Friday, December 27, 2013

Preview: Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Chicago

Here's how both teams looked at the end of October after Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler had taken most of their snaps at quarterback:
Team Pass Offense Run Offense Pass Defense Run Defense
Packers 3 4 28 8
Bears 8 7 25 9
And here are those same rankings as of December 27th:
Team Pass Offense Run Offense Pass Defense Run Defense
Packers 15 3 2630
Bears 8 16 1832
It would seem obvious that the pass offense would tank with WallaceTolzienFlynn, and the stats show that out. The pass offense has been in a statistically free-fall since Rodgers broke his collarbone. On the other hand, the Bears have been just about the same without Cutler. There's been a lot of talk about how they might be better with QB Josh McCown, but he's been helped by the fact that he's faced several bad pass defenses this season (including the Packers). The only thing that's really changed is their running game. I'm not sure what's happened over their past seven games, but RB Matt Forte is coming off a stinker against the Eagles. Maybe teams have focused on stopping Forte while Cutler was out. However, if defenses have been trying to shut down RB Eddie Lacy over the past several weeks, it hasn't been working; the Packers' run offense is up slightly from where it was at the end of October.

The real collapse has come from the Bears' run defense. The Eagles destroyed the Bears on the ground last week. While it looks like the Packers are just slightly worse, the reality is that the Bears' run D is about twice as bad (Packers rush DVOA 5.1%, Bears at 11.4% and lower is better). The offense will be a lot better with Rodgers, but the focus of the game plan should still be about winning the ground game with Lacy and RB James Starks.

As for the defense, they'll probably be exposed early and often. In Cutler's first game back against the Browns, who have a slightly better defense than the Packers, Cutler threw for 265 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also had 2 interceptions so that's where the Packers' defense will have to make some plays. Also, Forte ran for 127 yards (5.8 ypc as a team), and the Packers have had all kinds of trouble stopping running backs over the past few weeks.

Just as that Bears/Browns game turned into a 38 to 31 score, so game might too since the Packers have allowed over 30 points in their last two games and haven't held a team to under 20 points since the Ravens back on October 13th. I'm not sure how either team will stop the other's offense, so it might come down to who wins the turnover battle and maybe even be decided by a special teams play.

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