No catchy, clever intro here.
Let’s get down to business.
Here are three things the Green Bay Packers must, must, must do if they are to advance to the Su…wait…I don’t even want to say that phrase yet…defeat the Chicago Bears in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game (still get chills writing that).
- Win the special teams battle. Or, at the very least, draw to a push.
If you’re like me, you believe the rest of this paragraph to be truth. The Packers are an eight offensively; the Bears are about a six. The Packers are an eight defensively; the Bears are a nine. That tilts the scales Green Bay’s way – until you factor in the special teams, where the Packers sit at five (and a generous five at that) and the Bears at nine.
In other words, if Chicago is to win the game, that will be where it does so. The Bears are absolutely lethal in all things special teams. They cover returns well, their specialists are elite (particularly at home) and then there’s that Hester guy, perhaps the best returner the game has ever seen.
Go ahead and talk about the Packers’ record-setting penalty numbers from the first Soldier Field game all you want. The real reason they lost is simple: Twice – twice! – Green Bay decided to kick the ball to Hester. He set up a score the first time; he plain ol’ scored the second time. Yep, that was about it.
That can not – repeat: CAN NOT – happen Sunday. The Packers figured it out the second time around, thanks to some great directional punting from America’s favorite ginger, Tim Masthay. They need to do it again. Hester’s big returns are as crucial mentally as they are in terms of field position. He breaks those returns and the entire team, the entire stadium, gets rocking.
And, oh yeah, if Green Bay could break a big return or two, that’d sure help things a lot against that defense. But, really, the Packers don’t necessarily have to excel on special teams Sunday. It’s more important to neutralize the Bears in that area. I’ll take a tie in that department, because a win would come out of that.
- Get an early lead
This is absolutely essential, for a couple different reasons.
The first is a mental one. The Bears thrive on their tough-guy mindset. They want to knock you down early and then loom over you for four quarters, making you fearful to get up and attack them back. A bully mindset? Perhaps, but it’s served them more than well throughout the season. And we all know the best way to beat a bully is to deliver that first punch.
The second is tactical. Chicago, as always under Lovie Smith, will aim to shorten the game as much as possible. Get an early lead and grind it out with its defense and running back Matt Forte. If Forte can get into the 20-plus carry range, the Packers could very well be in trouble. A physical, tough runner with above-average speed, Forte could present some major problems for a defense that is still suspect against the rush.
No, the Packers don’t want that. What they want is to turn the game into Jay Cutler vs. Aaron Rodgers.
We all like to take our shots at Cutler – he really makes it too easy most of the time – but the fact of the matter is he’s been very good as of late. Eight touchdowns and just four picks in his last four games, including a very nice showing against Seattle last weekend. Still, no one knows how he’ll fare in a playoff game against a defense that isn’t from the Pacific Northwest.
Well, let’s find out. Make sure you’re ahead 10-3 or 7-0 in the second quarter. Make him feel like he has to beat you. Frankly, I don’t think he’s got enough bullets to do it, not with his tendency to give the opponent some shots at turnovers.
(By the way, Jay, we all talked it over and it’s totally cool if you want to throw at No. 38 a bunch. Really, he’s not that good. You should go for it!)
- For the love of all things holy, make sure Bryan Bulaga has some help on the right side
Julius Peppers will be lining up opposite Bulaga on Sunday. You know it. I know it. Dead people know it.
And why wouldn’t he? He’s destroyed Bulaga countless times in their two matchups this season, including getting Bulaga to jump offsides three times in the second game. He’ll aim to do so again in this one. And it might only take one Bulaga error for Peppers to break through for a game-changing play.
Mike McCarthy can not allow for this. Look, we all know Mike Mac doesn’t like to give his linemen too much help. Keeping extra guys in to block takes away from what he wants to do in the passing game. I get that. But he needs to re-think that approach here. Peppers must be neutralized at every turn. Bulaga may be able to do so on his own in time, but he’s not ready for that challenge just yet. He needs help. Give it to him.
Make sure Tom Crabtree is over there. Get Brandon Jackson or Donald Lee that way. Heck, put B.J. Raji over there if need be. But do not expect Bulaga to hold his own, one-on-one, for 60 minutes with that beast.
There are likely some things I’ve left out (feel free to toss in your thoughts in the comments section below). But, really, I believe if the Packers can successfully nail these three things, they will win Sunday and advance to the Su…the Sup…
Nope. Still can’t say it. Yet.