It’s an odd feeling. Going against the Packers without Aaron Rodgers, there’s a sense of optimism in the air surrounding our Chicago Bears as all signs point towards a victory on Sunday.
In this episode, Will DeWitt goes through his weekly five matchups and three keys that you must pay attention to in this week’s game.
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First up, let’s analyze the five critical matchups.
1. Leonard Floyd vs Justin McCray
This may be the best matchup Floyd has had all season long, and could end up as the most favorable one he sees in 2017. Bears Fans should be counting their lucky stars that Packers’ starter Bryan Bulaga is unable to play as the dropoff in talent is significant.
Floyd has gotten better as we get deeper into the season. Against the Saints, he looked as quick as he has all year. He was flying off the snap and was giving Drew Brees fits.
This is a matchup that he can exploit all game long. I said it on the game preview podcast, that he is my x-factor on defense this week. If Floyd can do what he does best, and get into the pocket in a hurry, he’ll have Hundley under duress all game long.
If he can make the inexperienced quarterback sweat, and lose his focus, the Packers’ offense isn’t going to be able to accomplish much, if anything.
Leonard Floyd is on pace for 10 sacks this season, and he always seems to step up his game against the Packers. This is a matchup he must (and will) win.
Edge: Leonard Floyd
2. Cody Whitehair vs Kenny Clark
Whitehair is still dealing with an injury to the elbow on his snapping arm. Even though he’s practiced throughout the week, there’s an obvious level of concern for a guy who’s struggled this season with snapping the ball.
This week, he’s lined up across the Packers’ nose tackle Kenny Clark, who has put together a really sound season. He leads the Packers linemen with 27 total tackles and two for loss. In the previous matchup, Clark was held to only one tackle, but he’s picked up his play over the past month.
Clark is a player that is rarely beaten off the ball and has a knack for getting the best leverage. He’s been an anchor for that defensive line and is the unit’s most effective run stopper. He can power through double teams, which opens things up for their linebackers including leading-tackler Blake Martinez.
For Chicago, it’ll be important for Whitehair to hold his own against Clark. If he can, it’ll allow the guards to enter the second level and put a hat on Martinez, who due to Clark’s impressive play, has been able to clean up on open running lanes.
Whitehair must find a way to hold Clark down pat, but with a nagging elbow injury, I just don’t’ see it happening.
Edge: Kenny Clark
3. Jordan Howard vs Blake Martinez
By giving the edge to Clark in the previous matchup, it only makes sense to highlight this one as well. Because, I have no doubt there will be plenty of situations where these two players go head-to-head on Sunday.
If you recall, I had this matchup highlighted back when these two teams squared off in Week 4. Martinez led the team then and still leads them in tackles with 74 and six tackles for loss.
Martinez has superior instincts that allow him to sniff out runs in a hurry. Plus it helps that he is a sound tackler.
For this matchup, it’s simple: Howard must find a way to make him miss. Howard is one of the best in the league of fighting through contact, and he’ll need to break a couple of Martinez’s tackles in order to bust out some big gains. He’s been tough to block all season long, and I expect that to continue this week.
Howard doesn’t need to make him miss every time in order to win this matchup, instead, he just needs those couple of big plays to make the impact needed.
Edge: Jordan Howard
4. Connor Barth vs Himself
We’ve all seen the struggles from the Bears’ kicker. It’s been, well … painfully obvious. The hope from Bears Fans was that the team would have found a replacement during the bye week, but alas Barth isn’t going anywhere.
He’s missed two of his last four and has only hit two of five from 40+ yards this season. It’s been reported that he’s been working on fixing his inconsistencies.
It’s all on Barth to dig deep and to clean up his mistakes moving forward, and in a game that is expected to be low-scoring, Chicago can’t have its kicker out their missing field goals.
Not only does that take points off the board, but it also kills hope and momentum built up by the offense as they march their way into field goal range.
Will Barth put his mistakes behind him and kick more efficiently? Only time will tell. Luckily for him, no matter what, he gets the edge in this matchup.
Edge: Connor Barth
5. Akiem Hicks vs Jahri Evans
Here’s another matchup that carries over from the previous game. I expect this to be another “dogfight” from start to finish as both are one of the best at their respective positions.
Last time, Evans was the player who won the battle as he limited Hicks to two total tackles in his least productive game of the season. Since that game, Hicks has played with a fiery passion and has recorded a sack every week.
One must believe that Hicks knows that Evans had his number last time out and wants to change that this Sunday, but it won’t be easy as Evans has only given up one sack this year.
It’s two players in their prime going toe-to-toe. It doesn’t get much better than this. Hopefully, Hicks can rise to the occasion and make a couple of those patented big-time plays.