- Brian Hoyer came out and looked at Alshon Jeffery three times in the first five plays. It looked like the Packers plan was to get physical with him and the other receivers with tight man coverage. It was effective early as it looked like the referees were going to let them play. Hoyer eventually started spreading the ball around and things loosened up slightly.
- The Bears continued to try to pound the ball up the middle early on first down. It wasn’t working and it was forcing them to throw on second and third. It was pretty predictable.
- Hoyer overthrew Josh Bellamy who had a couple steps on the safety in the first quarter. He overthrew him by a long way, reminiscent of a similar play against the Jaguars last week. Missing big plays like that can’t keep happening.
- The offensive line struggled to block the run averaging 3.8 yards per carry. Jordan Howard appeared to struggle more than Ka’Deem Carey once again. Defensive lineman tackled Howard on 12 of his 14 carries in the last game not counting his touchdown. The blocking for him hasn’t been good in particular.
- Eric Kush started in place of Josh Sitton. He’s not very athletic and he struggled a bit, especially when called upon to block and the second level. It’s a funny comment because Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains chose to start him over Ted Larsen because of his athletic traits and mobility. Sitton had started 81 consecutive games and 129-of-131 since becoming a starter for the Packers in 2009. Long came out hurt in the second quarter and was replaced by Larsen, who got the last laugh as they had to play him anyway.
- Clay Matthews beat Charles Leno on the play that Hoyer got hurt in the second quarter. In fairness, Leno had little chance as Matthews looped around to the inside. Julius Peppers also beat Kyle Long on the play. The pass protection had been decent to that point but it really started to slip late in the second quarter. Things went south from there.
- Cody Whitehair had a rough game blocking the run last week. He looked better tonight.
- Matt Barkley replaced Hoyer. He saw some pressure and looked OK as he’s quite a bit more mobile than Hoyer. He might look better in the future but he’s a third string quarterback and things are looking pretty bleak at the position right now.
- The Bears did not make it into the red zone all night.
- The Bears came out playing man coverage and rushing four with the occasional blitz. Perhaps more than occasional. It’s obvious that the Bears aren’t confident they can get pressure rushing four. I suppose you pick your poison but it looked like coverage was working early in the first drive.
- Later in the second quarter they changed the plan and backed off the line of scrimmage and played a soft zone. They also got a bit more pressure, especially when Aaron Rogers was holding the ball trying to make a play. They let the Packers have the shallow throws underneath when they were in this defense, which Rogers gladly took, however. After six games this season, Rodgers has an 88.4 passer rating — 10 touchdowns, four interceptions and 60.2-percent completions — with Jordy Nelson (who was hurt last year).
Rogers looked better this game when he was getting the ball out fast. He generally looked reasonably accurate.
- Nevertheless, the strategy appeared to work. The Bears successfully held the Packers out of the end zone for just 6 points in the first half.
They mixed it up, back and forth man to zone from there.
- Nice play by Cre’Von LeBlanc to knock a touchdown pass away from Randall Cobb. Looked like a pretty good throw.
- Ty Montgomery is a tough matchup. He lines up either in the backfield or on the line of scrimmage and he’s a handful for even the safeties. He looks like he’s particularly good catching the ball out of the backfield where he can get some space. He also looks pretty big for 216 pounds and he runs with some power for a guy that size.
- Nevertheless the Bears did a good job of stopping the run in the first half, giving up only 2.7 yards per carry but the Packers ran the Bears over in the second half. They finished with 4.5.
- The Bears looked well prepared to defend the misdirection play action pass where Rogers fakes a hand off and does a naked boot in the opposite direction.
- Pernell McPhee was added to the roster before the game. He looked rusty. It looked to me like they went with Leonard Floyd and Willie Young at linebacker most of the time.
- The Packers dominated the time of possession in the first quarter but finished the half with a field goal drive that made up some of the deficit. Nevertheless, you got the distinct impression that the defense was going to wear down if the game continued in that vein. It did and they did. The time of possession finished at Bears: 20:24 Packers: 39:36.
- Leonard Floyd got some good pressure including a sack in the first half. He combined with Willie Young to cause an Aaron Rogers fumble which was recovered by Floyd for a touchdown.
- Tracy Porter looked OK when he was out there but the other cornerbacks sometimes struggled as they committed a some damaging pass interference penalties in the first half. It looked like they picked on LeBlanc quite a bit. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. I’d say De’Vante Bausby struggled the most, mostly with Devante Adams.
- Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson were all their usual professional selves. The only good thing about the networks putting the miserable Bears on in prime time over and over again is that they get the best of these guys.
- Bears special teams were pretty good. Very good kick coverage. Akeem Hicks blocked a meaningless field goal late in the game. No complaints.
- Once again there were too many Bears penalties (10 penalties for 108 yards). Adrian Amos got called for a very obvious pass interference late in the second quarter for a huge penalty of 44 yards. The Bears stopped the Packers at fourth and goal at the one but they started the next drive practically on their own goal line.
- Drops weren’t much of a factor which is unusual for the Packers.
- The Floyd fumble recovery was a big part of this game if only because it was the only way the Bears were ever going to score a touchdown. Again, the Bears continue to protect the ball well. Barkley threw two meaningless interceptions late in the fourth quarter.
- Thank you CBS for bringing back that John Madden Miller Light commercial right before half time.
- It was nice to see Leonard Floyd emerge tonight and Bears fans should hope that he continues to develop. Whitehair also appeared to me to get back on track this week.
I thought it was interesting that we may have seen a turning point in the Packers season tonight. After the Bears recovered the fumble in the end zone, the Packer offense came alive. Suddenly Rogers was dropping back and throwing the ball on time at the top of his drop like the quarterback we used to see in 2014.
If it caries over into the rest of the season, they’ll look back at that moment as when they gritted their teeth, pulled it together and it all got better.
Well, that didn’t take long. Josh Sitton wasn’t on the street 24 hours before reports surfaced that he was visiting the rival Bears.
This would be nice turnabout for the Bears, who have often released players such as defensive end Julius Peppers only to see the Packers burn the team by turning around and signing them quickly to reasonable contracts.
Most reports are assuming that Sitton would play left guard, moving rookie Cody Whitehair to center. But Whitehair struggled in his only game at center during the preseason whereas he’s been solid at guard. Sitton has worked out with the Packers at center in practice and he’s said that he would be comfortable playing the position if needed. The Bears would be far better one the whole keeping Whitehair developing at guard and replacing Ted Larsen, who is really a backup quality lineman.
Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune quotes head coach John Fox at the Combine on the performance of quarterback Jay Cutler last season:
“‘I saw way more about his mental toughness,’ Fox said. ‘I saw way more about how he can absorb an offense and execute it under pressure. I think that speaks volumes for how successful he was on third downs, which is a tough down for a quarterback in the NFL. But I was very, very pleased by what I saw and what we have to work with going forward.'”
I find these comments to be comforting because:
- I was also pleased with what Cutler showed, particularly during the Packers game on Thanksgiving.
- The comments indicate to me that Fox understands Cutler’s major problem – lack of mental toughness.
There’s always been a suspicion in my mind that because the Bears coaching staff wasn’t with Cutler during his first six years with the team, they won’t understand why trusting him should be an exercise in caution, even now. The fact that Fox’s first comment was regarding Cutler’s major past weakness indicates that he understands the quarterback better than I thought. He knows what to look for if Cutler stumbles and he will recognize it if he sees it. And the odds are good that he’ll be ready to do something about it.
Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers yet another of your questions:
“When will Bears give backup quarterback Matt Blanchard a shot?”
“– Steve, Park Ridge”
“The Bears signed Blanchard to a reserve/future contract in January so he will be on the team’s 90-man roster when the offseason program kicks off in April. He performed pretty well in training camp and preseason for the Packers last summer but didn’t make the cut as they kept draft pick Brett Hundley from UCLA as their No. 3. This is Blanchard’s second go-round with the Bears and his first with the current leadership in place. We’ll see what kind of opportunity he gets. Things could change if the Bears elect to use one of their higher draft picks on a quarterback.”
I could definitely see the Bears giving Blanchard a chance at being their quarterback of the future. When Biggs says that Blanchard played “pretty well” with the Packers he understating it a bit. Packer head coach Mike McCarthy raved about him (via Tyler Dunne at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
“I’ll just tell you what I told him when I met him in April. I said, ‘Why the hell don’t you have a job?’ Just after watching his workout and watching film of his time at Carolina. I just think there’s a lot there to work with, as far as his physical talent. The young man’s a winner, and he’s in a good place.”
The Bears actually have two young back ups with some potential on the roster. The other is 6’1″ 219 pound David Fales. But at 6’3″, 225 lb, Blanchard has ideal size. He also has all of the best characteristics that Fales demonstrates in terms of smart play with better arm strength and athleticism.
