We should have a great NFC Championship next Sunday.
Both Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers are very good cold-weather quarterbacks. Cutler played well against the Seahawks in his first playoff game. Not only did he start the scoring with a perfect touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen on Chicago’s first series, but showed toughness, running for 43 yards and two touchdowns. One of his scores was a designed run; on the other one he improvised very well when Seattle’s linebackers dropped too deep into coverage.
But the story in the NFC playoffs has been the Packers and Rodgers. They have beaten two of the best teams in the NFC. In early December we were saying that Philadelphia and Atlanta might be meeting in the title game. They looked like the best teams and then maybe the Saints.
But Green Bay took care of both of those teams. In the two playoff games, Rodgers has thrown six touchdowns and run for another. In his past nine games, Rodgers has thrown 22 touchdowns against only two interceptions.
Do the Bears have enough on defense to slow Rodgers?
I agree with Jimmy Johnson. Jimmy said that the poor footing in Soldier Field probably will negate both teams’ pass rush. The Packers have more speed and quickness in their front seven and that could slow Clay Matthews and Erik Walden, who has replaced Frank Zombo as an outside rusher. If that happens, this could help Cutler.
It is pretty obvious that you have to get to Rodgers and disrupt his rhythm. He’s in a zone right now. Neither the Eagles nor the Falcons were able to do that. The Bears have the linemen and linebackers to do it, but I just wonder if either team is going to find any traction on that field. It seemed to me the only sacks on Sunday were coverage sacks.
The last time these two teams played in Chicago it was late September and the field was in great condition. Rodgers attempted 45 passes but only generated 17 points even though the Packers gained 379 yards. Back then neither team had a running game. The Packers were just coming off losing Ryan Grant, and Brandon Jackson got just 12 yards on seven carries.
Now, both of these teams are very familiar with one another. It could come down to which team prepares the best this week and finds the plays that will work. When these two met at the end of the season, neither one got untracked. Rodgers made the big throw to Greg Jennings to win it, but the defenses kind of dominated the day. I do believe that the Bears played their starters in that Week 17 game because they wanted to knock the Packers out of the playoffs. They didn’t have to play all their starters, but I think they knew that Green Bay would be an awfully tough team to beat in the playoffs.
It looks like their fears have materialized, huh?
I think Chicago’s best chance to win is to run the ball like they did today against Seattle. They gained 176 yards on 45 carries. They kept the ball for almost 15 minutes more than the Seahawks. If they can do that to the Packers, play keep-away from Rodgers that may be the best way to beat the Packers’ passing game.
What has been impressive to me about the Packers is that all four wide receivers can make exciting, acrobatic catches. They are all quick and fast. Rodgers has a tremendous cast around him, plus he has a whip-like throwing motion. He gets rid of the ball quickly and on a rope. I’ve been really impressed with him in the playoffs, and coach Mike McCarthy has been a great play caller down the stretch, too. He has been very aggressive. You keep thinking that the Packers should run more, but why do it? McCarthy is keeping the ball in the hands of his best player – and that’s Rodgers.
This was a big win for Cutler, too. The Bears traded all those picks for him, hoping to make a Super Bowl. Now, that he’s won a playoff game, he will be confident for this rematch. When I played, the home-field advantage was so important in the playoffs. This year’s playoffs have thrown the home field out the window.
Green Bay has won two consecutive games on the road and traveling to Chicago won’t be an issue.