Cubs

Green Bay offense showing more than Rodgers passing

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Green Bay offense showing more than Rodgers passing

As if the Bears didnt already have enough to worry about with just Aaron Rodgers

Turning an opponent one-dimensional is the stated goal of the Bears defense no matter who that opponent is, including Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. That target appears to have just become exponentially harder at just the wrong time.

Because something happened last Sunday night in Green Bay as the Packers were spotting the Detroit a 14-0 lead and then methodically taking the Lions apart.

It should concern the Bears very much. The Bears havent been able to beat the Packers much since Rodgers succeeded Brett Favre and that was when Rodgers didnt have a solid run game alongside.

But now

The Packers scored both of their offensive touchdowns rushing. One was a 27-yard scramble by Rodgers; not a true rushing touchdown and they all count.

But the other was a 59-yard domination that consisted of seven straight running plays. Three different running backs ripped of runs of 10 yards or longer and it was the first time since 2002 that the Packers had scored on a drive of seven or more plays where every play was a run.

Quantity and quality

Even with one the NFLs truly elite passers and trailing, the Packers basically rammed the football down the throats of Ndamukong Suh and the Lions.

Not with huge numbers. The Packers had the ball less than 23 minutes in the game and ran just 52 plays. But they rushed for 140 yards, averaged 5.6 yards per carry and made it 100 or more yards in four of their last five games.

The Aaron Rodgers Packers are averaging 139 rushing yards per game over the last five. Since week nine they are averaging 31 rushes per game and have won four of their last five. (The Bears have lost four of their last five averaging 28 runs and 113 yards per.)

Theyve made more of a commitment to the run over the last couple of games and theyve found some success, said linebacker Lance Briggs. But its been beneficial to them, for one, not as many defensive linemen are getting up to Aaron Rodgers if theyre running the ball more.

Interestingly, Rodgers has a 104 passer rating for the season but in only one of those last five games did he reach a passer rating about 98.

What that says is the Packers are becoming good enough to win even when Rodgers is not a far-and-away dominating passer.

The running backs are the proverbial Who are those guys? (For the record, they are Alex Green, James Starks and DuJuan Harris. Only Harris averages more than 3.6 yards per carry.)

And theyre running behind an offensive line with as many health issues as the Bears.

The Sack Struggle

It has been seven games since the Bears have had more than two sacks in a game after posting three or more in five of their first six games.

Rodgers is one of the most sacked quarterbacks in the NFL over recent seasons and it does not automatically follow that sacking Rodgers is beating the Packers.

But the more of the field that Rodgers has available to him, the more lethal he becomes. The Bears were undone against the Seattle Seahawks in part by the read-option scheme but ultimately by failing to contain rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.

The Bears rank 11th in sacks per pass play but may be without defensive tackle Henry Melton after his chest injury at Minnesota. Melton has six sacks and the key to inside pressure. If the pivotal three-technique player in the Bears scheme is down, the Bears would be without core inside players at tackle and linebacker (Brian Urlacher).

That increases the burden on multiple players, including fill-in linebackers Nick Roach in the middle and Geno Hayes outside.

Both those guys are real good in space, good, athletic guys, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. So were very confident in our people and what theyre doing. Were excited about the challenge.

Is Joe Maddon covering for Wade Davis? Where do Cubs go from here?

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USA TODAY

Is Joe Maddon covering for Wade Davis? Where do Cubs go from here?

Is Cubs manager Joe Maddon taking the heat and covering for Wade Davis while the All-Star closer deals with atypical soreness in his right arm?

“No, no,” Maddon said Tuesday when asked if Davis felt anything unusual that lingered into the National League Championship Series after last week’s all-out effort eliminated the Washington Nationals from the divisional round.

The Los Angeles Dodgers took a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven bullpen battle without Davis throwing a single pitch, the backlash from Cubs fans, Twitter and the national media again putting Maddon on the defensive, the year after he got second-guessed for pushing Aroldis Chapman so hard during the World Series.

This NLCS truly is a bizarro world, with Maddon comparing the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax, getting so little benefit of the doubt – the Cubs really did beat the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 – and working the baseball term “dry-hump” into one answer during Monday’s Wrigley Field press conference.

Maddon said he would have to check first with Davis – who would have almost five full days in between relief appearances – if the Cubs need a four- or five-out save in Game 3.

“Nevertheless, I always check,” Maddon said. “I can’t just assume that.”

Maddon’s Game 2 calculus on Sunday night at Dodger Stadium – sticking with lefty reliever Brian Duensing in a 1-1 game to start the ninth inning and then bringing in John Lackey to serve up the walk-off, three-run homer to Justin Turner – made you wonder if Davis was still dragging after ending Washington’s season and traveling on the overnight cross-country flight that got diverted to New Mexico for about five hours when Jose Quintana’s wife experienced a panic attack.

“I think he just got mentally exhausted,” Maddon said. “Physically, 44 pitches, he hasn’t done that in a while. But also the seven outs and what it meant and the plane ride itself, sitting on the tarmac, there was a lot of non-rest going on right there, so it was harder to recover.

“So, no, he was fine for the last game, but we set up the parameters before the game.”

Maddon is sticking with his story, that he would only deploy Davis in a save situation and not use him for one out against Turner (1.115 career postseason OPS) or have him totally warm up without the guarantee of getting him into the game.

“To put Wade in that position would be wrong on my part,” Maddon said. “We had already talked about the circumstances, so my loyalty there lies with Wade, or my decision-making lies with Wade, nobody else.

“That was a heavy day for him (in Washington). Going into the last game in L.A., like I talked about, we talked about one inning only, and not to get up and not put him in the game.

“If you get him up and sit him down, then you have no idea what it’s going to look like. My responsibility is to him, also, and to the players, so I told him that before the game, so I had to stick with our decision.”

Before finalizing the Jorge Soler trade at the winter meetings, the Kansas City Royals took the unusual step of allowing the Cubs to meet with Davis at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley and go through a physical exam. The Cubs wanted reassurances after Davis spent parts of last season on the disabled list with a forearm strain and a flexor strain.

The Cubs wondered if “dry-humping” had contributed to those injuries, and tried to stay conservative with Davis during his free-agent year, watching him convert his first 32 save chances and using him for three-plus outs only three times during the regular season, all in mid-to-late September.

“If you look at the numbers this year, I thought going into the playoffs his usage has been really good,” Maddon said. “Minimal, in a sense. We didn’t get him up hardly at all where we didn’t utilize him.

“He just wasn’t set up for it the other day. So honestly, I think he’s in really good shape right now, actually. I don’t think he could have gone those seven outs the other day if he had been overly dried up during the course of the season. He felt good. But that was above and beyond, and that wasn’t part of the game plan the other night.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Ben Zobrist shares his leadoff approach

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Ben Zobrist shares his leadoff approach

Sports Talk Live is on location at the Brickhouse Tavern at Wrigley Field to get you set for Game 3 of the NLCS. David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Jesse Rogers (ESPNChicago.com) and Bob Nightengale (USA Today) join Kap on the panel. 

Plus, Ben Zobrist and Curtis Granderson drop by to talk about the big matchup.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here: