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What Took Them So Long?Nicole Haase. 19th November, 2008 - 4:49 pm
After Sunday?s dismantling and embarrassment of the Chicago Bears, Packers' fans are left wondering one thing:
Why did it take until Week 11 for this team to come together?
From coaching to tackling, Sunday?s game was as complete as the Packers have looked all season.
It was obvious that coach Mike McCarthy was well-prepared for this meeting, and this time he was the one that did the out-coaching. Opening the game with four straight running plays put Bears' Defensive Coordinator Bob Babich back on his heels, and Babich was never able to recover.
Babich?s defense wasn?t just thoroughly beaten by the Packers, it was embarrassed and beaten. Seemingly afraid of the threat Greg Jennings and Donald Driver presented, the receivers were rarely in single coverage, and the Bears safeties played deep almost the entire game. This played directly into McCarthy?s hands as he also ran the ball on the Packers' first three 3rd-and-long situations, gaining 35, 7, and 7 yards each time.
The Bears' front four were tied up, and at times in the game were just plain turned around. At the end of the first half, the Packers' offensive line literally pushed the Bears? defensive line back into the end zone, giving Ryan Grant complete access for a touchdown.
Grant had just one other 100-yard outing this season, and it seemed inevitable that this matchup against the fourth-best rush defense meant Grant was destined for another mediocre performance. Instead, McCarthy?s play-calling opened up the field and gave Grant the opportunity to gain 145 yards. Grant broke tackles and made the Bears? DE Alex Brown bounce off him so often, it looked like Brown was in a pinball machine.
The unsung heroes of this game have to be the wide receivers ? but not for the catches they made. While Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and the rest of the receiving corps have made their presence known all season with the catches they?ve made, it was the plays on which they weren?t targeted that they made the biggest impact.
The offensive line had struggled mightily this season, and in Sunday?s game, the receivers became an effective second line of defense against the Bears? onslaught. The receiving corps picked up rushing defenders, held open holes for Grant and Brandon Jackson, and generally made it possible for Aaron Rodgers to stay untouched for the entirety of the game.
Two key blocks, one by WR Jordy Nelson and one by linebacker Brandon Chillar, stand out as unsung but crucial to the Packers' success. Nelson made a huge block along the sidelines early on that sprung Ryan Grant for one of his longest gains of the season. Grant was pushed up near the end zone, but Nelson?s block gave him the room he needed to break free.
Jason Hunter?s 54-yard fumble-recovery for a touchdown made history. But the score never would have happened without Chillar?s well-timed block on the Bears? Devin Hester. Alhough he kept his feet, Hester was held up just enough by Chillar to allow Hunter to score the Packers? eighth defensive touchdown of the season ? a new franchise record.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only seven teams since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger have scored more defensive touchdowns than this year's Packers. The 1998 Seattle Seahawks scored 10 defensive touchdowns, the most since the merger.
With their eight touchdowns, the Packers' defense is close to outscoring the league?s worst offense ? the Oakland Raiders have managed just nine touchdowns so far this season.
Holding the Bears to just three points was something of a point of pride for Green Bay. Once they lost their offensive leader this past off-season, with the personnel they were returning on that side of the ball, it looked like the team was poised to begin an era of defensive dominance.
And while the secondary has lived up to the billing, the run defense had struggled to gel and was vulnerable the entire season. On Sunday, however, they gave up just 83 yards rushing ? a significant decrease from the average of 199 yards they?d given up the previous two weeks against the Titans and Vikings - and established season lows for points allowed, total yards (234,) and first downs (nine).
The win put the Packers in a three-way tie for the division lead. The decisive victory was made all the more sweet by the fact that it was against the hated Bears. And maybe it happened precisely because it was against the division rival.
McCarthy and the rest of the coaching staff reportedly harped upon the importance of the rivalry in the week leading up to the game. Packers; offensive line coach Jerry Fontenot, a former Bear, reportedly addressed the team:
"He said that when Chicago and Green Bay played just after Pearl Harbor, 43,000 showed up for the game," Center Scott Wells said, referring to the 1941 Western Conference playoff game won by the Bears, 33-14, at Wrigley Field.
"Then he said the NFL Championship Game there the next week 13,000 showed up.
"To me, that was impressive. That shows you how big this game is for this state, Chicago, and Green Bay."
And while being hyped for the game clearly made a difference - only four times in the 175 regular-season games between the two organizations has the margin been wider than it was Sunday ? Packer fans have to hope that the team can continue the momentum even when they?re playing less storied teams.
- Nicole Haase is a RealGM contributor, and her work can also be found on CuteSports.blogspot.com