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Flynn or Rodgers, defense key for Packers

Published: Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST
Caption
(Matt Ludtke)
Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte is hit during a run by Green Bay Packers free safety M.D. Jennings (43) and strong safety Morgan Burnett (42) during an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

This week, we have two matchups to preview: The Bears vs. the Packers with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, and the Bears vs. the Pack with Matt Flynn behind the wheel.

My best guess is it will be Flynn, irrespective of what’s at stake.

Reports from late last week were that Rodgers never was close to being medically cleared, so it’s hard to imagine he will make that much progress for the Bears game. The only thing that’s certain is we won’t know until late in the week, if before Sunday at all.

With Rodgers, you’re talking about the best quarterback in the game, and one of the best ever. The Packers are capable of beating you with the pass or the run, and Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Jarrett Boykin and, perhaps, even Aaron Quarless all become weapons you have to scheme for.

If it’s Flynn at quarterback, the Bears will focus their attention on stopping Eddie Lacy, James Starks and Nelson, and then trust individual defenders to make plays against the rest while the defense tries to force Flynn to make a play to beat it.

Don’t think for a minute that Flynn can’t beat you. He’s very comfortable in Mike McCarthy’s offense and just fine reading defenses, going through his progressions and knowing when to quit on a play to fight another day.

But he has nowhere near the cannon Rodgers does, nor can he command that kind of accuracy. Keep Flynn in third-and-long, and he’s unlikely to beat you.

The Packers are top five or top 10 in almost every offensive category, regardless of who the quarterback is, except avoiding interceptions and allowing quarterback sacks. There, it makes a difference who’s under center.

Rodgers has thrown four interceptions and has been sacked 18 times in 251 attempts. Flynn, Scott Tolzein and Seneca Wallace have thrown 10 interceptions and have been sacked 24 times in 280 attempts. Flynn has seven of those picks and 17 sacks in 166 attempts.

Regardless of which quarterback it is, the story of this game for the Bears’ defense figures to be their 32nd-ranking against the run vs. Lacy and Starks.

With Flynn at quarterback, the Bears will pack seven, eight or even nine in the box on most plays. Lacy is dynamic at getting to the second level, but not a huge threat to outrun anyone in the secondary or go all the way.

Defensively, the Packers have been a huge disappointment this year and that is more likely to be determine whether the Bears win the NFC North than Rodgers’ injury. After the Packers’ best defensive outing of the year against Atlanta in Lambeau three weeks ago, Dallas and Pittsburgh have scorched them the past two weeks. They had no answers for the Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell last week, and Matt Forte should have a big day.

After a fast start to the season, B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett have been ineffective up front, and the loss of Johnny Jolly for the season with a neck injury has been huge, as he was playing the best football of his career.

Clay Matthews also will miss Sunday’s game after aggravating a right thumb injury.

Nick Perry, though, is back from injury at the outside linebacker spot, but neither was rushing the quarterback the way they are capable, and A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones inside are not as stout as they need to be against the run.

Tramon Williams and Sam Shields have been inconsistent, at best, on the corners, making the occasional big play but struggling in coverage often. That matchup with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery is potentially another big edge for the Bears.

Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings are serviceable safeties, but Burnett has failed to make the leap to perennial Pro Bowler like the Packers envisioned.

The mistake going into Philadelphia was the perception the Eagles’ defense was as bad as the Bears’, and it never was. Green Bay’s on the other hand just might be.

• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at harkush@shawmedia.com.

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