If you’ve been reading the papers and tuning into a certain four-letter network for the last week, you might be led to believe that the NFC Championship game between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers was merely the undercard to a 1-on-1 sparring match between quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers. Given the field conditions, chilly forecast and enormity of the game, the truth of the matter is that Cutler and Rodgers’ roles will be relegated to being the supporting members to the rest of the cast when the two teams face off Sunday at Soldier Field.
According to WGN weather guru Tom Skilling, temperatures are expected to be around 22 when the ball is kicked-off at 2:00 with eastlerly15 mph winds off the lake and wind chill around 13. The chilly conditions will cause the football to be hard and slick, making it tough for either quarterback to grip the ball and perhaps even tougher for the wide receivers to catch. Passing accuracy could also be an issue as the easterly winds off Lake Michigan will be swirling in the stadium at 15 mph.
If either offensive line can control the line of scrimmage and give their offense a running attack to rely on, their team will more than certainly have an extreme edge and will likely be heading to Dallas for Super Bowl XLV.
Chicago running back Matt Forte is enjoying a career year and the Bears should continue to feed him the rock. Since entering the league in 2008, anytime Forte has rushed for 100 or more yards, the Bears have won, going 8-0. And they’re 48-0 when the team attempts 40 or more rushes.
“In order for us to win, we have to run the ball effectively.” Forte told the Green Bay Gazette, “I think if we get more than 10 or 11 carries, that allows me as a running back to get into rhythm and the offensive line to get into rhythm and make our running game effective.”
Conversely, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy’s potent offensive attack has been supplemented with a new weapon in the form of rookie tailback James Starks. Starks had not even played in a NFL game until week 15, and has since given the offense a dimension they’ve lacked all season long. Starks’ best game came in the Wild Card win over the Philadelphia Eagles, where he had 123 yards on 23 carries. McCarthy relied on Starks again last week in the Divisional Playoff win against the Atlanta Falcons, rushing for 66 yards on 25 carries. When Starks managed just 20 yards in the week 17 win over Chicago, he struggled to find a rhythm on just 5 carries as the Green Bay offense did as well, scoring only 10 points.
McCarthy will also have bruising fullback John Kuhn for short-yardage situations and fleet-footed Brandon Jackson as a change of pace.
The Bears defense will continue to play their cover-2 scheme that is keyed on solid tackling and creating turnovers. Starks believes he will be able have success by catching the Bears front four in pass-rush mode and the secondary focused on their cover 2-scheme that is keyed on keeping the receivers in front of them and stopping Rodgers.
“That’s Aaron Rodgers,” he told the Daily Herald. “I’m James Starks. I don’t think (the Bears) are going to focus on me. I mean, that’s AARON.”
When the Green Bay does go to the air, the much publicized sloppy field conditions could also be an issue for Chicago’s secondary as it will be tougher for defenders to keep their footing than the receivers that they’re covering. Receivers tend to have an advantage when the footing is suspect, as they can prepare to make their cuts while running their routes, rather than a defender who needs to anticipate and make quick, sudden plays towards the ball.
When Rodgers does throw, look for Bears defenders to attempt to strip the ball away from Packers wide receivers, specifically James Jones, who has been very generous in turning the ball over. Jones coughed up the ball twice in the Bears win October 7, 2007 and had a critical fumble in the 4th quarter of the Bears win week 3 of 2010.
Kickoff on Sunday is set for 2:00. The winner will play either the New York Jets or the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV in Dallas on February 6.
Bears bits: Safety Chris Harris (hip) and linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) did not participate in Thursday’s practice. For the Packers, linebacker Frank Zombo (knee) sat out again, while cornerback Charles Woodson (toe), defensive ends Cullen Jenkins (calf) and Ryan Pickett (ankle), running back John Kuhn (shoulder), linebacker Clay Matthews (shin) and center/guard Jason Spitz (calf)were limited.