Thursday’s late-night Thanksgiving game sees the Chicago Bears take on the Green Bay Packers. Both of these teams need a win to keep pace in the playoff race, especially with Green Bay tied with Minnesota for the division lead and Detroit bearing down on Chicago. The Bears have exceeded expectations in a transitional year. Despite facing the league’s number one defense, Chicago came within two points of beating Denver. Jay Cutler is playing well and leads a dangerous offense, and head coach John Fox has worked wonders with the defense despite few star pieces. Green Bay snapped a three game losing streak by beating the Vikings in Minnesota to tie for the lead of the NFC North. With legendary quarterback Brett Favre returning to Lambeau Field to have his jersey retired as part of the Thanksgiving festivities, the Packers will be fired up for a big game.
Three Keys to the Game
Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay’s offense
Having struggled for the middle stretch of their schedule, the Packers got back on track last week against a strong defense. Rodgers looked more comfortable and had more confidence in his receivers, while Eddie Lacy seemed to have found the form he had last season. If Green Bay’s offense remains at this level, they should be in good shape for the rest of the season. It also helps that Rodgers is 13-2 against Chicago as a starter. But with receiver Davante Adams and tackle Bryan Bulaga limited in practice and receiver Ty Montgomery not practising at all, injuries could derail Green Bay’s offense once again.
Despite a schematic shift to a 3-4, Chicago’s defense has played well this season under John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. They rank 4th against the pass despite having few blue-chip talents. Pass rusher Pernell McPhee can generate problems for Aaron Rodgers unless double teamed, leaving opportunities for his fellow linemen. The Bears will need to find a way to deal with both Rodgers and Eddie Lacy. Chicago allowed 160 rushing yards in the loss to the Broncos and have struggled against the run all season. Can they do enough to keep themselves in the mix?
Despite two interceptions, Cutler played well against Denver’s number one ranked defense. Cutler has played well all season, despite Alshon Jeffery absent at times with injury and first round pick Kevin White side-lined for the whole season so far. Rookie running back Jeremy Langford has been phenomenal in place of the injured Matt Forte, bringing all the skills that Forte has in a younger and stronger package. Against a Packers defense that has been underwhelming for most of the year, the Bears offense should have a strong game if they can protect Cutler from Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers. But Green Bay held Adrian Peterson to just 45 yards from 13 carries last week, and could contain Langford in the same way. Eddie Royal is still out this week, but Forte and Jeffery are both expected to start.
Matchup to watch
Charles Leno vs Julius Peppers
Cutler was sacked twice by the Broncos last week, and one of those was a strip-sack courtesy of Von Miller. If the Bears are to have a chance at beating Green Bay on Thanksgiving, Chicago’s left tackle Charles Leno will have to protect Cutler from Green Bay’s pass rush. Peppers is responsible for over 20% of Green Bay’s sacks this year, leading one of the NFL’s most potent pass rushes. If he can pressure Cutler into more turnovers, the Bears will lose to the Packers once again.
Green Bay Packers
Against Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau, the Bears will be feeling thankless once again. Green Bay’s offense is back on track and the atmosphere with Brett Favre having his jersey retired will make Lambeau Field an even more daunting place than usual for the Bears.