Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

21 Jan 2011

2010 NFC Conference Championship Preview

by Bill Barnwell

Although it seems impossible to believe, there may actually be a facet of an NFL playoff game that's been undersold. Saying that the Bears and Packers are familiar with each other because they've already played two games versus each other isn't doing the concept justice. Although it's only Julius Peppers's third game against the Packers as a member of the Bears, other key players can probably give directions in each town. Brian Urlacher's played the Packers 20 times. Olin Kreutz is at 24. Donald Driver's got 20 starts against the Bears. Guys like Charles Woodson and Lance Briggs are in double-digits, and even relatively young players like Matt Forte and Greg Jennings aren't far off.

Compounding that is the fact that, outside of the Packers' shift to the 3-4 before the 2009 season, not much has changed about these teams schematically since the arrival of Lovie Smith in 2004. The Bears still run the Tampa-2 as their base defense most of the time. The Packers are still using an offense that Brett Favre ran, while the Bears haven't exactly shifted their offense under Mike Martz into "The Greatest Show on Slop". It may actually end up being the way that these teams shift out of their familiar alignments into different looks -- and how the opposition handles it -- that could be the key to victory this Sunday.

The conference championship previews include two "week-to-week" charts for each team: one for offense, one for defense. Because defensive DVOA is opposite of offensive DVOA, the defensive charts are flipped upside-down -- the higher dots still represent better games. All stats are regular season only except for WEIGHTED DVOA and anywhere else it is specifically noted.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the Football Outsiders stats, they are explained at the bottom of the page. Scroll down or click this link.



Packers on Offense
  GB OFF CHI DEF
DVOA 14.7% (7) -7.8% (5)
WEI DVOA 16.4% (7) -4.5% (5)
PASS 33.0% (6) -5.3% (5)
RUSH 1.7% (11) -11.4% (7)
RED ZONE -0.9% (17) -21.2% (5)


Bears on Offense
  CHI OFF GB DEF
DVOA -12.0% (28) -10.8% (2)
WEI DVOA 3.0% (18) -18.5% (2)
PASS -7.1% (28) -17.9% (1)
RUSH -3.7% (20) -1.8% (16)
RED ZONE -27.2% (28) -19.6% (8)


Special Teams
  GB CHI
DVOA -2.2% (27) 7.2% (1)
GB kickoff -5.8 (27) 14.6 (3)
CHI kickoff -10.8 (28) -0.7 (18)
GB punts 4.1 (15) 26.6 (1)
CHI punts -1.2 (19) 0.6 (20)
FG/XP 0.4 (17) 1.1 (16)

All readers can click here for in-game discussion on our message boards. If you have FO Premium, you can click here to see all the matchup of DVOA splits for this game.

WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL

The Bears were able to hold Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense to 27 points over two games. In Week 17, they limited the Packers to 10 points and an offensive DVOA of -18.7%, their lowest number of the year for a game that Rodgers started and finished. In Week 3, although they held the Packers to just 17 points, Green Bay produced a DVOA of 31.7%, which was the Packers' sixth-best game of the regular season. How can a difference of seven points result in such a shift in DVOA?

There's a variety of reasons why. One, of course, is penalties: The Packers committed eight offensive penalties in that game and 18 overall, and DVOA sees an offense that was executing well when it wasn't in third-and-20. Because Green Bay ran so many plays and had the ball for so long, they only had eight meaningful drives, and four of them produced 56 yards or more. Only one of those drives started beyond their own 28-yard line; meanwhile, thanks to great work on special teams, five of the Bears' eight drives started on their own 40-yard line or even closer to the Packers' end zone. That Week 3 game contained Jermichael Finley and Mark Tauscher, though, so it's probably better to focus on the matchup as it looked in Week 17, which is what I'm going to do.

