Joniak: Keys To Bears-Packers

Kickoff is set for noon Sunday from Soldier Field.

December 14, 2018 - 3:39 pm
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By Jeff Joniak--

LAKE FOREST (WBBM Newsradio) -- The Bears (9-4) can win the NFC North with a victory against the Packers (5-7-1) at Soldier Field on Sunday. Here are my keys to the game.

Offense

A ball-control, balanced, clock-chewing approach would seem to be the way for the Bears to go against the Packers, as they did in a 15-6 win against the Rams last week. Finishing those drives with touchdowns is one of the most important keys, because against Aaron Rodgers, no number of points ever feels like enough. Keeping him off the field is always critical, and so is protecting the ball. No matter how much the Packers have struggled this season, giving Rodgers extra possessions is poison. 

The Packers haven't created a high number of turnovers, but they've dialed up some consistent pressure. Like the Bears, the Packers have 40 sacks, tied for fourth in the league. Of those 40 sacks, 18 came against the Bills, Rams and Dolphins. Since Week 4, the Packers have ranked in the top 10 in pass defense but have only seven interceptions for the season. It's a completely different group of personnel on defense since these teams met in the season opener. Absent for the Packers now due to injury are defensive lineman Mike Daniels, defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, linebacker Nick Perry and cornerback Kevin King. 

Defensive lineman Kenny Clark is playing well but is dealing with a sore elbow. The Bears' offense has enough versatility at receiver and in the backfield to inflict some damage on the Packers' defense and run the ball successfully. 

Defense

If the Bears replicate the intensity they played with against the Rams, it will be a memorable Sunday afternoon. Feeding off an ignited fan base, the defense is thriving at home. Rodgers is an ever-present danger, and the expectation is he will get rid of the ball quickly and create a tempo. He then can strike from anywhere by feeding one of the best and most versatile receivers in the league in Davante Adams, whose 12 touchdowns are evidence of a big-play threat who can beat press, run by corners and come down with the ball in the tightest of windows. 

Pressuring and hitting Rodgers remains a critical need. He's riding an NFL record 368 consecutive passes without an interception, and while the clock is ticking on that streak, only a few opportunities to turn him over ever present themselves. The Bears are in a feeding frenzy of takeaways -- they lead the NFL with 34 -- must remain aggressive and do whatever it takes to prevent the big play. 

Stopping the run is paramount too. Aaron Jones is third in the league 5.6 yards per carry had has eight rushing touchdowns and one receiving. There's no reason to think of him in the same class of explosive backs the Bears have just faced in the Giants' Saquon Barkley and the Rams' Todd Gurley, as he hasn't had a similar number of touches.

Special teams

Adjustments have been made on the Bears' coverage units with Sherrick McManis moving to a critical role as the nickel back. McManis has been a mentor to many on special teams, including Josh Bellamy, who made a big tackle against the Rams last week. Bears punter Pat O’Donnell is a weapon in this game. He had a good game in flipping field position and pinning the Rams deep, and the same is required against the Packers, as field position is crucial when facing Rodgers.

If the Packers kick it to Bears rookie Anthony Miller, there will be hope for a big play creating a short field for the Bears' offense. Ditto for Tarik Cohen in the punt return game, as him ripping off 20-plus-yard returns sometimes seems like the norm. In a game that could be tight, Bears kicker Cody Parkey will need to be true. He has missed eight kicks -- six field goals and two extra points. Packers kicker Mason Crosby has missed nine kicks this season -- seven field goals and two extra points.

Intangibles

This game is about finishing, which is what the Bears' didn't do in blowing a 20-point lead in a 24-23 loss to the Packers in the season opener. That setback still stings the Bears, who responded by being aggressive and hungry. How it all comes out in their collective intensity and resolve will give us a good indication of how far the Bears have come as a team and how far they may be going in 2018. The Bears have eight straight home losses to the Packers, which stings more than anything. Of course, this group isn't interested in history, only the present and the future.

Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.​​​