Who Has The Edge? (Position Grid)  

 

Expect both teams to be aggressive in renewal of ancient rivalry

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A breakdown of Sunday's NFC North showdown between the Bears and Packers:

Jay Cutler has played exceptionally well while guiding the Bears to seven wins in their past eight games. He has tossed 16 touchdowns with only seven interceptions during that span, and his improved decision-making has allowed the Bears' offense to roll. Against a Packers' defense that loves to attack with pressure, Cutler must avoid the big turnover while making a few critical plays from the pocket.

Aaron Rodgers put together a stellar effort in his return against the Giants last week, but he faces a stiffer challenge against the Bear. With the Bears intent on taking away the deep ball, he must patiently pick apart the coverage with a host of short and intermediate throws. If he can avoid the temptation to force the ball down the field, Rodgers could put up big numbers in this pivotal contest.

Matt Forte has quietly carried the Bears' offense with his all-around skills when given significant touches as runner/receiver. With Mike Martz willing to put more of the offense on Forte's shoulders, the third-year pro must deliver an outstanding effort to keep the Packers from aggressively coming after Cutler in the pocket.

Brandon Jackson is the headliner of a running back rotation that has underperformed for most of the season. However, he has started to show signs of life due to more opportunities, and the added balance has helped the Packers flourish offensively. With John Kuhn emerging as a scoring threat near the goal line, the Packers have started to find their offensive rhythm.

The Bears' receiving corps has played better than anyone anticipated prior to the season. Devin Hester, Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett have taken turns producing explosive plays in the passing game. Knox and Hester are Cutler's preferred deep targets, but Bennett is his go-to guy on short crossing routes. Greg Olsen also is a factor as a viable red-zone weapon.

Johnny Knox

The Packers have the NFL's deepest and most talented receiving corps, and Rodgers has terrorized teams by taking advantage of favorable matchups. Greg Jennings has routinely gotten past defenders on the deep ball, and Rodgers will take several shots down the field to see if he can connect on a big play. With Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson, the Packers' receiving corps could be the deciding factor.

The Bears' much-maligned offensive line has played much better in recent weeks. They are starting to create a consistent push at the line of scrimmage, and their protection of Cutler has drastically improved. Though the Packers' complex blitz scheme will test their awareness, Martz's switch to a quick-rhythm attack will cover up the Bears' deficiencies.

Olin Kreutz

The Packers' frontline has been inconsistent in protection, but Rodgers' mobility has masked some of those issues. However, the Bears' formidable front four features a pair of athletic edge rushers who will test the quickness of the Packers' offensive tackles. Bryan Bulaga, in particular, must step up to the challenge of handling Julius Peppers or Israel Idonije off the edge. How well Bulaga fares could be the deciding factor in this battle.

Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije anchor a Bears' defensive front that has pillaged opponents with speed and athleticism. Their ability to generate consistent pressure on the passer allows the Bears to create turnovers in their two-deep zones. Given the Packers' struggles in pass protection, Idonije and Peppers could dominate the game off the edges.

B.J. Raji has blossomed into an elite player in only his second season, and his ability to win his battle at the point of attack sets the tone for the defense. Ryan Pickett is immovable at the point of attack, so the Packers will count on him to slow down the Bears' emerging ground game.

Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are outstanding playmakers on the second level, and they specialize in delivering game-changing plays in key moments. Their ability to run and cover that will pose a challenge for the Packers' aerial attack. With Rodgers poised to put the ball up 30 to 35 times, Briggs and Urlacher will need to make a few momentum-changing plays for the Bears to win.

Brian Urlacher

Clay Matthews has been a dominant force as a pass rusher off the edge, and Dom Capers will deploy him from various spots to get him free on rushes. A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop are stout against the run, and they will aggressively attack Forte in the hole.

Charles Tillman, D.J. Moore and Tim Jennings face an enormous challenge against the Packers' explosive receiving corps. If they can force Rodgers to settle for short and intermediate throws, they might be able to come down with an interception off a tip or overthrow. Turnovers will be essential to a Bears win, so the secondary will play a critical role in deciding the outcome.

Charles Woodson is the Packers' top playmaker in the backend. He has a knack for coming up with the critical sack, fumble or interception. Tramon Williams and Nick Collins are also big-time playmakers, and Cutler must be careful not to float errant passes in their vicinity. In a game that will ultimately be decided by big plays, it will be interesting to see if the Packers' secondary can deliver a game-changer.

Charles Woodson

Hester should be nicknamed "The G.O.A.T" (Greatest of All Time) for his remarkable ability to take punts and kicks back to the house. He is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, and the Packers would be wise to avoid him at all costs. Daniel Manning is equally as dangerous on kickoffs, so expect to see the Packers use the pooch or squib kick to limit their effectiveness.

Tramon Williams flashes some explosiveness as a returner, but he hasn't produced enough big plays to give the Packers a substantial advantage in the kicking game. Jordy Nelson and Sam Shields will need to deliver big gains on kick returns to set up the Packers in good field position. Mason Crosby has been inconsistent from beyond 40 yards, so a long-range kick could be risky for the Packers with the game on the line.

Lovie Smith has the Bears clicking on all cylinders, and he will continue to push them hard with an opportunity for the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs potentially on the line. Mike Martz and Rod Marinelli have made subtle adjustments for their respective units, and the solid play on both sides of the ball can be attributed to those changes.

Lovie Smith

Mike McCarthy has surprisingly kept the Packers' ship afloat despite facing a host of injury issues. As the team's offensive play caller, he has done a good job of managing the game without the assistance of a dependable rushing attack. Dom Capers relentlessly attacks quarterbacks from a multitude of defensive formations, and his aggressiveness could force Jay Cutler into a dismal day in the pocket.

The Bears have won seven of the past eight games, and are shooting for the No. 1 seed in the NFC -- if the Falcons lose. With that as key motivation, the Bears will not take it easy on the Packers despite having the opportunity to rest their key starters given their cemented status as a bye team.

The Packers can earn a playoff berth with a win, so they will empty all of the bullets to win this affair. Aaron Rodgers had success in the two teams' first matchup, but he will need to guide his team to touchdowns to defeat the Bears in this one. If he delivers a Pro Bowl-caliber performance with a playoff berth on the line, he will not only earn elite quarterback status, but another date in the postseason.


 

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