Bears

Bears-Packers preview Part I: Matchups

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Bears-Packers preview Part I: Matchups

Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011
Posted: 10:23 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Bears have battled Packers since theres been an NFL; 181 games, in fact. But few have approached the magnitude of the one set to play out next Sunday in Soldier Field at 2 p.m.

It will be a game in which two NFC North powers face off with decided strengths and advantages over the other.

In a special three-part series, CSNChicago.com takes a look at the Packers No. 1 advantage; the No. 1 factor favoring the Bears; and the critical third area is virtually a coin-toss as to who really has the edge in a dream matchup.

Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers over Jay Cutler

Aaron Rodgers directed the Green Bay offense to 45 points in his first playoff game, the 2009 loss to Arizona. He one-upped that Saturday with 48 points against the Atlanta Falcons, the No. 5 scoring defense in the NFL this season, and that was without Rodgers playing most of the fourth quarter.

Rodgers is starting on a course that could well surpass what Brett Favre did in Green Bay, which was winning one Super Bowl and losing a second.

Aaron Rodgers was on fire vs. Atlanta, said cornerback Charles Tillman. If Green Bay comes out and plays like they played against Atlanta, its going to be a tough day for us.

Better vs. Bears than Favre?

Two particularly ominous aspects of Rodgers stand out as far as the Bears and the NFC Championship are concerned:

Rodgers has shown himself to be better in the biggest games. He finished this season with a passer rating of 101.2, third in the NFL, then flew past that with a 122.5 against Philadelphia and 136.8 in the Atlanta game. His 2009 regular-season rating was 103.2. Against Arizona in his first playoff game, he threw four touchdown passes and finished with a 122.4 rating.

In his three career playoff games Rodgers has thrown 10 touchdown passes, one interception and nearly 73.3 percent completions.

And he is the anti-Favre with respect to Lovie Smith. For all of his Bear-killer mystique, Favre fattened his Bears record over Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron teams. But Favre was a combined 3-9 against the Smith Bears playing as a Packer, Jet and Viking.

Rodgers is 4-2 against the Smith Bears. He lost once in OT in 2008 and again in the opener this season, when his team was charged for 18 penalties.

Cutler rising?
After a six-sack pummeling in Green Bay with his offense scoring just three points, Jay Cutler re-grouped against the Seattle Seahawks and got the offense dialed up sufficiently for five touchdowns and 261 passing yards. And zero interceptions.

Awesome, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. Cutler played great. I dont think he had any turnovers or anything like that. He threw the ball when he had to, threw it away when he had to, ran it when he had to. Awesome, for his first playoff start.

Cutler has improved as a quarterback, still with perceived potential of near mythical proportions in his right arm. He had a solid performance against Green Bay in Game 3 (82.5 rating) but lapsed to a 43.5 mark in Game 16 when he threw zero TD passes, two interceptions and contributed to his being sacked six times.

More to the playoff point, while he guided the Bears past Seattle in his first NFL playoff game, Cutler has never developed the reputation as a big-game quarterback. Big-play QB, yes; big-game QB, no, extending back to his time with Denver.

Cutler did win his first playoff game, so thats one place hes ahead of Rodgers. There are not many others. He cut down dramatically on interceptions, from 26 last season to 16 (in 14-12 games) and his play improved perceptibly after the off week when Mike Martz was directed to have Cutler throw the ball less.

Conclusion:

Cutler has the potential to produce an epic performance. Rodgers, however, has a growing history of them. Advantage: Green Bay.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information

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:

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

John Fox on Friday sought to clarify some comments he made earlier in the week about Tarik Cohen that seemed to follow some spurious logic. Here’s what Fox said on Wednesday when asked if he’d like to see Cohen be more involved in the offensive game plan:

“You’re looking at one game,” Fox said, referencing Cohen only playing 13 of 60 snaps against the Green Bay Packers. “Sometimes the defense dictates who gets the ball. I think from a running standpoint it was a game where we didn’t run the ball very effectively. I think we only ran it 17 times. I believe Jordan Howard, being the fifth leading rusher in the league, probably commanded most of that. I think he had 15 carries. 

“It’s a situation where we’d like to get him more touches, but it just didn’t materialize that well on that day. But I’d remind people that he’s pretty high up there in both punt returns, he’s our leading receiver with 29 catches, so it’s not like we don’t know who he is.”

There were some clear holes to poke in that line of reasoning, since the question wasn’t about Cohen’s touches, but his snap count. Cohen creates matchup problems when he’s on the field for opposing defenses, who can be caught having to double-team him (thus leaving a player uncovered, i.e. Kendall Wright) or matching up a linebacker against him (a positive for the Bears). The ball doesn’t have to be thrown Cohen’s way for his impact to be made, especially if he’s on the field at the same time as Howard. 

“They don’t know who’s getting the ball, really, and they don’t know how to defend it properly,” Howard said. “… It definitely can dictate matchups.”

There are certain scenarios in which the Bears don’t feel comfortable having Cohen on the field, like in third-and-long and two-minute drills, where Benny Cunningham’s veteran experience and pass protection skills are valued. It may be harder to create a mismatch or draw a double team with Cohen against a nickel package. It's easier to justify leaving a 5-foot-6 running back on the sidelines in those situations. 

But if the Bears need Cohen to be their best playmaker, as offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last month, they need to find a way for him to be on the field more than a shade over one in every five plays. As Fox explained it on Friday, though, it’s more about finding the right spots for Cohen, not allowing opposing defenses to dictate when he’s on the field. 

“We have Tarik Cohen out there, we're talking about touches, not play time, we're talking about touches so if they double or triple cover him odds are the ball is not going to him, in fact we'd probably prefer it didn’t,” Fox said. “So what I meant by dictating where the ball goes, that's more related to touches than it is play time. I just want to make sure I clarify that. So it's not so much that they dictate personnel to you. Now if it's in a nickel defense they have a certain package they run that may create a bad matchup for you, that might dictate what personnel group you have out there not just as it relates to Tarik Cohen but to your offense in general. You don't want to create a bad matchup for your own team. I hope that makes sense.”

There’s another wrinkle here, though, that should be addressed: Loggains said this week that defenses rarely stick to the tendencies they show on film when Cohen is on the field. That’s not only a problem for Cohen, but it’s a problem for Mitchell Trubisky, who hasn’t always had success against defensive looks he hasn’t seen on film before. And if the Bears are trying to minimize the curveballs Trubisky sees, not having Cohen on the field for a high volume of plays would be one way to solve that. 

This is also where the Bears’ lack of offensive weapons factors in. Darren Sproles, who Cohen will inexorably be linked to, didn’t play much as a rookie — but that was on a San Diego Chargers team that had LaDanian Tomlinson, Keenan McCardell and Antonio Gates putting up big numbers. There were other options on that team; the Bears have a productive Howard and a possibly-emerging Dontrelle Inman, but not much else. 

So as long as Cohen receives only a handful of snaps on a team with a paucity of playmakers, this will continue to be a topic of discussion. Though if you’re looking more at the future of the franchise instead of the short-term payoffs, that we’re having a discussion about a fourth-round pick not being used enough is a good thing.