D Needs to Bounce Back at Green Bay

LB Lance Briggs (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

While the Chicago Bears have won seven of eight and appear to be on a roll, in reality the defense has struggled in recent weeks and needs to get back to its dominant form from earlier in the season.

Aside from eliminating a dangerous team from the playoffs, another good reason for the Bears to go all-out against the Packers on Sunday is that the defense needs to return to the elite level it played at earlier in the season.

That defensive dominance has disappeared in recent weeks.

Through the first 10 games the Bears allowed just 13.6 points per game, which was tied for No. 1 in the NFL. But, in the past five games, they have allowed 26.0 points per game, and they've slipped in every other meaningful category except sacks, where they've seen a slight improvement.

In total yards allowed, the Bears have fallen from No. 3 to No. 10. They've dropped from No. 1 in third-down efficiency to No. 9, while getting pasted by the Patriots 36-7 in Week 14 and allowing 34 points against the Jets in a 4-point victory last week.

"It was poor," six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs said of the performance against the Jets. "Usually it's better than you think it is when you look at the film, but it definitely wasn't. That's not the kind of football we need to play in order to win in the postseason. This is a good chance for us to just be more sound and be more who we are."

That will be a challenge against a Packers team that is playing for its postseason life, while the Bears are virtually locked in to the No. 2 seed.

The Packers scored 72 points the past two weeks in a 31-27 loss to the Patriots, in which they were without quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and a 45-17 shellacking of the Giants, with Rodgers playing magnificently after sitting out one week with a concussion.

Despite a 101.9 passer rating, the second best in the NFC, Rodgers was snubbed in Pro Bowl voting.

"They're a big-pass offense," Briggs said. "With Rodgers at quarterback, they can do a lot of things with the ball. Make no mistake, their pass sets up their run."

Rodgers threw for 316 yards against the Bears in Week 3, completing 34 of 45 passes in the Packers' 20-17 loss. More recently, the Bears were strafed for 351 yards in the air by the Patriots and, two weeks earlier, 293 by the Eagles. Last week the Bears allowed the Jets 269 yards through the air, and they failed to sack quarterback Mark Sanchez even once.

"We didn't play our best game the last time out," coach Lovie Smith admitted. "As far as getting it back, one of the things that we haven't been pleased with is just the amount of takeaways. This time of the year, you know that turnover ratio is big. We haven't taken the ball away enough. Hopefully, we can get back to that this week."

The Bears, who are tied for 11th in turnover edge at plus-4, got five takeaways in their rout of the Vikings two weeks ago. But in the other five games they've played since Nov. 18, the Bears have a total of just four takeaways. In their first 10 games, the Bears took the ball away 24 times.


WR Earl Bennett
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty

PLAYER NOTES
WR Earl Bennett (ankle) did not practice for the second straight day, although he might be back Friday. Either way, with little to play for Sunday, it's doubtful that the Bears would risk aggravating the injury. ...

LB Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) was not limited at Thursday's practice and, even though he played sparingly last week, it's doubtful that he'll do much Sunday so as to be 100 percent for the playoffs. ...

C Olin Kreutz returned to practice Thursday after getting a day off to rest Wednesday. Kreutz will start Sunday, but it remains to be seen how much he or any of the veteran starters play, even though Smith insists the Bears will go all out. ...

QB Jay Cutler said he expects to play a full game Sunday, but that seems unlikely if, as expected, the Bears are locked in to the No. 2 seed. ...

RB Matt Forte is sure to play long enough to get the 22 yards he needs for 1,000, but he might take an early shower as soon as he gets the milestone.


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