One of the biggest reasons why the Bears have been able to slow the Packers down has been their ability to shut down the Green Bay running game. You might say that most teams have been able to do that, but the Bears have done a particularly good job. The Packers have run the ball with a running back 30 times in these two matchups and produced just four first downs and seven successful carries, yielding a Success Rate of 23.3 percent. A heavier dosage of James Starks could help, but an even better idea would be to ensure that they run with a fullback (which could be tight end Tom Crabtree) or two in the alignment. The Packers' Success Rate improves with the number of backs they have in the formation. They have a 33.1 percent Success Rate with a lone back, a 38.2 percent Success Rate with two backs, and a whopping 51.6 percent Success Rate (on 31 regular-season carries) in their three-back alignment. Although the Packers are most likely to use that three-back set in short-yardage, which artificially inflates that Success Rate figure, it's still clear that they're a better team when they use a fullback.

Speaking of short-yardage, running in the red zone and particularly near the goal line may end up being an enormous factor in this game. The Bears have the league's worst red zone run defense and the second-worst defense in Power situations. Green Bay is 19th on the ground in the red zone and 25th in Power situations, so they're not great, but Starks and John Kuhn absolutely need to be able to push the pile inside the two-yard line to score touchdowns. Rodgers has been absolutely incredible in the red zone during the playoffs -- 12-of-12 for 102 yards, three first downs, and six touchdowns qualifies -- but the Bears have the league's best red zone pass defense. Green Bay's first trip to the red zone in Week 17 qualifies as an example of how things can go wrong. Kuhn was stuffed on first down from the 1-yard line, and on second down, the Packers decided to run somewhat of a trick play, a fake quarterback sneak that saw Rodgers try to throw a backwards pass to Brandon Jackson. The ball hit the ground and, although Jackson recovered, it resulted in a loss. On third down, the Packers went four-wide and the Bears had no trouble covering everyone, resulting in a coverage sack.

In most situations, I think the Packers would be best using their "20" personnel grouping -- two running backs, no tight ends, and three wide receivers. Assuming that one of the running backs on most plays is Starks, the other back can either be Kuhn, Crabtree, or Quinn Johnson. That grouping allows them to run out of the formation with a lead blocker, which has increased their efficiency, while keeping their best players on the field and creating a potential mismatch for the Bears. If the Bears respond by staying in their base 4-3 alignment, that can create several different opportunities, depending on which coverage the Bears show. In the traditional Tampa-2, Driver can work through the zones of linebackers to find a spot, which is old hat for him. If the Bears go with man coverage by a linebacker on Driver, likely Lance Briggs, that's an obvious mismatch in the Packers' favor. Pushing up a safety to man up on Driver isn't a great matchup for the Bears, and it forces them into one-deep coverage with Greg Jennings and James Jones (or Jordy Nelson) on the outside. If they go into a Nickel alignment, they get their third cornerback (likely D.J. Moore) on the field, making it easier for the Packers to run the ball.

So how do the Bears combat that? By not playing Tampa-2. In fact, Lovie Smith and Aaron Rodgers both pointed out this week that the Bears used a Cover-3 Shell as their base defense in Week 17. That allows the Bears to get three-deep coverage from their cornerbacks and safety Chris Harris (who is struggling with a hip injury that could keep him out on Sunday), with fellow safety Daniael Manning pushing up towards the line of scrimmage. Smith then gets to mix and match with his four defensive linemen, three linebackers, and a safety. Although it occasionally allows Smith to blitz a linebacker or even incorporate a zone blitz to put one of his speedy defensive linemen in a passing lane, it usually results in the four down linemen rushing the quarterback and four intermediate zones across the field. Quite simply, it's easier for wide receivers to beat guys covering a third of the field than it is to beat guys covering a quarter of it.

Of course, part of that can be gamesmanship. The Bears could have been showing the Packers a defense in Week 17 that they're unlikely to run all that much during the playoffs. One thing is for sure: The Bears will disguise their coverages before the snap to try and confuse Rodgers long enough for their pass rush to get home. On one play in Week 17, the Bears lined up in what appeared to be in man coverage and then blitzed nickel back D.J. Moore off the left edge. A linebacker also blitzed up the A-gap on that side of the field, trying to overload the left side of the Packers line with a five-man rush. The Bears went into their Cover-3 shell with, of all people, Julius Peppers dropping off the line of scrimmage into one of three intermediate zones. The Packers ended up winning on the play, as Brandon Jackson picked up the blitzing corner, the protection stuffed up the four other rushers, and Greg Jennings ran a fantastic dig route behind Peppers's zone that made Tim Jennings lose his footing, resulting in an easy pitch-and-catch for a first down.

