GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers will return home with an eye on making some history on Sunday night against the Chicago Bears.
Having swept the season series seven of the past 11 years, Green Bay has zoomed ahead in this long and formerly bitter series. With a primetime victory, the Packers will have beaten the Bears for the 100th time.
The Packers have won 10 of the last 12 home games in the series, but playing in their empty home has not been much of an advantage this season. The Packers rallied to lose only 28-22 against Minnesota on Nov. 1 and rallied to beat one-win Jacksonville 24-20 on Nov. 15.
“I’ve got to look inward and see if I’m doing the right things,” coach Matt LaFleur said after the Jacksonville game. “I think our staff has to look at themselves. I think every player, everybody involved with this team, has got to look deep inside of them and understand and appreciate the opportunity to go out there and compete. It’s special when you get a chance to go play a football game in the National Football League. We’ve got to do a better job of bringing more juice, just bringing a tougher mind-set to the gameday, especially when we’re at home. I don’t know what it is about the last couple games here at Lambeau, but certainly it hasn’t been our best and we’ve got to be better.”
Playing better at home is the first of this week’s five keys to the game.
2. Mack Attack
Chicago outside linebacker Khalil Mack 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.
Mack rushes almost exclusively from the left side, meaning he’ll face right tackle Billy Turner. Turner has been one of the Packers’ big surprises this season. A mediocre right guard, he’s been a revelation as Bryan Bulaga’s replacement at right tackle. He hasn’t been great – not by a long shot. According to Pro Football Focus, of the 59 offensive tackles with 50 percent playing time, Turner is tied for 42n in its pass-blocking efficiency, which measures sacks (two), hits (three) and hurries (13) per pass-protecting snap. That’s solid work but he hasn’t faced anyone like Mack, who has 4.5 sacks, five TFLs and four turnover plays in five games against Green Bay.
3. Mr. Smith Gets the TFLs
Third-year Bears linebacker Roquan Smith is third in the NFL with 96 tackles and first with 15 tackles for losses. It’s amazing production from a player who had a total of seven TFLs in his first two seasons. Generally, the TFL leaders are the guys who sack the quarterback. Last year, Jordan Hicks led the off-the-ball linebackers with 11 tackles for losses. That ranked 24th in the NFL.
The Packers did an excellent job of limiting Colts stud Darius Leonard last week, with Leonard collecting six tackles along with the recovery of Aaron Rodgers’ fumble. Green Bay must limit Smith’s production so it can stay in favorable down-and-distance situations.
4. Don’t Miss Montgomery
With a look at the stats, it would be easy to overlook second-year Chicago running back David Montgomery. He’s rushed for 472 yards and averaged a pedestrian 3.6 yards per carry. However, he’s a real bear to bring to the turf, and he’ll test a Packers defense that hasn’t tackled well this season.
According to Sports Info Solutions, he’s No. 10 in the NFL with a broken tackle on 18.3 percent of his carries. That’s better than Aaron Jones’ 17.7 percent. He’ll face a Packers run defense that is No. 21 with 4.44 yards allowed per carry. It’s allowed less than 4.0 yards per carry in three of its last five games, so there have been signs of progress.
5. Corral Cordarrelle
Last week, Cordarrelle Patterson returned a kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown against Minnesota. 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.”
“We work it every week at practice,” he added. “Every time we get the ball, we want to go out on [the] kickoff return and score. Those boys did a heck of a job. They had a lane open for me that no way I could have missed. Got through it and got the touchdown.”
Green Bay’s special teams, which finished last season on the upswing, started slowly and has trended the wrong direction. In the last five games, it’s allowed a blocked punt, punt-return touchdown and turned it over. Aside from kicker Mason Crosby’s accuracy, kickoff coverage is about the only thing the Packers have done at an acceptable level this season. A big performance by the coverage unit, or some strategic kicking by Crosby, will be critical.