Despite finishing the 2011 regular season with a 15-1 record, the Packers had statistically the worst defense in football. The Packers defense was not completely dominating on Sunday against the 49ers, but they did get big games out of their star defenders.
Clay Matthews is one of the most feared defensive players in the league and one that every offensive coordinator has to game-plan for. In six career games against the Bears, Matthews has registered two sacks and numerous QB pressures. Sunday against the 49ers, Matthews finished with 2.5 sacks and three tackles.
Once again J’Marcus Webb will be in the spotlight facing Matthews. Matthews uses a combination of speed and force to beat his opposition, and the most important aspect for Webb on Thursday will be his footwork. Expect the Bears to give Webb help against Matthews by bringing in a tight end to his side or having the running back chip on the outside.
When not worrying about the pass rush from Matthews, the Bears will be worrying about where exactly Charles Woodson will be. Woodson, the 2009 Defensive Player or the Year, has found himself playing many roles in the Packers defense through the years: cornerback, nickelback and currently this year at strong safety. Although listed as the strong safety, Woodson spends a lot of time playing in the box and still gets rotated in at nickelback at times.
Woodson is a force to be reckoned with; he is notorious for blitzing off the edge and has a knack for getting to the football. Jay Cutler will have to do his best to recognize where Woodson is on the field and to stay away from him. Fullback Evan Rodriguez and running backs Matt Forte and Michael Bush will be called upon in pass protection to block a blitzing Woodson.
Hampered by an ankle injury following the preseason finale, nose tackle B.J. Raji was able to play Sunday against the 49ers. Raji is the perfect nose tackle in a 3-4 defense and has a good mix of run stuffing and pass rush abilities. Expect center Roberto Garza to get a handful of Raji all night Thursday and will likely get inside support from either of his guards.
With the exception to Woodson and starting left cornerback Tramon Williams, the secondary has been much of a concern going into the season. Woodson is the the typical strong safety with Morgan Burnett at the free in their base defense, but during nickel packages, Woodson shifts to the nickel, and last week the Packers used M.D. Jennings.
Jennings struggled on Sunday, missing an assignment on a Randy Moss touchdown and missed a tackle on a 21-yard gain by Frank Gore. Jennings was ultimately lifted for rookie Jerron McMillian. Jarrett Bush started at right cornerback and struggled as well, getting beat twice by Moss as well as being flagged for a pass interference.
The Bears will likely try and exploit the Packers secondary and try to go deep, particularly when the Packers line up in their nickelback package, knowing the inexperience at that strong safety position.
Thursday night may just be the Bears’ toughest game of the season, and if their own defense cannot slow down the Packers, their offense will need to show the explosiveness it did Sunday against the Colts. As in Week 1, keeping Cutler upright and exploiting matchups with their bigger receivers will be key to the offense being productive against the Packers’ defense.
Matt Eurich is a contributor to Bearsbacker.com. Follow Bears Backer on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute news about the Bears. Also, check out Matt’s work onBleacherreport.com and follow him on Twitter @MattEurich.