The game-winning touchdown drive by the Packers produced two consecutive plays, both of which were actually pretty similar. On third-and-3, the Bears lined up in their Nickel package with three cornerbacks clearly in man coverage on wide receivers and both linebackers -- Urlacher and Briggs -- in their "mug" look, crowding the A-gaps to create doubt about whether they'll be blitzing or in zone coverage. The Bears had one high safety and had Manning creeping towards the line, about seven yards off, against Crabtree in a Trips alignment. At the snap, though, the linebackers backed off, the slot corner moved into zone, and Manning dropped back into Cover-2. That gave the Bears three underneath zones, two cornerbacks in man coverage on the two wide receivers, and two deep safeties. The one hole in that defense is deep up the middle, and that's exactly where the slot receiver -- Driver -- went. The underneath crossing route of Crabtree occupied both of the linebackers, and Driver was able to get enough depth to run past Moore's zone and make a 21-yard catch before the two safeties could react. It required great work by both Rodgers and Driver to beat the coverage.

On the next play, Rodgers hit Jennings for 46 yards down the sideline, moving the ball to the 1-yard line. (Rodgers would hit Donald Lee for a touchdown on play-action on the subsequent play.) Again, the receiver making the big play was in the slot, but it was a totally different concept against a similar defensive look. This time, the Packers were in the "20" personnel grouping with Kuhn and Starks in the I-Formation, and while Driver normally lines up in the slot when the Packers go three-wide, Jennings was there this time. Driver was outside him as the flanker, with James Jones as the split end on the other side of the field. The Bears were in just about the exact same alignment as they had been on the previous play. This time, Rodgers used play-action to freeze the linebackers and try to create another big play over the middle of the field, but it wasn't doing. The two linebackers didn't crash the run action, and Rodgers' first read -- James Jones -- was covered. He next looked to the middle, where Driver was running a deep post, but Daniael Manning jumped the post as soon as Rodgers looked towards Driver. Because there was great pass protection against the four-man rush, Rodgers got time to look at his last option, Jennings. Jennings ran a lackadaisical quick out (perhaps on purpose) that allowed Driver to get depth downfield and drive at the safety. Once Driver was about ten yards downfield, Jennings turned upfield and revealed his true intention: A go route deep up the sideline that would be open if the Bears played Cover-2 and Manning jumped the deep post. Sure enough, that was the case, and Rodgers squeezed a perfect throw past Zack Bowman for the big play.

With the big plays coming from the slot receiver, should the Packers go four-wide or employ an empty backfield to try and create those mismatches on either side of the field? Probably. Green Bay went with an empty backfield 13 times against Chicago in their two games, and those plays resulted in 10 completions for 80 yards, with one intentional grounding penalty and a holding penalty against Bulaga. On the other hand, 10 of those plays came in the Week 3 matchup, when the Packers still had Finley (who had nine catches for 115 yards). Green Bay went with that empty backfield for one whole series in Week 17, but after picking up a first down on that throw to Driver, they got the holding penalty on Bulaga (wiping out a huge gain on a throw to Greg Jennings), a Rodgers scramble for little gain, and then a checkdown to Driver on third-and-long. I don't think the Packers' pass protection can hold up against Chicago's front four without a back or two to help.

WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL

Here, the Week 17 film has significantly more meaning than what we saw in Week 3. The Bears offense was playing worse and had an entirely different right side up front (with Lance Louis at right guard and Kevin Shaffer at right tackle). The Packers, meanwhile, had the services of Nick Barnett, Morgan Burnett, Brandon Chillar, and Brady Poppinga, each of whom are on injured reserve. They also had Frank Zombo, who will likely be out this weekend and replaced by Erik Walden, who had three sacks in the Week 17 matchup. The Packers were also without Cullen Jenkins in Week 17, but have had him back for the playoffs.

During that Week 17 game, the Packers used their "Psycho" defensive front as their base defense. That was in part because of Jenkins' absence, but the Packers used it a fair amount of the time in Week 3, when Jenkins was active. The truth is that the Packers likely don't respect the Bears' running game all that much, and think that their best personnel package comes out of this exotic front.

