Five things we learned from Packers-Bears

Coming off an ugly showing against the Detroit Lions, the Green Bay Packers went into Chicago hoping to avoid two straight division losses. It was a close game in the first half—the Bears were inches short of a touchdown in the closing seconds and only trailed by four points. The Packers responded by outscoring the Bears 17-0 and winning decisively against their division rivals.

Let’s take a look at what we learned from the Packers 38-17 win.

Packers offense gets on track

Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers have been heavily criticized for running a lethargic offense in the first few weeks of the season. But you won’t hear much criticism following a five-touchdown performance. It started on the first drive when Rodgers hooked up twice with TE Richard Rodgers, including a 43-yard reception that put Green Bay in Chicago territory. It was the beginning of a very successful game plan for the Packers.

Green Bay stuck with the no-huddle for much of the game, but used quick passes across the middle to attack a depleted Bears secondary. The Bears front-four struggled to get pressure and Rodgers was able to buy time and alternate between Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson. Cobb and Nelson each finished the game with 100-plus receiving yards and two touchdowns. The recurring problem of Rodgers locking in on Nelson was gone—he spread the ball around and excelled in doing so.

This is the type of offense the Packers are capable of—even with the running game struggling, Green Bay put up 38 points and didn’t need to punt the entire game. Now they have three days to prepare for a Minnesota Vikings’ secondary that is 12th against the pass this season.

Run defense is a serious issue

While there are plenty of positives to take away from this win, the inability to stop the run is alarming and continues to haunt this team. Despite trailing for most of the second half, Chicago found success giving the ball to Matt Forte and Ka’Deem Carey. The duo combined for 194 rushing yards on 37 carries, against a defense that knew the run was coming.

While Mike Daniels and Datone Jones have certainly impressed creating pressure, they still struggle versus the run. The offensive line had no problem pushing them aside and opening up the middle of the field for Forte to run through.

Chicago consistently won at the line of scrimmage in the run game and challenged the Packers’ linebackers to make up for the horrid defensive line. The linebackers continued to miss tackles, which left open space for Forte the entire game.

The defensive line needs to step up and be more physical—more teams will take advantage of this group by running the football and keeping Rodgers off the field. NT Letroy Guion has been the worst of this group and it might be time to make a change and start giving Mike Pennell serious snaps.

Offensive line play remains inconsistent

We saw a different tale from the offensive line today. They dominated in pass protection, giving Rodgers every second needed to find the open man. From LT David Bakhtiari to RT Bryan Bulaga, the group won at the line of scrimmage. As for run blocking, they couldn’t open up a hole big enough to slide a quarter between.

While many have put the struggles of the running game on Eddie Lacy, the biggest problem is the offensive line. Lacy can’t find holes to power his way through when the defense is immediately in the backfield. In fact, Lacy has used his power to break through the initial tackles as he fights to get back to the line of scrimmage. He found the end zone once on Sunday from two yards out and would have had another if not for a holding call. This was supposed to be a nice matchup for Lacy, but the running game just couldn’t find momentum.

While it’s great to have Rodgers throwing four touchdowns, he will face tougher secondaries in the future. Green Bay needs a successful running game to provide balance and help set up bigger plays downfield. The pressure is on offensive line coach James Campen this week to get his group turned around.

Self-inflicted wounds are diminishing in number

Slow starts and turnovers crippled Green Bay to open up the season, but we finally saw a clean game against Chicago. The Packers went the entire game without a turnover, converted four of five attempts in the red zone and took advantage of turnovers.

Sure, there were a few mistakes—a hold on Corey Linsley nullified a Rodgers to Davante Adams touchdown pass. And a hold on Andrew Quarless took away Lacy’s second touchdown of the day. It cost the Packers 11 points, but they occurred when the team already had a sizable lead in the fourth quarter.

The lack of turnovers was a huge positive asset. Rodgers was sharp on his throws and Green Bay didn’t give away extra possessions to a Bears’ offense that was firing on all cylinders for a good chunk of the game. There was no moment of shame today.

While the run defense struggled, the secondary took advantage of some poor throws by Jay Cutler. The first interception occurred in the third quarter when Chicago moved the ball near the red zone. Tramon Williams jumped the route and deflected it, allowing Clay Matthews to pick it out of the air and return it to the Chicago 35-yard line. Green Bay took advantage by scoring a touchdown, just as they did on Cutler’s second interception of the day.

The defense created extra possessions for Rodgers and put the offense in great field position. In a key divisional road game, Green Bay got back on track and came away with the win. Winning the turnover battle and limiting the big mistakes was key to this win and must carry over to Thursday Night Football against the Vikings.

Rookies are beginning to step up in respective roles

While GM Ted Thompson has certainly earned praise for his success over the years, he has been more whiff than hit in the draft recently. First-round picks like Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod have missed multiple seasons with injuries, while the defensive selections have found even worse luck.

Green Bay needed early success from their 2014 rookie class—now they are seeing real signs of progress from Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, Richard Rodgers and Davante Adams. Clinton-Dix lost the training camp battle to Micah Hyde to start at free safety, but quickly has earned more snaps each game. While he must improve against the run and wrapping up, he is effective in coverage. TE Richard Rodgers was awful against the Lions, but made two key receptions on the first drive and delivered a monster block on Cobb’s big reception.

It was a surprise when WR Jarrett Boykin was inactive before the game with a knee injury, but it opened the door for Adams to earn Aaron Rodgers’ trust. Rodgers found him in the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown, but it was nullified due to a holding penalty. Adams also caught a screen pass in the red zone, but it was only for a short gain. He missed a low, catchable pass from Rodgers, but overall it was a solid outing for the rookie. If the trio of rookies can improve on a weekly basis, Green Bay will be in great shape going forward.