At 9-3 and in total control in the NFC North, the Packers are only a few results away from clinching the division for the third straight season and the eighth time in 11 seasons overall.
The title can’t be clinched Sunday night, but with a win against the Bears and another win next Sunday in Baltimore, the Packers can ensure they’ll be division champions.
Here are five keys to beating the Bears on Sunday night.
Feed the ball to the RBs
(AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon combined for 169 total yards and a touchdown on 28 touches in the first meeting. Don’t be surprised if the pair gets to 30 or more touches on Sunday night. The Packers invested money and draft capital into the running back position for exactly this scenario, big-time December football at Lambeau Field. And both are pillars of the offense. Dillon’s success this season demands he gets the ball, and Jones should be close to 100 percent after nursing a knee injury. Getting them on the field together might be one strategy for mitigating the loss of weapons such as Randall Cobb and Robert Tonyan.
Win the line of scrimmage
The Bears lack obvious advantages in this game, but winning the line of scrimmage is one potential avenue to an upset for the visitors. The Packers are missing three starters along the offensive line and won’t have edge rusher Za’Darius Smith, so it’s possible the Bears have a fighting chance up front. Still, it’s hard to envision the Bears winning the game without both the offensive and defensive lines controlling the contest. Green Bay has done a terrific job mitigating the impact of the losses along the offensive line, and Rashan Gary and Kenny Clark took control of the first meeting with dominant individual efforts. If the Packers can keep Aaron Rodgers protected, contain David Montgomery and put consistent pressure on Justin Fields, this will be a one-sided football game.
Contain the deep ball
(AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
The Bears getting back rookie Justin Fields means the deep ball is back in play. While veteran Andy Dalton is a better game manager, Fields is willing to use his big arm to chase big plays. The rookie’s average depth of target is almost four yards more than Dalton’s this season. The Packers have to be ready for Fields to take shots down the field, both within the framework of plays and on extended plays. In the first meeting, Fields attempted six passes over 20 yards in the air, per Pro Football Focus. And in his last full game, Fields completed six passes thrown over 20 yards against the Steelers. Safeties Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos must play well, and the pass-rush needs to disrupt long-developing plays. The deep passing game crumbles when safeties play disciplined and the pass-rush speeds up the quarterback.
Take advantage of at least one mistake
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The Packers have at least two takeaways in all five home games this season and are 9-0 when they get at least one takeaway in 2021. The Bears are 0-4 when they turned it over two or more times. Guess what? Good teams take care of the football and find ways to take it away, and bad teams give it away frequently. The Packers, who are plus-nine in turnovers this season, only produced one takeaway in the first meeting, but it was an interception in the end zone that set up a scoring drive. The Bears are minus-eight in turnover differential, and it might only take one turnover for the Packers to make sure an upset isn’t in the cards on Sunday night. It’s certainly clear which team is more likely to get the game-changing takeaway.
Hit a few explosive plays
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The Bears defense ranks in the bottom third of the NFL in explosive plays allowed, both in the run and pass game. The Packers have struggled to create explosive run plays, but maybe Sunday night is a chance to get something going, especially now that Akiem Hicks isn’t playing. In the first meeting, the Packers got runs of 20 or more yards from both Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. A true home-run hitter, Jones is overdue for a long run. Also, don’t be surprised if Marquez Valdes-Scantling creates a big play. His connection with Aaron Rodgers is starting to heat up, and with Randall Cobb out, he’ll likely be moved around more to create plus matchups. Last year, he caught a long touchdown pass against the Bears while lined up in the slot. If the Packers can hit more explosive plays over the final five games, this offense will get to a new level and finally start resembling the 2020 group.
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