Skip to main content

Taking the North Means This for Bears

Analysis: Finding a way to beat Green Bay is the objective for GM Ryan Poles but there is a huge difference between the two teams' rosters right now, even if Aaron Rodgers is a graybeard QB with a questionable receiver corps.

Ryan Poles wasted no time in his tenure as Bears GM when it came to his mission statement.

"We're going to take the North and never give it back," Poles famously said.

Of course, this means overtaking the team to the north first.

Dominated by the Bears throughout the 1980s and even as late as 1991, the Green Bay Packers now own the series lead 103-95-6. So it would take four straight season sweeps just for the Bears merely to get even again with their primordial rivals

Considering the Bears have lost 11 of 12 to Green Bay, and how Aaron Rodgers has no problem screaming "I still own you," right in front of Bears fans and players at Soldier Field, the task ahead for Poles and Bears coach Matt Eberflus looks rather large.

While many regard the Bears as behind the Vikings, they have at least been able to hold the edge in that season series 5-3 over four the last years. With the Vikings also rebuilding, the edges Minnesota now enjoys are somewhat small.

The Detroit Lions are even considered to have a better roster than the Bears, who Pro Football Focus ranked 30th in roster talent this week. This edge would also be by the slimmest of margins and largely the result of Detroit starting its latest of many rebuilding projects a full year ago. Naturally they're more advanced than the Bears in this regard.

However, the Bears have a problem trying to figure out how to overtake the Packers and only a part of it relates to the quarterback situation.

1. Ownership Rights

The fateful hand of time is coming for Rodgers. He'll be 39 in December and while Tom Brady and Drew Brees have played into their 40s, no one would ever confuse the Saints QB at the end of his career with the one who could zip the ball earlier. 

Brady in his mid-40s does not win games by running around outside the pocket and ad-libbing the way Rodgers often does.

Older quarterbacks who run around eventually find defensive linemen getting younger and faster and then what happens is what happened to Brett Favre for Minnesota against the Bears in 2010.

The Bears probably don't have the pass rush to do anything about Rodgers' mouth yet, after they gutted their defensive front. This has to be a goal for Poles in the future.

As for hoping they get performances from Fields to rival those of Rodgers, he did give two good accounts of himself in the losses to Green Bay last year. The Bears led at Green Bay into the third quarter and at home had scored a touchdown to draw within six before Rodgers shoved aside the Bears defense with a clinching TD march, culminated by the "I still own you" TD run.

Fields' biggest problem is getting the kind of help he needs to present problems for Green Bay.

For now, the quarterback situation remains a real Bears problem when matching up against the Packers, but at least now they have hope for the future from Fields and from that graying, whitening beard Rodgers has.

2. Packers Future

Green Bay eventually will take a step back without Rodgers, unless Jordan Love has been hiding talent somewhere. The problem the Bears and the rest of the NFC North face is the Packers now have the best defense, without debate. 

For the first few years of the Matt Nagy era this wasn't the case but it is now and the Packers have sought to improve it even more by using their first-round draft picks and on defense instead of receiver and by retaining productive veterans they stumbled upon like De'Vondre Campbell and Rasul Douglas. The salary cap eventually will catch up as a problem for Green Bay but the Packers have sought to solve this gradually by infusing cheaper youth and it's the right way to do it considering their situation with an expensive, aging quarterback.

It's going to take every bit of Matt Eberflus' reported defensive genius and Poles finding Tampa-2 type talent to keep up with the Packers offense, and now even more speed on offense to attack the improved Green Bay defense. The Bears appear farther behind now in this regard than when Matt Nagy was coach.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

3. The Bears Defensive Scheme

Eberflus' scheme is a simple one but effective at producing turnovers. Yet, it's also an easy one for quarterbacks and offensive coordinators to understand, especially experienced ones. 

Rodgers is one of the best QBs for patience and dissecting defenses.

When Lovie Smith put a similar style defense in effect, he said he knew how to stop Brett Favre's dominance with his scheme. He was right. Favre was a gambler who would make risky throws into zone coverage and the Bears picked him off with regularity. They had a stretch of 11 games when they won seven times under Smith.

But Rodgers changed that. He has the patience to attack cover-2 and has seen plenty of zone. The scheme Eberflus put in can work to produce turnovers and even beat the Packers but they're going to need a better three technique defensive tackle producing consistent pass rush pressure and two edge rushers they know will also do it in order to cause Rodgers to put the football up for grabs. 

They don't appear to have this now, and with Robert Quinn likely to be gone,  at the very least by next year, they'll need to find another real edge-rushing threat to make the scheme work. At best, this is still a year away.

4. Better Reception

The Bears do need better receivers, as everyone reminds them. However, at least this year the difference between the teams' receiving corps is not so great. The Bears might even be better.

Christian Watson is hailed as the big Packers addition. He has great physical ability but how much can a receiver know about the pro level of the game when he played Division 1-AA ball and his team passed the ball only 27.4% of the time? North Dakota State had 67.8% of its offensive yards by rushing and receivers did not run sophisticated route trees.

The Packers have a few other young options after losing Davante Adams, like second-year receiver Amari Rodgers and Allen Lazard. They're relying heavily on Lazard, who has 1, 35, 33 and 40 catches to his credit in four years. That's not much different than the Bears counting on Byron Pringle, who had more catches last year than Lazard ever has but did it playing on a part-time basis.

The Packers receivers are in an even worse state than the Bears because they don't have a Darnell Mooney, a younger pass catcher who has proven he belongs with more receptions than all but two receivers in his NFL draft class over their first two years.

5. Special Teams

The Packers have brought in Pat O'Donnell from the Bears as punter so they think they have the problem solved that ended their season. They'll think this until there is a big moment when they need a deep or high punt to get out of a hole, and then they will see the inevitable 34-yard line drive. It happened in the 2018 playoffs and the Bears have seen it occur sporadically over the last four years.

Field goal-wise, Mason Crosby has been very accurate for ages and has been kicking for longer than Rodgers has been starting. Expecting an older kicker to hold up for so long in Green Bay's harsh environment is playing with fire. Crosby has made just 83.8% of field goals over the last four years as he has aged. That's just above the cutting point for kickers nowadays in the NFL.

The Bears have a kicker who made 90.3% over the last two years, the best effort in the division in that time.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven