Tom Oates: Packers-Bears showdown hinges on porous defenses

2013-12-29T05:00:00Z Tom Oates: Packers-Bears showdown hinges on porous defensesTOM OATES | Wisconsin State Journal | toates@madison.com | 608-252-6172 madison.com

CHICAGO — The build-up has been all about the quarterbacks.

For the Green Bay Packers, the question was whether Aaron Rodgers would be able to play after missing seven starts due to a broken collarbone. For the Chicago Bears, it was whether Jay Cutler should be replaced by backup Josh McCown after a shaky return from his own injury-related absence.

But while the discussion leading up to the winner-take-all game in the NFC North Division has been quarterback-driven, today’s winner most likely will be the team that can get its defense to play like defenses traditionally play in the NFL’s most storied rivalry — tough, physical and opportunistic.

That hasn’t happened often this season for either team. Indeed, for two franchises from the old Black-and-Blue Division, the Packers and Bears suddenly have become teams that are much better equipped to win shootouts than bloodbaths.

There have been plenty of bloodbaths in this 92-year-old rivalry, even recently. Including playoff games, the Packers and Bears have played 18 times since 2005 and only three times in those 18 games has a team scored more than 27 points.

With Rodgers finally back in the lineup for the Packers and Cutler having more offensive weapons than perhaps any Bears quarterback ever, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one of these teams hit 27 by halftime. Yes, the defenses are that bad.

For two teams with radically different defensive approaches, the reason for these meltdowns is largely the same — not enough great players. Units once teeming with big-play specialists are now bereft of difference-making players.

Actually, the only thing different about their decline was the timetable. The Packers’ defense has been in a three-year slide while the Bears’ defense collapsed just this season.

But more on that later. First, the gory details.

Just last Sunday, in a game in which they could have clinched the division title, the Bears gave up 54 points to the Philadelphia Eagles. For a defense that had been the backbone of the team under former coach Lovie Smith, it was the low point in one of the more dramatic falls in recent NFL history, one that has negated the offensive gains made under first-year coach Marc Trestman.

The Eagles game was the fourth time the Bears allowed 40 or more points this season, the same number they gave up in the previous nine seasons combined. The Bears rank 30th in points allowed and 29th in yards allowed in the NFL. They are particularly poor against the run, having given up 5.4 yards per rush — the NFL’s worst mark since the expansion Minnesota Vikings in 1961.

The Packers’ defense might have laughed at those numbers earlier in the season, but no one’s laughing anymore. Green Bay ranks in the bottom 10 in the NFL in points and yards allowed. Should the Bears score 40 today, it would break the Packers’ single-season record of 439 points allowed, set in 1983.

And the problem is getting worse, not better. The Packers have given up 33.8 points per game in their past four outings.

Although both quarterbacks have been slowed a bit (Rodgers) or completely shut down (Cutler) by the other team’s defense over the years, they had to be licking their chops this week. Simply put, neither defense throws a scare into anyone anymore.

Although different in scheme and style, both defenses are predicated on forcing turnovers. Both historically use pressures, sacks and turnovers to get off the field. But since both are virtually devoid of playmakers at this point, the sacks and takeaways haven’t come at their usual pace.

Since the Super Bowl-winning 2010 season, when the Packers allowed a mere 240 points, they have experienced a slow drain of playmaking ability. Defensive end Cullen Jenkins left in free agency, safety Nick Collins suffered a career-ending neck injury, cornerback Charles Woodson also left in free agency and linebacker Clay Matthews was lost just last week after re-breaking his thumb. Even cornerback Casey Hayward, who showed an aptitude for big plays as a rookie in 2012, has played only a handful of snaps this season due to injury.

In Chicago, the talent drain among the key defensive difference-makers occurred more quickly. Linebacker Brian Urlacher retired during the off-season when the Bears wouldn’t re-sign him, cornerback Charles Tillman was put on injured reserve recently, linebacker Lance Briggs has been playing hurt all season and defensive end Julius Peppers is nearing the end of the line.

As the playmakers have departed, neither team has replenished its supply, either due to neglect or poor personnel decisions. The people happiest about that have to be Rodgers and Cutler. Going into today’s game, both have solid running attacks and dynamic receiver groups to work with for perhaps the first time.

There will be no shortage of firepower in the game, so whichever defense can rise up and get itself off the field on third down more often will give its team a trip to the playoffs. As hard as it may be to believe, that favors the Packers.

Contact Tom Oates at toates@madison.com or 608-252-6172.

Copyright 2015 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(17) Comments

  1. GOOD DOG HAPPY MAN
    Report Abuse
    GOOD DOG HAPPY MAN - December 30, 2013 8:44 am

    @somecleverscreenname,

    It's a good observation. Many manly men enjoy sports vicariously, because they weren't good enough to play. More so at the professional level. They got cut because they couldn't perform.

    So it is in life. Failure develops good character.

    When failure is an option, that failure drives a sense of competition for one to become excellent. Aaron Rodgers is a case example. He failed many times and was driven to become the best. And now he's one of the best.

    As far as whistles being frozen, nah, dawg. Pure conspirsacy. There was no official waving his arms signaling the play was dead, either.

    So bask in the glow, man, chill and enjoy the win.

    Good Dog, Happy Man.

  2. somecleverscreenname
    Report Abuse
    somecleverscreenname - December 29, 2013 10:55 pm
    "intelligence level" ? Coming from the guy who called the QB that owns his team "Erin" ? Owned , again Buck. Of course you're used to it by now, your obvious jealousy and bitterness keeps bringing you back, doesn't it. In the future, you might want to avoid columns that are about real NFL teams. I'm sure you can seek solace with your fellow, miserable Bear fans at the Trib.
  3. adamman
    Report Abuse
    adamman - December 29, 2013 6:58 pm
    BuckyZ: As I said, the game was TODAY (Sunday), NOT Saturday. And the Packers won, although you may have that wrong, too. I've read some very unreasoned and unsubstantiated posts on this forum but yours are totally stupid. Please include some tiny piece of valid argumentation in your comments or continue to expose yourself as a total idiot. Here's a word that you can relate to: DUH.
  4. adamman
    Report Abuse
    adamman - December 29, 2013 3:13 pm
    Kinda like the pot calling the kettle black. Now go take your medication before the nurses get tough. When are visiting hours at your facility?
  5. adamman
    Report Abuse
    adamman - December 29, 2013 2:16 pm
    My guess is that this article won't be on Madison.com tomorrow. That would make you wrong twice. What to go for three?
    Enjoy the game and happy New Year to Buckyz!
  6. Buckyz
    Report Abuse
    Buckyz - December 29, 2013 2:12 pm
    Have a great day Adam!! In the future, you might want to avoid reading columns that are posted in the evening hours. They are obviously a little above your intelligence level and are certainly the kind that cause you a considerable amount of stress.
  7. Buckyz
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    Buckyz - December 29, 2013 2:00 pm
    My guess is that someone will be reading this tomorrow and cry because the word "today" was used when in actuality the game was yesterday.
  8. somecleverscreenname
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    somecleverscreenname - December 29, 2013 1:35 pm
    Hmmmmm....someone wasn't good enough for the freshman "B" team.
  9. adamman
    Report Abuse
    adamman - December 29, 2013 12:56 pm
    Buckyz: Actually you bother me not. Rather, you amuse me with your feeble attempts to defend your misinterpretation of what was stated in black and white. I think buckyz is a alias for Tom Oates, used to obfuscate the minor mistake made in the article. And for a third time, you fail to clear up the issue by explaining your reasoning. Or should I say 'lack' of reasoning. The score is still two to one, and not in your favor. Your turn!
  10. Buckyz
    Report Abuse
    Buckyz - December 29, 2013 12:39 pm
    adamman: LOL...this is really bothering you isn't it? You can stop looking for any hidden meaning or cryptic codes in this column as there are none. No explanation is needed as it is obvious to 99% of the readers. If people love to bash on Oates as you claim, then this would be a perfect opportunity wouldn't you think? I mean, if he stated that the Packers played on Saturday, I would probably join in and correct his mistake. But that is clearly not what he said, and if you just thought about it for a few minutes, maybe even you could put 2 and 2 together and come up with something other than 3. You might want to stop before you embarrass Packer Nation with your lack of common sense.
  11. Jocks
    Report Abuse
    Jocks - December 29, 2013 12:00 pm
    Football is a joke! Too many devastating, debilitating and career threatening injuries. Looks like a pre-season roster with no cohesion. No fun to watch anymore.
  12. adamman
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    adamman - December 29, 2013 11:17 am
    Hey Buck! Yes, and only ONE poster has commented on the hidden meaning of "today". And that one guy is you. Perhaps you live in a parallel universe. I notice that you fail to elaborate on your point. Again, please explain it to the cretins of the world, like me. Your insight and otherworldly intelligence has the rest of CheeseHeadNation on the edge of our aluminum bleacher seats.
  13. Buckyz
    Report Abuse
    Buckyz - December 29, 2013 11:03 am
    ROFL...still have not figured it out yet? Do you not find it odd that only 2 posters have commented on that supposed error on Tom's part? Could it be that everyone else understands why the term "today" was used? Keep posting adamman, this world needs a little humor.
  14. adamman
    Report Abuse
    adamman - December 29, 2013 10:14 am
    Buckyz, thanks for the compliment. Are you not aware that making fun of Tom Oates is a Wisconsin tradition? It's good natured fun. However, it's abundantly apparent that you are way beyond everybody else in the area of intelligence. Please get me your contact info so the rest of us morons can nominate you for a MENSA membership (unless you are already a member). Oh, BTW, WHY was the word today used in the article? Just to confuse us morons? Do tell.
  15. Buckyz
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    Buckyz - December 29, 2013 7:43 am
    I read the comment from "adamman" last night, and I just shook my head. Lo and behold, yet another poster (River) actually could not understand why the word "today" was being used in this article last night. It gives new meaning to the word "cheesehead".
  16. River
    Report Abuse
    River - December 28, 2013 10:50 pm
    Was this a Saturday game!?! Did I miss it??
  17. adamman
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    adamman - December 28, 2013 7:12 pm
    Tom, the game isn't today. It's tomorrow.
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