In all three seasons since Randall Cobb ran by Chris Conte on December 29, 2013, the Chicago Bears have finished last in the NFC North every time. It’s almost as if they still haven’t gotten over this division-winning fourth down conversion on their home turf.
The last time the Bears finished first in the division was three years before that. Three weeks later, on January 23, 2011, this happened:
Ouch. Was that a dance party in the Soldier Field north end zone? Could we see it in slo-mo 12 more times, please?
But if 96 years and 194 games have taught the Packers and Bears anything, it’s that no hibernation is forever, and the dancing must cease once the football renews.
Tonight will be the 195th angry meeting of these two football teams, and the current tally is 94 wins each plus six ties. If the Packers find a way to win this Thursday, September 28, 2017, then it will be the first time they’ll have won more against the Bears than they’ve lost since the morning of Sunday, September 24, 1933. That’s a span of 84 years and 4 days.
To do it they’ll have to beat these names and jersey numbers:
SCOUTING THE 2017 CHICAGO BEARS
It’s a quarterback league, and the Bears have doubled down on replacing Jay Cutler after his eight pouty years in the Windy City, including 13 games against the Packers featuring 23 gorgeous interceptions:
First the Bears committed at least $19 million to #8 Mike Glennon for his services this season. Glennon was benched two years ago to make way for Jameis Winston in Tampa Bay, but that didn’t stop Chicago from giving him starter money. It’s almost as if they wanted to pay top dollar for every inch of neck they could get.
Glennon is tall, slow, and has average arm strength. Realizing this perhaps too late, the Bears mortgaged their current and future drafts in order to trade up one spot and get #10 Mitch Trubisky, who is much more athletic than Glennon and will probably be the starter by the end of the season.
In the meantime, however, the Glennon giraffe will be looking over a solid interior line. Former Packer Josh Sitton still wears the #71 jersey and plays right guard now when healthy, which he might not be. This years it’s ribs, last year it was an ankle, years ago when he was a Packer it was his back and toe. The other guard, #75 Kyle Long, is another nasty mountain of a man, but one who is also struggling for health. He just returned to the field last week from offseason ankle surgery to go along with a shoulder that might need surgery soon. Between them is last year’s 2nd-round draft pick #65 Cody Whitehair, a converted guard playing center because the prior year’s 3rd-rounder, #55 Hronis Grasu, a pure center, broke his hand last week.
The exterior of the offensive line is the weak spot here. Clay Matthews, Ahmad Brooks, and Nick Perry (if he clubs over his broken finger and goes tonight) should be able to get by right tackle #70 Bobby Massie and left tackle #72 Charles Leno on a regular basis.
The other huge weak spot for this offense is at wide receiver, where the only two tall, fast guys they had, Cameron Meredith and Kevin White, are both already done for the season. The four guys lining up wide will wear jerseys #12 through #15. Don’t bother looking for them. If the Packers can’t cover these guys then our current cornerback experiment is a failure.
The Bears do play all three of their tight ends (jerseys #86 through #88), often two and sometimes even three at a time. They use these heavy sets partly because the healthy wide receivers aren’t worth playing, and partly because both running backs are extraordinarily good at cutting back or even reversing fields—so more in-line blockers mean more gaps for them to choose between.
Last year’s running back rookie revelation, #24 Jordan Howard, is the starter, and he still makes that one early cut and goes hard. Last week in overtime he burst left to win the game in overtime. Notice that all three tight ends were lined up with their hands down for this play:
But this year’s rookie revelation, #29 Tarik Cohen, should have won the game a couple plays earlier if the refs hadn’t mistakenly called him out of bounds halfway through this meandering gallop:
Again, all three ends were lined up tight with their hands down, but this time the “human joystick” from North Carolina AT&T made two separate swerves even before the line of scrimmage, and then zig-zagged across the entire width of the field like a carriage return.
The Bear defense mirrors the offense: strong near the line of scrimmage, but weak wide and deep.
Last year’s 1st-rounder #92 Leonard Floyd and former Lion end #97 Willie Young will likely be matched up on the edges with two Packer tackles that started the month by getting cut. Even if we manage to stay in front of these elegantly long and fast pass rush specialists, slot back #37 Bryce Callahan showed last week with this strip sack that he is always a threat to blitz through chip blockers in the backfield.
Near the football, #96 Akiem Hicks is 346 pounds of two-gapping run stuff, but he can also get upfield in a surprising hurry, as he showed several times against Atlanta in week 1.
The Bears won’t have their fastest middle linebacker and best safety due to injury, and all of their corners are beatable, so the Packers should be able to pass if there’s a pocket to do it from. That’s a big IF…
HOW THE PACKERS MATCH UP
The story of this game is the situation at right and left tackle. Both starters are iffy and—even if they do suit up—are likely to aggravate their ailments. Bulaga‘s ankle flared up last week and Bahktiari‘s hamstring is still mad at him for doing this split against Seattle.
The top three backups—Kyle Murphy, Don Barclay, and Jason Spriggs—are all on injured reserve, meaning that the Packers were forced to activate #77 Adam Pankey from their own practice squad and claim #74 Ulrick John from Arizona’s.
One of those off-roster rejects will probably be playing left tackle if we assume the Packers won’t want to switch #64 Josh McCray over from right tackle, where he actually played OK for the last two weeks.
If things get really desperate the Packers might just have to let all 275 pounds of Martellus Bennett play tackle. He often lines up as a sixth big ugly anyway, and it’s not like he’s been catching the ball lately. Certainly not on third downs when it matters.
JUSTICE OR UNITY? OR BOTH?
Speaking of Martellus, it’s been reported that he wrote the first draft of this statement from the Packer players.
He was also the only Packer to raise his fist during the anthem in week 1 and one of three Packers to not stand for the anthem last week. When asked about this in the locker room, he said, “People don’t want to talk about racism. People don’t want to talk about oppression. They want to stay oblivious..Then when it comes to sports, they want to be even more distracted from what’s really going on in the world.”
Speaking for myself, I have never wanted sports to be a distraction. Playing and watching sports is a central part of my life, and one of the reasons I love the Packers more than I love the Brewers and the Bucks is because of what the Packers stand for: community ownership of things that matter. The rest of the NFL has their oligarchs. We have each other.
But who are we? Last November one million four hundred and nine thousand and four hundred sixty-seven Wisconsin residents voted for—and helped elect—a misogynist, racist fascist to be president of our country.
Now I’m being asked by the Packer players themselves to link arms at Lambeau with whomever is standing next to me—and this could be a Bears fan or even a Trump voter.
It was Trump’s “son of a bitch” comments last week that inspired so many more players to protest on Sunday, and caused the Packers to request the arm-linking tonight. I can recommend no better response to Trump than this one from Milwaukee’s own Reggie Jackson, recent winner of the Frank P. Zeidler Public Service award and the driving force behind the re-opening of America’s Black Holocaust Museum on 4th and North.
Even though I never considered the Packers to be a distraction from our work for justice, I would be oblivious if I thought all other Packers fans felt the same way. Way back in 2008 and 2012, when strong majorities of Wisconsin voters helped elect and re-elect our first black president, even in both of those landslide years, well over one million Packer fans voted against that.
So the Green Bay Packers are a lot like the United States of America. Both are founded on principles of equality and justice, but the actual owners of the team and the actual citizens of the country do not always act on behalf of those ideals.
We can’t wait for unity to work for justice, but without unity justice is all but impossible. So if Martellus Bennett and Aaron Rodgers are asking me to link arms with someone who condones or is oblivious to racism, then I will. We all need love, and those with too much hate need love the most.
If the Packers cannot inspire us all to be better, then nothing can.