Packers-Bears is the Biggest Game of the Young Season

Bears week.  It goes without saying that this week is different than any other for the Packers. But history aside, this Packers-Bears match-up is shaping up to be a pivotal match-up in the battle for the NFC North. Aaron Rodgers always speaks about how the #1 team goal is always to win the division, and Sunday presents a big opportunity to take a step towards another division crown. The Packers dominance over the NFC North, and the Bears in particular, has been well documented. Matt LaFleur is 12-1 in his career against the NFC North, and as Zach Kruse pointed out earlier this week- the Packers are 19-3 against the Bears since 2011. 

But the 2021 iteration of the Bears will present some big challenges for the Packers. They match-up well in key areas, starting of course with their defense. The front 7 is once again their biggest strength, led by Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn along the edges and Akiem Hicks inside. Coming into week 6 – they boast the NFL lead in sacks. The Packers seem to be inching closer to full strength along the offensive line, and the shuffling will continue with the return of Elgton Jenkins and Josh Meyers this week. Protecting Aaron Rodgers is always vital, but facing a fierce pass rush, it is one of the biggest keys to the game.

A lot has been made about the Packers offensive struggles in the red-zone in 2021. Matt LaFleur, Rodgers, and Davante Adams all spoke about it in their press availability on Wednesday. After leading the league with a TD in 80% of red-zone trips in 2020, they have stumbled down to 55% – good for 27th across the league. The Bears, unfortunately, will make this a tough week to reverse that trend. They come into the match-up allowing TDs on 37.5% of opponents red-zone trips (3rd in NFL). 

Davante Adams is currently tied for 2nd in the NFL in red-zone targets, but with only 2 TDs to show for it. A year ago he led the league with 32 red-zone targets, but also led the league with 14 red-zone TDs. Expect to see the Packers try and get Robert Tonyan more involved. He was one of the most efficient targets a season ago converting 11 red-zone targets into 7 TDs. Matt LaFleur had one of the best schemed offenses inside the 20 a season ago, and that same creativity has been sparingly evident this year.

Things will look very different on the other side of the ball. Rookie Justin Fields will make his 4th career start for the Bears. He has had his ups and downs as every rookie does, but has looked a little more comfortable each week. He is also the type of QB that the Packers traditionally struggle against, with the ability to make plays outside of structure and is a threat with his legs as well.

The good news for the Packers defense, who has struggled on third downs – allowing opponents to convert 45.45% of chances, is this has been one of the Bears biggest deficiencies. Prior to their Week 5 game against the Raiders they were worst in the NFL at converting third downs, and after going 6-13 a week ago they rose all the way up to 28th.

The Packers secondary will be the area to watch, as they will be down Jaire Alexander and likely Kevin King as well. Rookie Eric Stokes has played well with increased snaps, but the conglomerate of players likely to fill that second boundary corner position will be an area the Bears will look to attack. Isaac Yiadom got the bulk of snaps vacated by King after his injury, but Shemar Jean-Charles and new signees Rasul Douglas and Quinton Dunbar will likely get some run as well.

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Jared is a rogue Packers fan from a Steelers family and an overall football junkie, including playing 4 years at Ithaca College. You can follow him on twitter at @JPrugar.

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