The Green Bay Packers (5-2) and Chicago Bears (4-3) will finally meet for the first time in 2013 at Lambeau Field on Monday Night Football, as the long and historic rivalry has gotten the best out of the Bears over the past few years.
Green Bay hasn’t lost to the Bears since September 2010, and the Packers haven’t lost a home game to the Bears since 2007.
Since last season, though, both teams have undergone serious changes. In Green Bay, the Packers let one of their top receivers (Greg Jennings) walk in free agency, and the team currently has one of the best rushing attacks in all of the NFL behind the play of rookie Eddie Lacy.
In Chicago, the Bears lost their monster of the midway (Brian Urlacher) to retirement and hired an offensive-minded head coach (Marc Trestman) to help knock the Packers off of the NFC North pedestal.
This season, though, both teams have had their respective problems staying healthy. For Chicago, quarterback Jay Cutler and linebacker Lance Briggs are out, and in Green Bay wide receiver Randall Cobb, outside linebacker Clay Matthews and tight end Jermichael Finley are out, too.
Cutler, Briggs and Matthews are likely to return later this season to their respective teams, while Cobb and Finley’s seasons are in jeopardy.
For the Packers’ sake, losing Finley hurts because his versatility, size and athleticism along the perimeter of the offense has historically given the Bears’ defense headaches. Bears cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are two of the most physical cornerbacks in football, and Finley gave the Packers an edge when competing against Chicago’s secondary.
In seven career games against the Bears, Finley has caught 34 passes for 383 yards and scored four touchdowns. When Finley is in the lineup against Chicago, Green Bay’s offense averages 23.5 points per game. With or without Finley, though, Green Bay is 9-2 against the Bears since Aaron Rodgers took over at quarterback.
Finley’s replacement, fourth-year tight end Andrew Quarless has only caught six passes for 41 yards through seven games, which could be all the more reason he is due for a big night against Chicago. The Packers have continued to surprise opponents, and Quarless presents a match-up nightmare for Tillman, Jennings and company.
Without Cobb, Finley and wide receiver James Jones, Green Bay’s offense has been effective because they have players who shine when it is least expected to happen.
In their Week 7 win over the Cleveland Browns, second-year receiver Jarrett Boykin caught eight passes for 103 yards and scored one touchdown. Before that game, Boykin had only caught six passes in his NFL career.
In their Week 8 win over the Minnesota Vikings, veteran running back James Starks and rookie defensive back Micah Hyde provided impressive sparks. Starks returned from injury and played the role of second-fiddle to a tee, rushing for 57 yards on seven carries and scoring one touchdown. Hyde, on the other hand, returned a punt 93 yards for a touchdown.
When the Browns and Vikings both entered their respective meetings with the Packers, I guarantee that shutting down Boykin, Starks and Hyde wasn’t on their top list of priorities to beat the Packers. With the Bears’ struggles in recent weeks defending opposing tight ends, Quarless is due for a quality showing on offense.
Washington Redskins rookie tight end Jordan Reed caught nine passes for 134 yards and scored one touchdown in the Redskins’ 45-41 win over the Bears, so Quarless having even a career night against Chicago isn’t too farfetched.
The Packers have consistently proven during their four-game winning streak that they operate just fine without their high-impact players not named Aaron Rodgers to win games. If Quarless provides any kind of impact on Monday night, Green Bay’s offensive attack will be wide-open and just plain fun to watch on the Frozen Tundra.
Chicago’s defense has also dragged the Bears down in an overall successful 2013 season, especially in three of their last four games. After a 3-0 start, the Bears’ chances to make a run in the NFC North could dwindle greatly if they can’t register a big win at Lambeau Field.
The key to a win or a loss for the Packers is Quarless. If Green Bay can feed the big man the ball, the Packers will win. If Chicago prevents Quarless from making any kind of mark on the game, the Bears will walk out of Lambeau with a renewed sense of purpose at the midway point of the 2013 season.