First & Long: Keys to Unseating Packers, More Coaching Hires, Racial Reckoning Coming to NFL

When GM Ryan Poles said it at his introductory presser, it was like music to our ears:

There is no doubt the Bears should be in contention for the NFC North title every season, it’s just that things have gone awry in a big way since about 1992. Two generations of Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Green Bay has been a big part of the demise of the Monsters of the Midway, and if Poles is to be taken seriously, he’s going to have to have a blueprint to beat the Packers.

Before getting into that plan, consistency at quarterback is a must. The Bears need a signal-caller they can count on year after year that is comfortable going head-to-head with the Packers. Justin Fields is that guy, and he said earlier this season that goal number one is to take back the division. So he and Poles are on the same page. They need to be, too, because since 1992 Chicago has tossed 32 quarterbacks into the cage to take on Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, and the Packers are 46-15 in those games, including one playoff win over the Bears in 2010.

That list includes Matt Barkley, who I had completely forgotten had played for the Bears in 2016.

Assuming Rodgers and WR Davante Adams return to Green Bay in 2022, new head coach Matt Eberflus is going to have his work cut out for him, but it’s not impossible. Green Bay does lose, and often if you just count the postseason games. In fact, those losses provide the said blueprint, which consists of five keys.

  1. Keep the score low: Two of the NFL’s better teams proved that if you try to win with defense, the Packers are vulnerable. The 49ers shocked Green Bay in the divisional round with a 13-10 win at Lambeau Field. The Chiefs beat the Packers 13-7 in Week 7. Thematically, the most common and recent attribute of games in which Green Bay gets beat is the volume of total points scored. Rodgers is 139-66-1 (.677) as a starter in his career. In games where the point total for both teams is less than 27, he’s a very pedestrian 8-11 (.421). I know the NFL is a high-scoring league, but the fact that there have been only 19 low-output games in 17 years is astonishing.
  2. Eliminate turnovers: The Packers beat the Bears twice this season, 24-14 on October 17, and 45-30 on December 12. Costly turnovers cost the Bears dearly in those games, including a 55-yard pick-six by Rasul Douglas in the second tilt. The Packers took the turnover battle in 11 games this season and won them all. Three times, they gave up the ball more than their opponents and they lost each of those games. Since Matt LaFleur took over three seasons ago, Green Bay is 29-0 when they win the takeaway battle.
  3. Run the football: It’s a bit clichéd, but if you pound the rock, you win the clock. The Packers led the NFL in time of possession this year and finished 13-3. In the three games they lost, they allowed their opponents to control the clock. In fact, the Packers were the best team at controlling the football the previous season, and the last time the Bears did a better job than their foes to the north was 2018. Matt Nagy took Chicago to the playoffs that year. Keep the ball out of the hands of Rogers and let Fields do his thing.
  4. Pressure the quarterback: Rodgers is insanely adept at getting rid of the ball and avoiding sacks, but even he is not immune to failure under pressure. On average he’s sacked once every 14.28 times he drops back to pass, but his record in games where he is sacked four times or more is 23-32-1 (.419).
  5. Score first: The team that scores first wins about 66% of the time according to Elias Sports Bureau. That statistic has far more impact on the game than any stat that has been developed in the past twenty years or so. It’s also a bit of a paradox if you think about it. Does scoring first make you a good team, or are you a good team because you generally score first?

If Poles and Fields are intent on wresting control of the division, they will have to go through Green Bay. Getting to Rodgers, and then keeping him off the field as much as possible will go a long way toward accomplishing that goal.

Bears News & Notes

There’s a Flag…On the Play

It’s like the second coming of “Broadway” Joe Namath. The more Joe Burrow wins, the better he dresses, apparently.

Northern Exposure

If the Packers eventually trade Rodgers to the Broncos, a good chance exists that they will seek to get quarterback Drew Lock as part of the return package.

Jim Harbaugh was nearly set to be the Vikings’ new head coach but after a difficult Q&A, the Minnesota front office felt that the Michigan head coach was not a good fit.

The agent for former Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said the Lions conducted a sham interview with his client in 2014 only to satisfy the NFL’s Rooney Rule.

NFL News & Notes

Harbaugh told the University of Michigan that his dalliance with the NFL was a “one-time thing” and that he is committed to the school now and in the years to come.

The Jaguars have hired former Super Bowl winner Doug Pederson as their new head coach.

Gardner Minshew and Calvin Ridley represent two of the top 20 trade targets (subscription to ESPN+ required). There are a number of wide receivers who could interest the Bears besides Ridley, including Michael Thomas, Jarvis Landry, Chase Claypool, and Kadarius Toney.

A racial reckoning could be coming to the NFL.

The NFL’s problem with diversity stems from its owners.

The league is awarding $1 million in research funding to two teams of medical researchers to study the effects of cannabinoids on pain management and neuroprotection from concussion in elite football players.

Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust

  1. Tom Brady did not have a losing record against any NFL opponent.
  2. The top two NFL players in receiving yards after turning 40 years of age are Jerry Rice (2,169) and Brady (6).
  3. The Bengals’ 18-point comeback against the Chiefs last week is tied for the 2nd-largest road comeback win in NFL postseason history. Teams are now 4-163 all-time when trailing by 18+ in road playoff games.

From the Podium

  • “You look at what Justin [Fields] has going for him, which is a remarkable arm, great mobility, good size, good ability to run the ball. Also, [he] has a lot of work to do to develop into a first-rate NFL quarterback. It takes four years for a rookie to come in and learn the job and be able to compete at the highest level in the NFL. That’s just a fact. It took Peyton Manning four years, and he had more tools to work with than most people.” – Bill Polian
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