TALE OF THE TAPE
Chicago’s Jay Cutler, 32, is playing arguably the best football of his career. Working under first-year coordinator Adam Gase, Cutler has been controlled, efficient and highly productive with a subpar cast. In his final chance to lead the Bears, Cutler is turning in one of the best years of his career. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has thrown eight TD passes in his last three games.
Chicago’s Matt Forte has missed the last three games with a knee injury, but could return Thanksgiving night. When healthy, Forte is one of the NFL’s most complete backs. Forte is a patient runner with terrific vision and underrated speed. Forte turns 30 in December, though, and is likely playing his final season in Chicago. One reason for that has been the emergence of rookie sensation Jeremy Langford. Langford, a fourthround draft choice, had the best 40-yard dash time (4.42) among running backs at last year’s combine. Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy had his best game of the season vs. Minnesota.
Alshon Jeffery is Chicago’s No. 1 WR, but he’s been bothered all year with groin and shoulder injuries. Jeffery has imposing size (6-3, 216) and makes several catches with a high degree of difficulty, but lacks top-end speed. Tight end Martellus Bennett has been the Bears’ top target. Bennett has terrific hands and ideal size (6-6, 265) to box out defenders. Former seventh-round pick Marquess Wilson has been surprisingly productive. Green Bay’s James Jones is coming off his best game since Week 3.
Bears RT Kyle Long has been a Pro Bowl player each of his first two seasons. Long is extremely athletic, bright and has made a seamless transition from right guard this season. LG Matt Slauson is another top performer. Slauson has a unique combination of smarts and nastiness. He’s a solid pass blocker, but can also get to the second level in the run game. After that, there’s a decline in talent. LT Charles Leno has been a mess, allowing 17 quarterback hurries and five hits through the first nine games. RG Vladimir Ducasse has been so-so in the run game, but a disaster in pass pro. Both Ducasse and Leno wouldn't be starting in most NFL cities. Rookie C Hroniss Grasu was thrust into the lineup after Will Montgomery suffered a broken fibula in Week 4. Packers LT David Bakhtiari is banged up (knee) and struggling in a big way.
Chicago’s defenses in 2013-’14 were the worst two in franchise history. First-year coordinator Vic Fangio has implemented a 3-4 scheme and the Bears have made marked improvements. Chicago’s best player up front has been rookie NT Eddie Goldman, a massive man (6-4, 336) with terrific strength and leverage. DE Will Sutton is undersized for the 3-4 scheme and has been a liability in the run game. DE Jarvis Jenkins, a free-agent acquisition, has played as poorly in Chicago as he did in Washington. Green Bay’s defensive line was terrific in slowing down Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson.
Bears OLB Pernell McPhee has been one of the NFL’s top defenders this year. McPhee can rush from either side, plays with violence and ranks among the league leaders in QB hits and hurries. Fellow OLB Sam Acho mans the strongside and brings intelligence and reliability to the position. ILB Shea McClellin has saved his career with his move from DE, while fellow ILB Christian Jones is outstanding in the pass game, but struggles vs. the run. Green Bay’s Datone Jones is getting snaps at OLB and making the most of them.
Former Packers defensive coordinator Ed Donatell coaches Chicago’s defensive backs and has gotten more out of this unit than many thought possible. Second-year CB Kyle Fuller flashed rare instincts and ball skills early with three interceptions in his first three career games. But Fuller has just two picks in 23 games since. Veteran CB Tracy Porter has been so-so. Rookie SS Adrian Amos, a fifth-round draft choice, has held up better than anyone could have hoped. Veteran FS Antrel Rolle has been adequate. Green Bay CB Casey Hayward would love to start outside, but is a true difference maker in the slot.
Bears K Robbie Gould remains a solid, steady pro. P Pat O’Donnell ranks among the league leaders in gross and net averages.