Behind Enemy Lines: Part I

QB Aaron Rodgers (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

Our Scout.com experts, John Crist of Bear Report and Bill Huber of Packer Report, go Behind Enemy Lines for the NFC Championship Game showdown between the Bears and Packers at Soldier Field.

John Crist: Jay Cutler has been vilified from coast to coast for supposedly being a bad guy, highlighted recently by a Rick Reilly column at ESPN.com. But Aaron Rodgers isn't exactly warm and fuzzy himself, which was pointed out by a local camera crew when he blew off an autograph request from a breast-cancer survivor. Is the difference simply that Cutler treats the media with disdain and Rodgers doesn't?

Bill Huber: Well, let's clear up something first. Even the woman involved has let it go and has a bunch of autographs from Rodgers. In the cover story for the new magazine, the people at the MACC Fund (Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer) talk about Rodgers' work, and a family that lost its daughter to cancer has an autographed Rodgers football that means the world to them because of the very personal note on it. And there's a famous e-mail going around that Rodgers took 100 kids from the Boys & Girls Club out for bowling, pizza and shopping. Rodgers won't talk about it, and the Boys & Girls Club says the meat of the e-mail is true but it didn't involve them.

So, personally, I think Pro Football Talk did a hatchet job on Rodgers, though that's not surprising from that outfit, which has spent most of the last couple years taking pot shots at Brett Favre for the sake of easy clicks. Anyway, maybe Rodgers isn't perfect and maybe he doesn't walk on water like Tim Tebow, but there needs to be some balance offered. He's great to us in the locker room, but that doesn't shade my thinking on him. I've received far too many e-mails and phone calls about Rodgers' generosity to let one incident change my thinking.

As for Cutler, who cares? We might, but I'm not sure that Joe Fan gives a rip as long as the production is there.

JC: Former Bears director of college scouting Greg Gabriel did a piece for the National Football Post last week pointing out that the Bears were going to draft James Starks, but GM Jerry Angelo changed his mind at the last minute and went for Dan LeFevour. Why has Starks all of a sudden been the workhorse and the three-man RB rotation of Brandon Jackson, Dimitri Nance and John Kuhn somewhat scrapped?

BH: That's an easy one: He's got more natural running ability in his right pinkie toe than the others combined.

It's an interesting story. Starks missed his entire senior season at Buffalo because of a shoulder injury. Upon being drafted, he injured his hamstring a couple weeks into OTAs and missed the rest of OTAs and the minicamp. He re-injured the hamstring during pre-training camp testing and wound up on PUP. He had a big game against San Francisco in Week 13 – his first action in basically two years – but did nothing against Detroit in Week 14, was inactive the next two games and did almost nothing against Chicago in the finale.

And then, surprisingly, he started the wild-card game against Philadelphia and rumbled for 27 yards on his first carry and finished with 123 yards, the most by a Packers rookie in their playoff history. What's interesting is Jackson got 20 carries just once all season. Starks has got 23 and 25 in the playoff games. He averaged just 2.6 yards per carry against Atlanta but almost always got something, which kept the offense in good situations.

Jackson is their third-down and two-minute guy. He's got good hands and a great feel for pass protection. Mike McCarthy compared him to Marcus Allen during the offseason. Kuhn still has a big role as a short-yardage runner and plays some third downs, as well. Last week, the 250-pound Kuhn scored on a 1-yard run behind blocks from 263-pound fullback Quinn Johnson, 337-pound fullback B.J. Raji and 318-pound extra tackle T.J. Lang.

JC: The Packers may have four receivers that are better than any one the Bears have thrown out there, with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson and James Jones all putting up 75 yards receiving or more in the victory over the Falcons. All four can hurt Chicago and deliver a big play at any time, but if fill-in-the-blank has a big day at Soldier Field, chances are Green Bay advances to Super Bowl XLV.


WR Greg Jennings
Kevin C. Cox/Getty

BH: The "fill-in-the-blank" is Jennings. In nine career games against the Bears, he's caught 34 passes for 509 yards and five touchdowns. Per game, that's 3.8 catches, 56.6 yards and about a half a touchdown. The receptions and yards are his worst numbers against any opponent that he's faced at least three times. After being held to two catches in Week 3, he made two big plays in the Week-17 game against Chicago, and they set up both of the Packers' scores.

Frankly, when I look at the Packers' offense, I don't see a lot of game-breaking talent. Ryan Grant, a two-time 1,200-yard rusher, and Jermichael Finley, who was developing into arguably the top tight end in the NFL, are on injured reserve. Driver is getting old, and Jones and Nelson are up and down. Really, Jennings is the guy who has to deliver Sunday, because it's going to be awfully tough to put together 12-play touchdown drives against the Bears.

JC: I did a radio show Monday, and the host asked me a simple question: Who has the better D, Chicago or Green Bay? Far from definitive, I said the Bears are tough because their approach is basic, yet they continue to dominate with superior playmaking. I said the Packers are tough because their approach is complicated, so you never know what they'll do from snap to snap. Is one really "better" than the other?

BH: It doesn't matter how it's done, as long as it's done. The Packers finished second in scoring defense with 15.0 points per game, and the Bears were fourth at 17.9. Really, what more needs to be said?

Your point is great, though, and it'll be really interesting on Sunday, when I think a berth to the Super Bowl comes down to one play. Will Charles Woodson's well-timed blitz result in Cutler throwing off his back foot for a pick-six by Tramon Williams? Will the Packers roll up and down the field for 350 yards but the Bears hold them to field goals or get a timely strip?

What's intriguing to me is looking back at that last game. Dom Capers' crew got to Cutler for six sacks and two interceptions. The Packers had to win, and I'm sure Capers called the game accordingly. The Bears didn't have to win, and my guess is Mike Martz called the game accordingly. Does that give the Bears just that extra little edge?

JC: The coaching wars between Mike Ditka and Forrest Gregg are long gone, as those two despised each other going all the way back to their playing days, so I believe this rivalry is more about respect than hatred. Nevertheless, the coaches and players at Halas Hall appear to be genuinely excited about this game and can't wait to get the ball in the air Sunday. What's the feeling in the Green Bay locker room?

BH: This is a rivalry that still runs hot among the fans, but definitely not among the players. Rodgers' brother, Jordan, plays quarterback for Vanderbilt, due in part to Cutler. Jennings has said he has a number of friends who play for the Bears.

In the end, it's probably just as well. Rivalries are great, and they make for great stories leading up to the game. But on Sundays, you're probably better off with two teams playing for the Halas Trophy, rather than playing to knock someone's block off.

To read Part II of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where John answers five questions from Bill, Click Here.


John Crist is the publisher of BearReport.com. Bill Huber is the publisher of PackerReport.com.

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