Bears better find way to reverse ugly trend
The Bears-Packers meeting this afternoon at Soldier Field is a classic matchup of two teams heading in opposite directions.
While the Bears have all but frittered away a 7-1 start by losing four of five, the Packers have overcome a 2-3 start by winning seven of eight.
If the Bears don't pull out of their tailspin today and cool off the hot visitors from Green Bay, the Packers will clinch the NFC North and take a big step toward a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Recent past performance in the NFL's most-played rivalry doesn't bode well for the Bears, who have lost five straight and seven of eight.
"We haven't held up our end of the deal," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "You've got to win some football games to really get that done. We know what's at stake this week."
The Bears' production in almost every category on both sides of the ball has dropped during their slump. But the drop-off has been especially noticeable in takeaways, arguably the biggest factor in their fast start.
Even for a team coached by Smith, who values takeaways as much as any coach, the Bears' early pace was stunning: they forced 27 turnovers in the first eight games. Since then, they've taken the ball away just seven times in five games.
The Packers took the ball away just five times in the first five games, and 4 of them came courtesy of Jay Cutler interceptions in their 23-10 victory over the Bears. In their last eight games, the Packers have taken the ball away 15 times.
As important as the turnover ratio is, there are other factors at play in the Bears' and Packers' opposite streaks.
The Bears' quarterback play in the last five games produced 6 TD passes and 7 interceptions and just two games with a passer rating over 68.4. Cutler missed one full game after being knocked out at halftime of the Texans' game with a concussion.
"I've got to play better, first and foremost, and get the rest of the guys up to speed with me," Cutler said. "We know what's involved, a division game with us kind of skidding a little bit. It's a game we need."
The Packers' Aaron Rodgers has been typical Aaron Rodgers, despite multiple injuries to his top wide receivers. In the past eight games, Rodgers has a 108.7 passer rating with 19 TD passes and 4 interceptions.
Rodgers has been sacked 42 times, more than any quarterback in the league. But he's still making a ton of plays, even under pressure.
"With his arm and his feet, he's extending plays as much this year as I've ever seen him, getting out of the pocket," Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "Once he gets outside, he starts to create on his own out there, and he's a force."
Once again Rodgers is an MVP candidate, and he deserves much of the credit for the Packers' resurgence.
Coach Mike McCarthy's teams aren't known for running the ball, and they already have three running backs on injured reserve. That includes former Bear Cedric Benson, who began the season as the starter. He was succeeded by James Starks, who won't play today because of a knee injury.
Surprisingly, though, the Packers are running the ball better than ever. They've averaged over 136 yards per game with a running attack by committee the past five games.
Meanwhile, the Bears' run game has slowed down significantly in the past five games.
In the four games before Matt Forte picked up 85 yards on just 13 carries last week against the Vikings, he had been practically running in place.
Forte averaged just 2.9 yards a carry after averaging 5.0 yards per attempt while the Bears were going 7-1. Lack of continuity on the offensive line in the last month and playing from behind haven't helped the running game.
"It could be all of the above," Smith said. "As much as anything we just have to keep the commitment to the run, especially this time of the year. Yards per carry go up when you hit a couple big ones, and that's what we need to do."
It'll take that and more today to reverse the recent trends of two old foes.
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