On the NFL
4:23 PM EST, December 15, 2012
The Bears offense has been having a difficult enough time hitting a fastball. And along come the Packers with a nasty curve.
Three-four defenses like the Packers use have been a problem for the Bears this year, in part because they are different. Three of the Bears' five losses have come against teams that play 3-4s, and the Bears have averaged 7.6 points per game in those losses.
Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice explains.
"Most of the teams we play are 'over' teams, so it's one gap, one gap, one gap," he said. "You spend the whole offseason and training camp working against an over front that is a penetrating, slanting, quick front. Now you play a two gap team, it's different. It's a whole different technique."
Against a three-man front, blockers have to figure how long to stay on the down lineman before releasing and seeking out the defender at the next level. There are different combination blocks to be concerned with.
And there is little time to prepare. The Bears didn't practice Wednesday because they had too many injuries, giving them less time than usual.
Part of the problem is smaller, quicker edge rushers have been difficult for J'Marcus Webb and the other tackles to handle.
Clay Matthews had 3 1/2 sacks against the Bears in their previous meeting. In that game, the Bears treated him like he was Dezman Moses, giving blockers no extra help against him. Tice vows that won't happen again.
Since Aldon Smith and the 49ers abused the Bears' line, Tice has been giving Webb consistent help with tight ends or backs. Against an exceptional threat like Matthews, keeping the drops and pass routes short also can help.
But the problem with Matthews is an opponent can't always be certain where he will line up. The Packers have been walking him up into gaps more than in past years, and looping him inside a lot as well.
"Guards aren't used to that quickness and explosion," Tice said. "Tackles pretty much are."
Guards don't decide many football games, but they could play a big role in this one. Not only will Gabe Carimi and Chris Spencer have to deal with Matthews' quickness, but they also will have to deal with the power of defensive ends Ryan Pickett and Jerel Worthy.
Numbers games: Under pressure
Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 42 times this year, the most in the NFL and 11 more times than Jay Cutler
He also has been knocked down 72 times, nine more times than Cutler, according to STATS.
But Cutler actually has been under duress more often than Rodgers. According to Pro Football Focus, Cutler has been under pressure for 159 of his dropbacks compared to 154 for Rodgers. Moreover, Cutler has been sacked once for every eight dropbacks; whereas Rodgers has been sacked once for every 8.8.
But Rodgers has handled the pressure better than Cutler.
Rodgers has fumbled only four times compared to six for Cutler. Rodgers has lost an average of 5.7 yards per sack compared to Cutler losing an average of 6.7 yards per sack.
And the biggest result of that pressure?
Rodgers has thrown only one interception when under pressure. Cutler has thrown seven. Rodgers has had 15 throwaways when under pressure compared to four for Cutler.
Front office chess: Kicking gamble
Robbie Gould's calf injury forced the Bears to make an uncomfortable decision because there was a chance he could have played again this year.
Gould probably would have been kept on the 53-man roster if the Bears did not have so many other injuries. There's a good chance at least five of the seven inactive roster spots Sunday will be claimed by injured players — Earl Bennett, Tim Jennings, Shea McClellin, Henry Melton and Brian Urlacher. Michael Bush, Matt Toeaina or Geno Hayes, all of whom are injured, could join them. Another spot is likely to be used on quarterback Josh McCown.
Almost every healthy body will be active.
So the Bears decided to put Gould on injured reserve and invited five kickers, including veterans Olindo Mare, Neil Rackers and Billy Cundiff, to a Tuesday audition that lasted the better part of the morning.
First, the five were asked to kickoff. Bears special teams coaches Dave Toub and Kevin O'Dea wanted to see them handle every type of kickoff, and eventually gave them about a dozen test kickoffs.
After kickoff tests, they kicked close to 40 field goals apiece. They were tested on eight of them. The 39-year-old Mare was the only one who made every field goal, and he was signed later that day.
There will be a difference between Mare and Gould. Mare's kickoffs might be a bit shorter. Coach Lovie Smith won't have quite as much confidence in him on long field goals.
But the last time the Bears had a kicker audition, things worked out just fine. It was just over seven years ago, and the winner of the audition was a 23-year-old kid kicker named Robbie Gould.
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