After a miserable Week 3 performance, the Bears have regrouped, rattled off two wins, and have gotten their season back on track. Players and coaches alike are confident in the clear identity that Matt Nagy, Bill Lazor and Sean Desai have carved out for the team, and they should be. The Bears now know if they can control the ball on offense and lean on their dominant defense, they’ll have a path to victory in just about every game they’ll play. But that game script will be put to the test against arguably their toughest foe so far: the Packers. It’s a bitter rivalry that recently has felt like a measuring stick game in the best of times, or a foregone conclusion in the worst of times. This year, if they stick to their identity and can hit on these three keys, they’ll give themselves an opportunity to come away with their second consecutive upset win.
TAKE THE BALL AWAY
Besides their Week 2 takeaway explosion against the Bengals, the Bears defense has relied on the “bend don’t break” philosophy to keep points off the board. That is to say, they’re ok surrendering yards in between the 20s, as long as they stiffen up and keep opponents out of the endzone. Over the past two weeks it’s worked. The defense gave up 610 yards and 39 first downs to the Lions and Raiders, but limited them to a combined 2-7 in the red zone and 2-6 in goal-to-go scenarios. That led to only 23 points in both games combined, and two wins. But that is much more difficult to accomplish against Aaron Rodgers. Even though the Packers have struggled to score touchdowns in the red zone (55%, 27th in NFL), Rodgers seems to have a killer instinct against the Bears. To give themselves the best opportunity to keep points off the board this week, the defense will likely have to come away with a timely takeaway, or two.
SCORE POINTS, QUICKLY
After an uncharacteristic blowout loss in Week 1, the Packers offense has gotten in a groove, averaging 29.3 points per game. They’ve done it against some pretty good defenses too, including the 49ers and the Steelers. While the Bears are certainly well equipped to keep the Packers at bay, it’s likely Aaron Rodgers and co. will find their way to score points. On offense, scoring early in the game will be helpful to give the D a little cushion. Additionally, long, methodical drives will keep Rodgers off the field and out of the endzone. But explosive, quick scores will also be important to either increase the Bears’ lead, or help the Bears get back into the game if they fall behind.
This is a focus every week, but not even halfway through the season the Bears have piled on injuries, leaving them thin at a couple of positions. With David Montgomery (knee) and Damien Williams (COVID-19) down for Week 6, the team will rely on Khalil Herbert and Ryan Nall at running back. On the line, they lost rookies Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom before the season began, and neither have returned. Now, Germain Ifedi is on IR too, and Elijah Wilkinson will be in to replace him at right tackle. In all, the Bears have 14 players who were either less-than-full participants at practice at some point this week, or carry an injury designation heading into Sunday (this doesn’t count Jimmy Graham who’s a DNP on Wednesdays for a Vet/Non-injury rest day). By comparison, the Packers have seven such players on their injury report. The depth of the team isn’t critically thin yet, but a few more injuries and the Bears could find themselves hunting for players to fill in at various positions.
FINAL SCORE PREDICTION
The Bears seem genuine when they say they’ve found their identity and they’re sticking to it, and that should help them keep the game close. The fact that the Packers will be without each of their starting cornerbacks, Jaire Alexander and Kevin King, will help too. But Rodgers seems to always find a way to win these close games, and that intangible is (by definition) hard to quantify. For these purposes, I think it could be the difference.
Packers: 21, Bears: 20