With some extra time off this week I was able to watch the Packers/Bears game on the NFL's Game Pass. I was excited to watch this game as I have the Packers as the best team in the NFL. Watching the game a few things were confirmed for me and several new things were added.
First I have to say this, Rodgers is an amazing QB to watch. He made some throws in tight coverage that were remarkable, as well as a flip pass under pressure that was really sweet. But this is about the Bears, not about how good Rodgers is.
When watching the Bears it becomes obvious pretty quickly that their offense runs through Matt Forte. The Packers run defense didn't look very impressive to me and I'm sure that contributed in part to Matt Forte's excellent day. On the day Forte ran the ball for 141 yards on 24 carries, a 5.9 YPC and caught 5 passes for 25 yards.
Against the Packers the Bears netted 402 yards of total offense, 166 of those (or 41%) came from Forte. The Bears offensive line showed strong interior play, often getting a stalemate or decent push on BJ Raji and Co. However most of their success came when the Bears attacked the exterior of the Packers defense by either pulling guards to bludgeon open a hole for Forte or by running stretch plays and letting Forte work his magic.
For the Cardinals it's pretty obvious that limiting Forte is the surest way of stopping the Bears offense. Despite struggling against the screen last week, the Cardinals dominated the Saints run game allowing the fewest rushing yards (54) in week one.
With the threat of Forte the Bears offense was able to get some good matchups for their WR Alshon Jeffery and TE Martellus Bennett, who at least last week were Jay Culter's favorite targets. Together the duo caught ten passes. Throw in Forte and 15 of Cutler's 18 completions went to those three guys. So while Forte is the key, Jeffery and Bennett are close behind in importance.
Cardinals fan can pretty much trust the Cardinals to stop the run (though it's a new season so who's to say). That means the success of the defense will hinge on the play of the Fantastic Four (Mathieu, Bucannon, Jefferson and Johnson). If they can contain Bennett and not allow Forte to kill them in the passing game it's hard to see the Bears offense doing as well as they did last week against a weaker Packers defense.
The final test will be to see if Patrick Peterson is going to play like he is being paid. Against a rookie Brandon Cools last week he was one catch away from a perfect game. Alshon Jeffery is a different animal. Peterson limiting Jeffery will go a long way towards helping the Fantasic Four in their job of shutting down Bennet and Forte. A bad day by him and the Bears offense will be able to find balance and play more like they did against the Packers.
On the day Eddie Lacy averaged just over 4.4 yards per carry against the Bears defense, but the back breaking runs were Rodgers scrambling and making some incredible plays with either his legs or by buying time for his WRs to get open.
The Bears secondary had a much better night as their coverage was generally good but was beaten by some incredible throws by Rodgers. At least six or more of Rodgers throws were heavily contested and caught in tiny windows. Most of those throws are not something Carson Palmer is going to be able to make consistently. Really only a few QBs in the league can make those throws consistently.
A difference between the Packers and Cardinals is the WR depth and general talent. People may call me crazy but with Jordy Nelson lost for the season the Cardinals appear to have better WR depth. What the Cardinals lack is mobility at QB and that alone will make a big difference in this game. While the Bears didn't sack Rodgers they did make him leave the pocket on numerous occasions. The Bears are going to provide more of a pass rush than the Saints did, though not by much.
For the offense to win the day I believe it will be through the run game. The Packers did a great job of staying balanced with Eddie Lacy getting 19 carries and Rodgers throwing it just 23 times (though he also ran it 8 times). If the Cardinals follow the same recipe I expect the outcome to be the same. David Johnson and Chris Johnson should be a able to get 100 yards together and open up the play action to get good matchups for the Cardinals talented WR core.
After watching the Bears play I was impressed by their coverage but saw a front seven that struggled a bit against the run and getting to the passer. Despite this they are still a good defense and will be much harder to score on than the Saints were (though that's not saying much).
I don't foresee Palmer or the run game having big days but I do see them being able to do enough to move the ball and put points on the board. The Bears offense hinges on Forte, if the defense can shut him down its hard to see Cutler carving the defense up unless the pass rush just falls flat on its face. The right side of the Bears line struggled last week and may be vulnerable again this week.
I see a low scoring game with some ugly moments for both offenses, however I think the Cardinals defense will keep it close and the offense will punch out a close victory with a patented Cardiac Cards ending.