GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers are 8.5-point favorites for Sunday night’s game against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field. A Green Bay victory would be No. 100 in the series.
While the Bears are bad enough to have lost four in a row, they were good enough to start the season 5-1. Here are three reasons for concern.
1. Situational Dominance
Something’s got to give. The Packers are third in the NFL with 30.8 points per game. Chicago is No. 6 with 20.9 points allowed per game. It hasn’t allowed more than 26 points in a game all season.
The secret sauce for Chicago is its performance in the two most important situations in the game: third down and the red zone. The Bears are No. 1 in both areas. On third down, opponents are moving the chains only 33.3 percent of the time. In the red zone, foes are scoring touchdowns on just 44.1 percent of trips inside the 20-yard line. The red-zone performance is particularly impressive as there’s only one other team at 50 percent or better.
Offensively, Green Bay is No. 4 in both departments. Of note, the Packers are 5-0 when it converts 50-plus percent on third down but 2-3 when less than 50 percent.
“It’s the pass rush first,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “When you have a pass rush like that, you know you’re going to be a formidable defense. Then when you can pair it on the back end with guys who really are smart, intelligent, savvy players, you’re going to create turnovers. There’s a lot of vision to the football. You have a good mix of obviously a front that can stop the run and control the line of scrimmage with guys like Akiem (Hicks) and then the linebackers are so talented. Tie it all together – a great pass rush with guys on the back who really know how to cover – you’re going to be in a lot of games.”
2. Mack vs. Turner
Billy Turner has been perhaps the unsung hero of Green Bay’s powerful offense. A mediocre-at-best right guard, he’s been a huge surprise with his quality play at offensive tackle. However, he hasn’t faced anyone like Chicago’s indomitable Khalil Mack.
Mack, simply put, is one of the best players in the NFL. He’s got 6.5 sacks, eight tackles for losses and two forced fumbles. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s fifth in the NFL with 41 total pressures.
“Khalil Mack is a game-wrecker,” coach Matt LaFleur said. “You better know where he’s at on every snap because he’s got the ability just by himself to go wreck whatever you’re trying to do.”
Actually, it shouldn’t be hard to find him. Mack rushes almost exclusively from the left side, meaning he’ll spend most of the game battling Turner. According to Pro Football Focus, of the 59 offensive tackles with 50 percent playing time, Turner is tied for 42nd in its pass-blocking efficiency metric, which measures sacks (two), hits (three) and hurries (13) per pass-protecting snap. He’ll be put to the test against Mack, who has 4.5 sacks, five TFLs and four turnover plays in five games against Green Bay.
One of those games came at Lambeau Field in 2018 in his Chicago debut. When Rodgers was out in the first half with a knee injury, Mack ripped the ball away from DeShone Kizer and had a pick-six on a screen.
3. Patterson’s Special
Imagine the Packers get the ball to start the game and put together a strong first drive, only to get shut down by Chicago’s red-zone defense. After an opening field goal, Mason Crosby blasts the kickoff 5 yards into the end zone. Cordarrelle Patterson runs it out, anyway, and takes it to the house.
Just like that, in the span of 10 seconds, the Bears have stolen all the momentum.
In the game before the bye against Minnesota, Patterson returned a kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown. With that, Patterson tied an NFL record with eight career kickoff-return touchdowns.
“Every time I touch the ball, my only goal is to score,” Patterson said after the game. “It's nothing less than to score a touchdown and help my team out.”
Green Bay’s kickoff coverage actually has been solid this season. However, after giving up huge plays in three of the past five games – the blocked punt against Houston, the punt-return touchdown against Jacksonville and the fumble against Indianapolis – confidence must be waning. The Packers’ coverage unit can’t afford to play tentative against one of the best returners in NFL history.