Sunday’s Key Matchups for Bears and Packers

The Bears and the Packers have been facing off for 101 years, and this Sunday night marks the 205th time they’ll compete. The two teams know each other so well that you have to put the game under a microscope and look at the one-on-one battles to find a path to victory for either of these storied franchises. Using PFF grades as a guide, these are the key matchups for Sunday’s game.

In The Trenches

Games are won and lost in the trenches. Any single matchup at the line of scrimmage could be the difference between a touchdown or a sack. Braxton Jones vs. Rashan Gary could be one such battle. The Packers are willing to move their edge rushers around, but anytime Gary lines up across from Jones, watch closely. Despite a solid preseason, Jones was the ninth worst run blocker (54.0) among rated tackles in Week One, and Gary was the 16th best run defender (71.1) among edge rushers. Jones was facing an ultra-talented Nick Bosa all game and wasn’t expected to win every rep. Gary is a good player but has never reached the level of Bosa. Jones will spend the evening trying to keep Bears running back David Montgomery in check.

Kenny Clark typically lines up near the left side of the offensive line, where he will often match up against Cody Whitehair. The Green Bay nose tackle was effective in getting after Kirk Cousins last week and will look to disrupt Justin Fields this week. Clark had six total pressures with one sack to earn his 90.6 pass-rush grade (fourth best of interior defenders). Whitehair is coming off a subpar performance with a 44.3 pass-block grade. The Bears will rely on Montgomery to assist Whitehair in keeping Fields upright.

Likewise, Chicago’s defense will look to rattle Aaron Rodgers. Robert Quinn (49.6) could have another quiet game if he lines up against Green Bay’s highest graded lineman, offensive tackle Josh Nijman (70.9). Nijman filled in for David Bakhtiari and played very well. Bakhtiari missed practice on Thursday and was limited the rest of the week, but the Packers have yet to rule him out. 

The Bears have a distinct advantage on the left side. Right tackle Elgton Jenkins is still listed as questionable, and  Royce Newman had to slide to right tackle against the Vikings. He didn’t play nearly as well as Nijman. Newman earned a 47.8 pass-blocking grade after allowing three pressures and a sack. The Packers also elevated Jake Hanson from back-up center to starting right guard. His 14.4 pass-blocking grade was the fifth worst of all graded guards. Green Bay activated undrafted rookie Caleb Jones from the practice squad for depth, an indication that Jenkins may have to sit on Sunday night. 

To win in the trenches, the Bears must distribute snaps amongst their pass rushers. Rookie Dominique Robinson was the best defensive lineman for the Bears last week. His 86.2 player grade was good enough to be the league’s ninth-best Week 1 edge rusher. The rookie had a strong debut with 1.5 sacks and will look to build on that performance.

Pass Catchers Vs. Coverage

The war of words is already on thanks to Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander. he and Darnell Mooney were taking shots at each other this week. 

Mooney may be correct, but their Week 1 grades don’t suggest he has any advantage. The 49ers held Mooney (53.5) to one catch and he was targeted just three times. Alexander earned a 72.1 pass coverage grade against the Vikings. I hope Mooney backs up his statement, but this isn’t a matchup that favors the Bears.

The Bears can exploit the Packers’ defense by attacking their safeties. Adrian Amos (28.2) and Darnell Savage (33.5) earned below-average coverage grades. Byron Pringle scored an 84.3 receiving grade and may be able to use his excellent route running skills to take leverage those pairings in Chicago’s favor. 

The matchup between former teammates Equinimeous St. Brown and Eric Stokes could be a significant one. St. Brown and Stokes will likely line up outside, opposite Alexander. St. Brown had a 61.8 receiving and caught one of three targets for a touchdown. Stokes was the weaker of Green Bay’s cornerbacks. Alexander and Rasul Douglas graded above 70, while Stokes ended the day with a 58.8 pass coverage grade. With the safeties grading so poorly, Stokes may be the only player standing between St. Brown and another score this week

It looks like Allen Lazard could return to the Packers’ receiver rotation this week. If he does, he’ll have his hands full with Jaylon Johnson. The Bears’  left cornerback earned a 72.6  pass coverage grade for his performance against San Francisco. If Green Bay’s receivers beat Johnson, Eddie Jackson will be lurking. Jackson carries an 84.3 pass coverage grade (sixth best among safeties) into Lambeau this week and is turnover hungry. Winning the turnover game will be one key to victory, and Jackson and Johnson are the most likely to deliver. 

The battle that the Bears need to win won’t be an easy one. Roquan Smith is looking to bounce back after a poor week, though he was excellent in the second half last Sunday. He was quick to the ball and tackled well, but PFF graded him exceptionally low. Though Smith allowed a 43.8 passer rating, his 38.7 passing coverage grade will make him a liability if he doesn’t up his game. Rodgers is throwing to a lot of new faces this year, so he may continue to give his halfbacks and tight ends a healthy portion of targets. The matchups that may ultimately decide the winner will be Aaron Jones, Robert Tonyan, and AJ Dillon vs. Smith. 

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