Bears

For Bears, a Packers team without Aaron Rodgers looms as a referendum on Ryan Pace

For Bears, a Packers team without Aaron Rodgers looms as a referendum on Ryan Pace

Bear Nation has waited a long time for this. Now it’s here. A time without an excuse that has been conveniently, albeit painfully, there almost back into the time of Mike Ditka.

How many years has the lament resonated that if the Green Bay didn’t have Aaron Rodgers, the Packers REALLY aren’t any better than the victim-cast Bears? Well, Sunday in Soldier Field, no Rodgers. And the Packers have never beaten the Bears without Rodgers since he succeeded Brett Favre in 2008, a downturn in Bears fortunes vs. Green Bay because Lovie Smith teams had their way with Favre (8-5), whatever uniform the Packers great donned.

Maybe this game projects as a mini-referendum on Ryan Pace. The general manager has had three drafts and three offseasons to build a roster built ideally to eclipse those of the Packers, Lions and Vikings. He drafted his Clay Matthews/Ziggy Ansah edge rusher (Leonard Floyd). He secured his Mike Daniels/Everson Griffen/Linval Joseph defensive linemen (Eddie Goldman/Akiem Hicks). And now he’s made his play for a franchise quarterback.

All of this doesn’t exactly translate into any sort of made-up “pressure” on the Bears. That’s already there to excess in the form of a 3-5 record and a make-or-break game for any wistful playoff hopes. (Every game for the foreseeable future will be “make or break” in that regard.).

Packers limping sans Rodgers

Forget the point spread, which was up to favoring the Bears by 5 points on Wednesday. That’s basically an opinion poll, based on where the wager money is going, based on what football bettors think.

The facts are that the Packers are a combined 3-10-1 since 2008 without Rodgers taking the majority of the snaps: 0-3 with Brett Hundley as their primary quarterback this year, 2-5-1 in 2013 after Shea McClellin’s tackle turned the first Bears game over to Seneca Wallace, 1-0 in ’11 and 0-2 in ’10.

To expect a walk-over would be a mistake. The Packers did lead the Saints 14-7 at halftime. And the Bears need to demonstrate they can win a second half; they are 3-0 when leading at halftime but 0-5 when tied or trailing at halftime. Best guess for a game plan would a change in general mindset of keeping the game close with defense and ball control. In this situation, keeping the Packers close is higher risk than there needs to be.

Not that Bears World needs any perspective like this, but the Bears know painfully well what Green Bay is feeling right now. Last year the Bears were 3-13 without someone approximating a No. 1 quarterback. Jay Cutler may have been the titular starter, but that arguably was a default setting. The Bears were 1-4 in Cutler starts, 1-4 in Brian Hoyer starts; and and 1-5 with Matt Barkley.

They are already better off (2-2) with a rookie in Mitch Trubisky, in no small measure because of an exponentially better defense. But part of that clearly traces to Trubisky and the Bears overall reducing giveaways from 10 to five in his four starts, vs. the issues during Mike Glennon’s stewardship.

Making a point

Green Bay is 0-3 with Brett Hundley as their quarterback, including the Minnesota game in which Hundley took over when Rodgers was hurt. The Packers have failed to top 17 points and have been outscored by an average of nearly 12 points in the three games against reasonably strong opponents (Minnesota, New Orleans, Detroit).

Ominously for the Packers, the defense appears to have contracted the malaise that Hundley brought to the offense. With Rodgers, the Packers are allowing 22.4 points per game. In the three Hundley games they are giving up 26.3.

The Bears can relate to a quarterback having a ripple effect on other phases. Opponents were putting 26 points per game on the Bears when Glennon started. In Mitch Trubisky’s four starts, opponents have managed just 16.8 ppg., and that with two TD kick returns by Baltimore. Trubisky hasn’t played a defensive snap yet but his effect around the locker room is palpable.

“They’ve done an excellent job schematically tying it all together,” said Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy. “That’s definitely something that jumps off the tape. [Trubisky] is very smart with his decisions. He can make throws in the pocket, he can make throws out of the pocket. It’s clearly a better offense today than the one we saw going into the first game. They’re taking care of the football and they’re playing old school, hard John Fox football.

“I think they’re playing excellent on defense and they’re doing a really good job running it and taking care of that ball and time of possession is something that hasn’t been where it needs to be for us clearly the last two weeks. It’s a focal point for us.”

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Only three of John Fox’s 12 wins as Bears coach have been against NFC North opponents, while 12 of his 29 losses have come against divisional opponents. 

That’s a recipe for back-to-back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC North. And if the Bears can’t beat an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team, why could it beat a Detroit Lions team that has a healthy franchise quarterback?

The positive end of that answer is the Bears do have wins over two playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Carolina) while six of their four losses have been by eight points or fewer. Sunday’s game will probably be close, again (if it’s not, and the Bears are on the losing end of it, it would raise some significant concerns about the state of Fox within the locker room). 

So if the game is decided by one possession or less, this could be the difference: Detroit has one of the best special teams units in the NFL, ranking second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Bears are 28th by the same measure. 

Getting Sherrick McManis back this week should help solidify Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units, but Jamal Agnew has two punt return scores and is averaging 18.3 yards per return. 

“Tough guy — he’ll return inside and outside,” Rodgers said. “He’s got multiple longer returns against people this year. it’s not just, ‘I had a long return in Week 2 or Week 1,’ and kinda held onto that. he’s been productive in a lot of games. certainly a guy that we’ve gotta do a good job against.”

If the Bears don’t do a good job bottling up Agnew, though, he could be the reason why the game flips to Detroit — or, at least, why the Lions keep the Bears at arm’s length. 

Prediction: Lions 24, Bears 16

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

Seth Gruen (Bleacher Report/”Big Ten Unfiltered” podcast), Chris Emma (670TheScore.com) and Matt Zahn (CBS 2) join Kap on the panel. If the Bears lose badly to the Lions, should Sunday be John Fox’s last game? 

Plus Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill joins the panel to talk Bulls as well as the Niko/Portis cold war.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here: