Entering this short rivalry week, the Chicago Bears are not only looking to get to .500, but they’re also hoping to put the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North basement.
In this episode, Will DeWitt goes through his weekly five matchups and three keys that you must pay attention to Thursday night under the Lambeau lights.
First up, let’s analyze the five critical matchups.
1. Jordan Howard vs Blake Martinez
After a high-volume workload against the Steelers (23 carries for 138 yards), it’ll be interesting to see how Howard handles a short week of rest, especially as the back is dealing with a shoulder injury.
Martinez is the Packers’ primary inside linebacker who is in his second year after being drafted in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. Last week, he piled up 11 tackles and currently leads the team with 18 combined. He’s aggressive while attacking the run, evident by the fact that he leads Green Bay in tackles for loss with three.
When the Bears attempt to rush in between the tackles, they must account for Martinez every time. It’s impossible to limit Martinez from making tackles, he’s just too good. But what Chicago needs to do is keep his tackles near or at the line of scrimmage to a minimum.
This said, if Howard displays the same sort of tenacity he did on Sunday, breaking tackles and gaining yards after contact, he’ll be difficult to stop.
Edge: Jordan Howard
2. Marcus Cooper (and Co.) vs Jordy Nelson
Last week, I said Cooper would primarily handle Antonio Brown despite Prince Amukamara’s return. That ended up being true. Amukamara was limited in his Bears’ debut, and even though I expect his playing time to increase, Chicago will lean on Cooper yet again this week to cover the Packers’ top-wideout – Jordy Nelson.
Against the Steelers, Cooper was lights-out in coverage. He only surrendered one catch despite being targeted nine times. Cooper also had three passes defended. Nelson, on the other hand, doesn’t need a ton of touches to make his impact felt. Last week, he only had six catches on nine targets but accounted for two touchdowns. Meaning, Nelson scored once every three catches.
When these two line up from one another, it’ll surely be a battle to keep an eye on. Knowing how well Cooper was in coverage a week ago, look for the Packers to flip what side Nelson lines up on and for him to work his way into the slot at times.
No matter who’s covering Nelson, that Bear must keep the ball out of his hands. He’s dangerous, especially with Aaron Rodgers throwing his way.
Edge: Jordy Nelson
3.Tarik Cohen vs Josh Jones
After a tough outing in Tampa, Cohen’s elite elusiveness was on full display Sunday. He carried the ball 12 times and averaged 6.5 yards per rush. He had two big gains with a 26-yard run in the second quarter as well as that electrifying 36-yarder in overtime (which should’ve been the walk-off if he wasn’t called out).
Cohen will have a fellow rookie to deal with on Thursday night in Jones. Jones is listed as a safety, but often times lines up as Green Bay’s “nitro” linebacker. He’s second on the team in tackles with 17 combined, 12 of which came last week against Cincinnati. Jones’ primary responsibility against the run will be making plays on the outside, right where Cohen makes his living.
Additionally, it’ll be on Jones to cover Cohen, who leads the Bears in targets (22), in the passing game. Currently, Cohen is hauling in over 77 percent of balls thrown his way.
This is an intriguing matchup between a couple rookies, but Cohen has proven he’s a playmaker, and he will make his mark on Thursday.
Edge: Tarik Cohen
4. Bobby Massie vs Clay Matthews
After struggling through 2016, Matthews is starting to resemble the dominant player he once was. He has 10 total tackles in three games, averaging 48 snaps per game, and has 1.5 sacks.
Massie has had a rough start to the season in pass protection. He’s already given up two sacks, allowed 10 total pressures, and has been called for holding once.
Matthews is only one sack away from becoming the Packers’ all-time sack leader. You better believe he wants to accomplish that feat at Lambeau against the Bears. He’s always had success against Chicago (8.5 sacks). Massie will have his hands full, Mike Glennon is immobile in the pocket, and we’ll see how this unfolds.
Edge: Clay Matthews
5. Akiem Hicks vs Jahri Evans
This is my weekly matchup to watch in the trenches as it’s going to be a fight from start to finish. Both Hicks and Evans are one of the best at their respected positions.
Hicks enters the game with two sacks (both coming Week 1) and 10 total pressures. Conversely, Evans has only given up six total pressures and zero sacks this season.
Then, against the run, Hicks leads all 3-4 DE’s with nine run stops and comes in second with a run stop percentage of 17. Evans is in the top-20 with a run block grade of 77.4.
Evans gets the slight edge in the passing game, but Hicks is stronger when the ball is on the ground.