As Biggs points out, if the Bears draft a quarterback high in the first three or four rounds of the 2016 NFL draft, the odds that either Blanchard or False ever get a shot at starting drop dramatically. But every indication is that the Bears believe in Jay Cutler. He will be only 33 years old when the 2016 season starts and I have grave doubts that the current administration is going to spend a high draft pick on the future at the position this year. If that’s the case, in my judgment Blanchard has a better chance of becoming a starting NFL quarterback than Fales does and, assuming that the current coaching staff evaluates him with an open mind, it’s entirely possible that he’ll get a shot.
Reports from the Senior Bowl at nfl.com support previous indications that the defensive linemen are going to be a strength in this year’s NFL draft. Here’s a cross section of the comments from the first day of practice:
“We knew going in the deepest positional group was defensive tackle, and boy did that hold true. I thought Matt Ioannidis from Temple had a great day. I thought the kid from Louisiana Tech, Vernon Butler, had a phenomenal day. But the topper was Adolphus Washington from Ohio State. He was all over the field in one-on-one drills; he was too quick, too stout. He was great in team drills. I thought he put on a show.”
“[Clemson DT D.J.] Reader‘s 340-pound frame was often too much for many of the linemen he faced on Tuesday. Keep an eye on this late addition because Reader could make himself some money this week.
“Louisville DT Sheldon Rankins showed off his ‘karate’ hands by defeating blockers with astounding quickness at times. While Rankins is undersized, his compact frame, outstanding balance, and next-level hand usage should make him one of the most consistent performers on the South squad this week.”
All this is great news for teams like the Bears who need defensive line help. It looks like they’re going to have a great selection to choose from.
But much of the rest of the league might not be too pleased. This dominant performance by the defensive tackles in these practices can’t speak well for the offensive linemen that are getting beat on a consistent basis. Judging by what I saw during the regular season, I’d be very surprised if less than three-quarters of the league is in need of offensive line help. That includes most of the playoff teams, as was graphically demonstrated by the beating that New England quarterback Tom Brady took on Sunday. In the NFC North, Minnesota, Detroit, Green Bay and Chicago all need help in one form or another along the offensive front.
The Bears might be able to find multiple defensive linemen in this draft. But the indications are growing that offensive linemen are going be at a premium.
Wes Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette interviews Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy. He asks him about reversing his decision to give play calling duties to offensive coordinator Tom Clements during the 2015 season.
“Those are conversations that will start Wednesday. I’ll tell you I will be calling the plays from here on in. How we structure our staff that’s really what lies ahead.”
“What I was trying to accomplish [with the initial change] with being a balanced team, I felt that was accomplished with defense and special teams. Obviously, we didn’t get it done on offense. The structure was obviously a part of the failure on offense. That will be closely evaluated.”
“Without going into total details … [the offensive problem] wasn’t about Tom or Tom calling plays. Tom is a valued assistant coach and has been my whole time here. I fully anticipate him being back. We have a staff structure that’s under total evaluation.”
It’s been pointed out many times that the Packers were missing wide receiver Jordy Nelson and that was a big loss. But it’s now obvious that their difficulties on offense went way beyond that. Clements was another part of the problem. Otherwise McCarthy wouldn’t be continuing to call plays.
Offensive play calling is an art that I’m convinced some people possess and some don’t. Some of it has to do with planning but I think a lot of it is simply thinking fast on your feet and remembering to call the plays that you planned to go with. The guess here – and past experience with some of the more poor offensive coordinators the Bears have had bears it out – is that you get used to relying on the same plays over and over again over the course of a season. They’re the ones you tend to call when you’ve only got a few seconds to make a decision. That makes you predictable.
But in this case the problem may go beyond play calling. Part of the purpose for giving up play calling duties, as McCarthy pointed out, was to get McCarthy out of the offensive room so that he could spend more time with the defense and special teams. That degraded the offensive performance, something that was obvious to everyone as the Packers made mistake after mistake on the field. The crisp execution that the Packers are known for disappeared and suddenly, for instance, receivers couldn’t get on the same page with quarterback Aaron Rogers.
This lesson shouldn’t be lost on Bears fans as they watch the team transition from Adam Gase to Dowell Loggains at the offensive coordinator spot. Even the best offenses in the NFL can fall apart if you don’t have the right guy running the unit. Calling plays and getting everyone to perform as a unit where players are always where they are supposed to be are two of the biggest jobs that any offensive coach has. It’s a job that Clements couldn’t do. Let’s hope that Loggains does better or we’re going to see a Bears offense that performed in a commendably clean manner for most of the 2015 season regress.
