback during the game, it should not impact him or the offense at all. But if he tweaks it again, it's a big problem, because he wasn't his usual mobile self after he injured it against the Saints, and we all know how good Rodgers is when he's able to move around.

Michael, how in the world can an offense with weapons like Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett not be enough for this team to dominate? Is it all on the quarterback, or are there other issues?

Wright: It's not all on the quarterback, but it's hard to look past his NFL-high 12 turnovers, which have led 44 points by opponents, and not want to point the finger at Jay Cutler. The truth is, it goes a lot deeper. The offensive line was decent in 2013, but has been inconsistent so far this season, which obviously leads to Cutler not feeling comfortable in the pocket at times. That results in some of the errant back-foot throws that turn into interceptions. Also, the Bears need to strike a better balance between the run and the pass to keep Cutler out of situations like third-and-long, which expose him to potential turnovers. So Marc Trestman’s play calling is another issue holding back the offense. Another huge issue I see is this team has become too reliant on Marshall and Jeffery. When opponents notice that on film, all they do is play zone and sit on their routes, because Marshall and Jeffery aren't exactly speed-burners. The Bears need to establish a credible threat down the middle, whether it means using Bennett more or a No. 3 or No. 4 receiver. As it stands, when the Bears line up in multiple-receiver formations, opponents pretty much know Cutler is still looking to get the ball to Marshall or Jeffery. So the Bears need to get other targets involved, which would actually open up things for everybody.

What's going on with Eddie Lacy? Coming into the season, I thought Lacy was the missing piece to basically making the Packers an unstoppable offense. But he hasn't played anywhere near the level he played at in 2013.

Demovsky: Really, it has been all about his attempts. His yards-per-carry (4.1) is exactly the same as it was last season when he rushed for 1,178 yards. But last season, he averaged nearly 19 carries per game. This season, he is just over 13 per game, and he has had only one game with more than 14 rushing attempts. Maybe that was destined to be the case given how much the Packers want the ball in Rodgers' hands. However, Lacy has become more involved as a receiver. He already has 21 catches and needs only 14 more to match his total from last season.

In the Packers' win at Soldier Field in Week 4, the Bears couldn't stop Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson? Are they any better equipped to do so this time around?

Wright: Rob, I can't lie to you. Absolutely not, at least not in the secondary, where Green Bay's slot receiver can count on putting up big numbers against Bears nickel cornerback Demontre Hurst. Defensive end Jared Allen didn't play the last time these teams met, but I don't see him being a major difference-maker in this game. Opposite Allen will be Willie Young, who will be starting in place of the injured Lamarr Houston. I think Young can provide a spark in the pass-rushing department, but I don't know that it will disrupt Rodgers enough to force him to make mistakes. The Bears should have back their complete starting linebacking corps. That won't make a difference. They will face the Packers with the same secondary as the Sept. 28 matchup, and again, that won't make a difference. Outside of the front four and rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller, this entire defense needs a makeover.

Moving to the other side of the ball, Green Bay has surrendered 147 yards or more on the ground on four occasions this season, and it's beginning to look like the team's decision to field a more athletic defensive front isn't exactly panning out. Can you give me some of the factors for why the Packers have struggled against the run, and is there anything the team has done during the bye to improve that facet of the game?

Demovsky: At this point, what else can they do? It’s not like they have just hit a rough patch with their run defense in the past few weeks. They have been bad from start. At no point this season have they ranked better than 30th against the run. Maybe nose tackle B.J. Raji would have been a difference-maker against the run, but it's hard to imagine one player could have prevented them from being such a bad run-stopping unit. They are going to have to win games in spite of their run defense, and the best way to do that is to force turnovers.

Sometimes struggling teams come out of their bye week and make major changes to try to jump-start things? Is that Trestman's style, or is he more of a steady-as-he-goes kind of guy?

Wright: Well, Trestman was offensive coordinator of the 2002 Oakland Raiders, and if you remember, that team came out of the gates to reel off a 4-0 record, only to lose four in a row and fall to 4-4. Obviously, you know they recovered and won seven of the last eight to finish 11-5 and eventually advance to the Super Bowl. Trestman draws on experiences like that in shaping his approach.