Friday, September 23, 2011
Week 3: Green Bay at Chicago
Last year’s Super Bowl-winning Green Bay Packers boasted a fearsome pass rush, but two weeks in, I’ve got to ask - where is the quarterback pressure? Looking up the stats, I was surprised to see that the Packers have recorded 7 sacks in the first two games, which is certainly a good number, yet it hasn’t felt like the team has had opposing quarterbacks scrambling the way they did last year. The Packers put a lot of their eggs in the basket of Mike Neal when they allowed Cullen Jenkins to walk away in the offseason, and Neal has yet to play this season due to a knee injury. Nor does it help that Frank Zombo’s out with a nasty shoulder injury. The frustrating thing is that I can’t seem to pinpoint why the defensive line hasn’t been as effective - Erik Walden, Jarius Wynn, and C.J. Wilson have been pretty solid. Is the problem simply that they lack a “playmaker” to help out the Claymaker? Someone to spark the defense with game-changing plays? Tell me if you know the answer.
What to watch for this week:
Bears’ Offensive Line - Can’t imagine this week is going to be much more fun for Jay Cutler than last week. The loss of Gabe Carimi is huge, and weakens what was already a very problematic offensive line. While the Packers don’t use the blitz quite as much as Gregg William’s Saints’ defense, I expect a lot of pressure from Green Bay’s front seven will keep Cutler on the run.
Packers’ Secondary - Nick Collins is out for the season. Ouch. Tramon Williams is probable, but is coming off a shoulder injury. While the Packers’ secondary boasts some impressive and physically gifted back-ups, young guys like Morgan Burnett, Sam Shields, and Jarrett Bush can be prone to some rookie mistakes (despite the fact that none of them are rookies - Bush is in his 6th season!!). Will Chicago offensive coordinator Mike Martz try to target Collins’s replacement Charlie Peprah?
Also, for how tempting it is to boast about this secondary, they have given up huge yardage in the first two games. Is that the fault of the individual players in the secondary? Or an effect of the lack of pressure on the quarterback, forcing hasty throws and bad decisions? Either way, let’s hope it’s not a trend.
Special Teams - Many people noted in the offseason that the new kickoff rules could hurt the Chicago Bears more than any other team, as they rely heavily on superstar returner Devin Hester for advantageous field position to prop up a mediocre offense. The Packers’ coverage has seemed improved this year (minus a Darren Sproles punt return for a TD in week 1) - let’s see how they handle the best returner in the league.
The Pack have their own emerging return star in Randall Cobb. Look to see how he bounces back from his tragic fumble on his very first return of last week.
Penalties - It seems to me the only way Green Bay can lose this game would be a repeat of last season’s week 3 match-up in which Green Bay tried their utmost to lose - and only barely succeeded, thanks to a record 18 penalties, including one which wiped an interception returned for touchdown off the board and one that nullified another (surprise!) Jay Cutler interception.
Most intriguing match-up:
Packers’ running game vs. Bears defense: The Packers hope to have a more balanced offense this season with the return of Ryan Grant and the emergence of James Starks. Aaron Rodgers even admitted last week that the Pack needs to give more time to the run game. But is a game against the Chicago Bears’ strong defensive line really a time to emphasize the running game? I’ll be interested to see how McCarthy splits the pass/run plays this Sunday.