8:25 PM EST, CBS – Line: Packers -7.5, Over/Under: 45.5
Desperation is a often a common theme for at least one of the following when the Packers and Bears meet on the gridiron, but it’s rather rare when BOTH teams are reeling as they stand to add another chapter to the NFL’s longest-standing rivalry. One look at the Bears (1-5, 4th in NFC North) rough start to the campaign, and one word immediately comes to mind: rebuilding. However, in his second year on the job, John Fox has had to roll up the proverbial sleeves and basically clear the land of any driftwood before he’s able to properly create a foundation to build upon. Many would argue that that is what they should have done LAST year, but for a variety of reasons (mostly Salary Cap related), Chicago’s Front Office has had to drag this thing out another year. As a result, the product on the field has suffered greatly. Let’s start on offense, where the much-maligned Jay Cutler is injured (again), suffering the ill-effects of a sprained right thumb, and has missed the last four games. Given his apathetic standing with Management (I.E. his outrageous $16 million salary in 2016), word out of the Windy City is that Fox and Co. are willing to give his successor, the oft-traveled Brian Hoyer, every opportunity to keep the starting job. For his efforts, Hoyer has been steady, but he has necessarily been spectacular either; the 31-year old leads the league completing a stellar 68.8% of his attempts for an average of 279.2 yards per game on 7.14 net yards per attempt, tossing six touchdowns and no interceptions, which are all dramatic improvements over Cutler. Furthermore, the offense has taken to his presence under Center as well, as the Bears have found it rather easy to move the ball, at least between the 20-yard lines; Chicago has averaged 385.8 total yards per game, which is good for seventh in the league, but all those yards hasn’t translated to points, as they’ve only managed to score a mere 16.8 points, next to last overall. So what’s the disconnect, you ask? Well, typically the problem would be turnovers, but this group has only committed seven through six contests, which is slightly above the middle of the pack. No, the real problem is their inability to punch the ball into the End Zone, which is a direct reflection of their running game. Throwing the ball gets much harder as the field gets shorter, and if you can’t successfully run the football, it’s awfully hard to score touchdowns in the Red Zone. These guys rarely run the ball (30th in attempts, 21.2 per game), leading to a paltry 91.0 yards (23rd Overall), which has only been underscored with Sophomore Tailback Jeremy Langford’s prolonged absence due to a lingering ankle sprain. But Langford isn’t the only Bear that’s been on the shelf of late, as a staggering thirteen players have already landed on Injured Reserve, which doesn’t even include the number of prominent starters that have been banged up to the point of being held out of action; Nose Tackle Eddie Goldman (Ankle), Linebacker Jerrell Freeman (Wrist), and Cornerback Tracy Porter (Knee), along with Rookie Edge Rusher Leonard Floyd (Leg) are each listed as Questionable for tonight’s outing, while the status of both Tight End Zach Miller (Ribs) and Slot Receiver Eddie Royal (Ribs) too are up in the air. This lack of depth has become painfully obvious late in games, which was certainly the case in last weekend’s narrow 17-16 defeat to the Jacksonville Jaguars at Soldier Field. The hosts held the struggling Jags in check for the majority of the afternoon, leading 16-7 midway through the Fourth Quarter, only to succumb to their late-game woes, yielding ten unanswered points inside the final five minutes of play. Hoyer was a solid 30-of-49 for 302 yards, and the Bears even ran the ball reasonably well, racking up ninety-two yards and a score on twenty-seven attempts. They also won the turnover battle 2-0, and dominated possession holding the ball for a commanding 35:45. So just how the hell did it all fall apart? After a long Jacksonville drive cut the deficit to six points, the home side promptly handed the ball back after a quick Three & Out, only to watch helplessly as Blake Bortles found Arrelious Benn for a 51-yard touchdown to take the lead. Starting from his own 25-yard line, Hoyer drove Chicago to midfield, but was pushed back due to penalties, and saw his last chance go awry as his desperate heave to Alshon Jeffery down midfield was batted away. Flags were a HUGE issue all day, as Fox’s charges were penalized ten times for eighty-seven yards, ending a number of promising drives before they could net any results.
Meanwhile, we expected the Bears to struggle this season, but the Packers (3-2, 2nd in NFC North) on the other hand are another story entirely. To the surprise of many in the Football World, the issues that plagued Green Bay throughout the 2015 campaign have asserted themselves once more in the early stages of 2016, leaving many to wonder if the previous term was indeed indicative of a greater decline opposed to an outlier of what has been generally stellar play over the previous seven years. When you talk about the Packers, the first thing that comes to mind is two-time MVP Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and their prolific offense, which has ran virtually the same system since the early 90’s. However, it’s utterly impossible to watch this group perform and not come away with the feeling that something is very wrong; Rodgers and Co. have been largely mediocre, averaging 22.8 points (17th Overall) on 339.2 total yards per game (25th Overall), which if you think about it is nearly FIFTY YARDS LESS than the team they’re playing against tonight. Did we mention that they’ve been Quarterbacked by the aforementioned Cutler and Hoyer? Curiously, the passing game has been the culprit in this unit’s struggles, logging a poor 234.0 yards on a miserable 6.0 net yards per attempt, which each register as twenty-fifth Overall, or in other words eighth-worst in the NFL. Rodgers, for his troubles, is mired in one of the toughest stretches of his outstanding career, completing just 60.2% of his passes while averaging a dismal 5.96 net yards per attempt, which rank in the bottom third among qualified starters. Simply put, No. 12 hasn’t been able to stretch the field, and his opponents know it, while the genuine disconnect that emerged with his Receivers a year ago has continued through the first five games of this season. Even the return of a healthy Jordy Nelson hasn’t spurred production, as the Packers’ once vaunted Receiving Corps has struggled to find separation and make plays. And when your entire offense is predicated on a precise passing attack, you can imagine Mike McCarthy and his Staff are losing sleep trying to find a solution. Furthermore, the Offensive Line has been far from great thus far, while a rash of injuries have completely decimated the Backfield over the past two weeks; Backup Tailback James Starks underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear earlier this week, while Eddie Lacy is likely to miss tonight’s game after suffering a sprained ankle in last Sunday’s disappointing 30-16 defeat to the upstart Dallas Cowboys. In fact, Wideout Randall Cobb was listed as the team’s Second String rusher last week, and he’s dealing with an ailing back, leaving his availability for the tilt with the Bears up in the air as well. No wonder the Front Office frantically acquired Knile Davis from the Chiefs on Tuesday, but as fate would have it, the veteran Tailback has been suffering the lingering effects of a concussion over the past week leaving his fate in doubt. So with the Packers searching for healthy bodies to carry the ball, and a number of other banged up starters on BOTH sides of the ball, it would probably be unwise to think that these guys will suddenly flip the switch against their bitter rivals. In fact, expect more of what happened against Dallas to continue to be the norm; Green Bay labored fruitlessly to move the ball throughout the evening, trailing 27-9 midway through the final stanza, as the offense committed four turnovers (two credited to Rodgers). For better or for worse, it’s going to have to be the Aaron Rodgers Show once again this week, as the Packers’ fortunes will be consigned to their All-Pro’s right arm.
Predicted Outcome: Packers 23, Bears 16