The Packers defense has been a thorn in Cutler’s side since his arrival in Chicago prior to the 2009 season. His first start against them in Green Bay resulted in another four-interception game, and he is just 1-6 against them in his career.
The Packers defense currently ranks 17th in the league in total yards, giving up 351 yards per game. The have been decimated by injuries all season but have come up big in recent weeks.
In their first meeting this season, outside linebacker Clay Matthews was able to sack Cutler three-and-a-half times, and despite missing their last four games he is expected to return this Sunday (h/t Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).
It will be interesting to see how Matthews plays after missing four games, but he has always played well against the Bears. He combines size and speed to be one of the most effective 3-4 pass rushers in the league. His run defense has improved in recent years but he is still susceptible when asked to drop into pass coverage. The Bears will need to give left tackle J’Marcus Webb help on the outside with either a tight end or chipping running back, and could utilize screens to running back Matt Forte to take advantage of Matthews’ desire to rush the passer.
In the wake of Matthews’ absence, left outside linebacker Eric Walden has struggled to get to the quarterback without Matthews garnering all of the attention. He still has good speed and the ability to rush the quarterback, and could still pose a problem for the ailing Jonathan Scott at right tackle.
Inside linebacker Brad Jones has been a pleasant surprise in both run-stopping and in pass coverage. He is arguably the team’s best linebacker in pass coverage and will get plenty of opportunities to match up with Bears tight end Kellen Davis. Davis has struggled this season but has still been able to get himself open, and will have to use his big body against Jones.
Veteran A.J. Hawk continues to have a nose for the football and leads the team with 104 tackles on the season. He is solid in stopping the run but has struggled at times in pass coverage, often being removed in passing situations in favor of the Packers’ dime package.
The Packers’ defensive line has been affected by injuries this season and only dressed four linemen last week against the Detroit Lions. Nose tackle B.J. Raji has appeared to regress some this season, not showing the explosiveness and ability to get to the quarterback that he has in the past. Ends Ryan Picket, C.J. Wilson, Mike Daniels, and Jerel Worthy have combined for just six-and-a-half sacks and have struggled at times against the run. Sunday night against the Lions, they allowed 117 rushing yards in the first half before tightening up in the second half.
The Bears will need to effectively run the football with Matt Forte and Michael Bush (if healthy), who were productive in their last meeting, gaining 85 yards on 21 carries before an injury to Forte and the need to play catch-up forced them to abandon the run. With the Packers’ ability to score at will, the offense will need to attack in the running game.
In their last meeting, the Packers secondary was able to shut down wide receiver Brandon Marshall, holding him to just two catches for 24 yards on just five targets. Cornerback Tramon Williams played Marshall mostly straight-up with single man coverage, something most teams have not been able to do with him this season, hauling in two of the team’s four interceptions.
Sam Shields returned last week after missing nearly two months and picked off Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the second quarter, and will provide more depth to a secondary that has struggled with injuries this season. Shields will get the task of going up against rookie Alshon Jeffery, who, despite a couple of mistakes last week, has the potential to come up big if Marshall is locked down.
Safety Charles Woodson has missed the last six games due to a broken collarbone and is not expected to play this Sunday in Chicago (h/t NFL.com). Woodson is arguably the most important player on the Packers defense and his absence has been felt. His replacement at free safety, M.D. Jennings, has improved from the beginning of the season, but still struggles on plays down the field.
Strong safety Morgan Burnett has been a tackling machine, registering 103 this season, one off of the team lead. He is great at coming up in the box to stop the run and in recent weeks has shown the ability to be a playmaker, picking off Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder twice in their Week 13 matchup.
Rookie Casey Hayward has been one of the more pleasant surprises for the Packers on defense, as he has 45 tackles and five interceptions on the year. They have used him outside as the number two cornerback and inside at the nickel, and he has shown great athleticism and awareness when given his opportunities on the field.
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 on BleacherReport.com and follow him on Twitter @MattEurich.