BEARS OFFENSE vs. PACKERS DEFENSE
Rex Grossman will make his first start of the season after suffering a broken ankle in the preseason. Grossman started the second half last week against the Falcons and gave the offense a lift. Right guard Terrence Metcalf missed last week’s game with a shoulder injury. Roberto Garza, who filled in well for Ruben Brown earlier in the season, held his own against the Falcons. Metcalf returned to practice on Wednesday and is hopeful to return for Sunday’s game. The Bears are also hopeful fullback Bryan Johnson will return. Jason McKie will continue to see action if Johnson cannot play.
Weak side linebacker Robert Thomas missed Monday’s contest. The Packers opened the game in nickel coverage against the Ravens. Roy Manning and John Leake will see more action in standard sets, especially with Brady Poppinga joining the ever-growing list of players on injured reserve. The Packers will be in a difficult situation with punter B.J. Sander on IR from a knee injury. Ryan Longwell could be forced to punt if a roster move isn’t made. Backup cornerback Michael Hawkins’ knee injury thins out the Packers’ secondary depth and weakens their nickel and dime packages.
Although the Packers don’t allow many yards through the air, they’ve been gored by the run. The Bears will be eager to see Rex Grossman direct the passing offense, but don’t expect them to get too unbalanced in their attack. They’ll throw just enough to keep Green Bay’s safeties from cheating against the run. Look for Thomas Jones and Adrian Peterson to have a big day. The Packers were able to slow the Bears’ receivers a few weeks ago by jamming them at the line to disrupt the timing. It will be interesting to see how the Bears cope with this come Christmas.
BEARS DEFENSE vs. PACKERS OFFENSE
The injuries that devastated the safeties are starting to heal. Mike Brown, Chris Harris and Todd Johnson have returned to practice. Starters Chris Harris and Mike Brown appear likely to be upgraded by game time and back in the starting lineup. Mike Green and Brandon McGowan have played the last two weeks and were a plus in the Atlanta game. Strong side linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer (thumb) may need another week before he is ready to play. Leon Joe filled in well for him last week. Defensive tackle Ian Scott’s hamstring may keep him from extended action Sunday. His injury is easy for the team to absorb because the Bears are very deep at tackle with Tank Johnson and Alfonso Boone capable of starting for most NFL teams.
The Packers’ running back depth is in dire straits. They’ve already lost Pro Bowl talent Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport for the season to injury. Running back Samkon Gado injured his knee on Monday against the Ravens and is out for the year as well. Tony Fisher and Noah Herron will take over, with Fisher likely having a slightly increased role from his usual third-down responsibilities. The Bears’ injuries at safety will be tested by a very deep group of Packer tight ends. Even without Bubba Franks, they boast two players (David Martin and Donald Lee) who each have more catches than Desmond Clark. Robert Ferguson and Antonio Chatman have shared reps at wide receiver since Javon Walker was lost for the year early in the season. Ferguson is questionable this week with a knee injury. Green Bay added Rod Gardner this week to their injury depleted receiving corps and may seek to get him into action as soon as possible. Right guard Will Whittiker suffered a concussion and could be replaced by Grey Ruegamer. The Packers have shuffled their guards quite a bit this season. Since they don’t exactly have continuity at the position, they won’t be likely to suffer a drop off if that’s the case. The starter there will draw Tommie Harris as their assignment.
Green Bay exposed some cutback lanes and over pursuit/breakdowns in gap responsibility in the first contest three weeks ago. Look for the Bears to tighten down the rush defense against Fisher and Herron, putting Favre into difficult down and distance situations. Once the Packers are in obvious passing downs, the Bears will look to catch the Packers off guard as they did in the last game with blitzes from the defensive backs. This time around, it could be line stunts and linebacker blitzes. Expect the Packers to use a balanced attack, and to try to beat the Bears deep, where the pressure will be on the safeties to provide help over the top.