Its not a surprise but Green Bay would like to move linebacker Clay Matthews back outside full time next year.
“In order to do that, the Packers might have to make it an offseason priority to acquire another starting-caliber inside linebacker. When general manager Ted Thompson did not address that position until the fourth round of last year’s draft, when he took Jake Ryan, it ensured Matthews would play mostly inside again.”
What all of this means is that the Bears, who arguably need two starters at the inside linebacker position, will be competing with the Packers for the same players. The Bears pick far higher in the draft order (11th) but they likely have their eye on one or two prospects, for instance, in the second round that the Packers will be considering with the 27th overall pick.
The situation reminds me of the 2010 draft when the Packers traded up in the third round to get ahead of the Bears to select safety Morgan Burnett. The Bears were left to select Major Wright four picks later. Burnett established himself as a starter with the Packers, and has just competed his sixth season with them. Wright is long gone along with the parade of other safeties the Bears selected in the Lovie Smith era.
Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains what happened on the Packers offensive line in Sunday’s blow out loss to the Arizona Cardinals:
“[David] Bakhtiari is out, [Brian] Bulaga goes down, [T.J.] Lang and [Corey] Linsley both miss portions of what ends as a humiliating 30-point loss for the visitors. The key reserves are once again tested, and the offensive tackles fail in volcanic fashion: 8 1/2 pressures (unofficially) and multiple sacks allowed by Don Barclay; five pressures and a strip sack yielded by Josh Walker.”
That’s quite a test of the Packers’ offensive line depth, even against a Cardinal team that isn’t that good rushing the passer without blitzing. It’s something they’ve been able to adjust to in the past by winning one-on-one match ups with their wide receivers but not this year when they are not only giving the team their usual high number of drops but aren’t producing in other ways as well. Nevertheless, offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett has a plan:
“The change could be as simple as asking running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks to chip block on incoming pass rushers, something the Packers have done sporadically this season. Or they may choose to utilize the blocking skills of tight end Andrew Quarless, who returned to the field Sunday after spending roughly three months on injured reserve/designated to return. Or they could move the pocket laterally to take advantage of the mobility of [Aaron] Rodgers, who threw for just 151 yards against the Cardinals and posted a passer rating of 66.2.
“‘Without getting into our scheme,’ Bennett said, ‘we’ll do certain things to put our players in the best position to win.'”
None of this is brain surgery. But with the exception of the last thing on the list, all of them require that the team be in a close enough game to where they don’t have to pass with the Packers usual multiple wide receiver sets. That wasn’t the case on Sunday where the Packers fell behind early in spectacular fashion.
Many will claim that the key to the Packers success this week against the Vikings and in the playoffs after that will be the performance of that much maligned offensive line. But the really essential element is much simpler. The Packers still have Rogers and even though that’s not enough to carry the team as it has been in the past, if they simply avoid turnovers and play good defense, they’ll give the team a chance. If they do that, the necessary adjustments will flow from it and the Packers should be able to move the ball even against a good Minnesota defense, albeit not all that well.
Rob Demovsky at ESPN describes a change in the Packers play calling that may be a turning point in more than one way.
“Even those who wanted – begged, really – the Green Bay Packers coach to take back the offensive play-calling duties couldn’t have fathomed this: 44 runs and 230 yards on the ground.
“This is Mike McCarthy 2.0.
“The same coach who too often proved reluctant to stick with the running game during his first nine seasons as the head coach/offensive playcaller did an about-face – first in his decision to strip Tom Clements of the job he handed him this offseason, and then in his approach to his first game back in control of the offense. In Sunday’s 28-7 win over the Dallas Cowboys, McCarthy showed a previously unseen commitment to the run.”
It’s not a coincidence that the Packers were at their worst Sunday when they stopped running the ball. After a hot start behind Eddie Lacy where they went up 14-0 in the first half, their offense stalled as they seemed to forget about him. It picked up again when Lacy did in the second half. Most Bears fans will remember that the Packers did an uncommonly good job of running the ball on Thanksgiving with Lacy. Had they stuck to it, they probably would have won that game, too.
Something tells me that the Packers turned a corner yesterday. Lacy is a load and he’s tough to stop behind an under-rated run blocking offensive line in Green Bay. It’s a little early to tell but it’s entirely possible that with good, spirited defensive play, the Packers could finally be on their way to another Super Bowl run.