So what's the Psycho package? Well, it's essentially the code for a Dom Capers defense with fewer than three defensive linemen. For the purposes of this article, I'll be referring to the specific alignment they ran as their primary defense in Week 17. On the line of scrimmage, Capers has just two down linemen, with two upright linebackers joining them for a four-man front. Fortunately, the down linemen are B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett, each of whom are big enough to play nose tackle in the 3-4. Against the Bears, Clay Matthews almost always lines up on the left side of the defense, placing him across from rookie right tackle J'Marcus Webb. Walden lines up across from Frank Omiyale. (The mention of those three sacks might make you think Omiyale had a howler, but one was a coverage sack and another was when Walden lined up as a standard linebacker and green-dogged his way past Roberto Garza.) The middle linebackers are A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop, while Charles Woodson lines up in the slot on either side of them, depending on the offensive formation. The defensive backfield (with Sam Shields replacing Woodson) is in a standard alignment. Depending on how you look at it, you can describe the Psycho as a 2-4-5 or, truthfully, a 4-3 with two mammoth defensive tackles and Woodson as a hybrid outside linebacker/cover cornerback.

To cover all the possibilities of the Psycho package would be an entirely separate article; fortunately, the Blitzology blog already wrote a nice little piece detailing some of the rush possibilities out of this alignment, so I'm going to refer you to that article. Of course, this alignment creates several opportunities for the Packers to get mismatches. Matthews vs. Webb, for one, is just unfair. The Bears need to help Webb against Matthews a fair amount of the time, and in Week 17, that was Brandon Manumaleuna's job. That kept Greg Olsen off the field or at fullback, where he doesn't often get downfield. Olsen finished the day with just 27 yards on five catches, catching a variety of checkdowns and short throws. He simply wasn't a threat as a receiver.

Of course, Olsen's success in the Divisional Round has inspired new concerns. In his preview for the National Football Post, Matt Bowen suggested that the Packers should have Woodson follow Olsen around when Olsen splits out. I think that's going to be a very interesting matchup to follow on either side. If the Packers do follow Bowen's advice and get Woodson out of the box if Olsen heads outside the hashmarks, it gets their best defender -- and the guy who really makes the Psycho defense work by being such a stout run defender and blitzer -- out of the picture. It makes the Packers' defense easier to read and should give Cutler more time in the pocket, since Woodson is such an effective pass rusher.

In the Psycho package against the Bears, Woodson blitzed off the edge just about half the time. One great example: The Bears had fourth-and-short and Woodson came on a blitz off the edge. Cutler did a great job of recognizing the blitz and instantly checked off to his hot read (well, I think it was his hot read), a quick slant to Rashied Davis in the slot that Woodson vacated. Even at 34, Woodson retains such incredible athleticism that he was able to reach back and tip away the pass from Cutler, stopping a sure first down and ending a drive in Packers territory.

On the other hand, the Bears might choose to exploit Olsen's success from a week ago by placing both Olsen and Johnny Knox in the slot as part of a four-wideout set. In that case, Woodson is stuck; the speed of Knox clearly dictates that Woodson has to take him, but that leaves Olsen with a matchup against somebody like Walden or Hawk. If the Packers then push up Charlie Peprah to handle Olsen, they end up with a single high safety and are susceptible to the deep routes of Knox, Olsen, and Devin Hester. Don't be surprised to see the Bears go with that personnel package, hoping that Matt Forte or Chester Taylor can help Webb on Matthews long enough for Olsen to exploit his mismatch.

The other way the Bears can beat the Psycho package is to run on it, something they did with some success early on in the Week 17 encounter. On their third drive, Matt Forte ran for 25 yards and then 21 yards on consecutive plays, each against the Psycho front, before the Packers reverted back to a 3-4 base (with Howard Green replacing the absent Jenkins) for the rest of the drive. The first play was a simple example of how they can exploit the six-man front, as the Bears lined up in the Strong-I front with Olsen, as a fullback, offset to Webb's side and Brandon Manumaleuna at right tackle. The Bears ran your standard elementary school trap play, with right guard Roberto Garza pulling left and engulfing the inexperienced Walden, who couldn't hold the edge. With two linebackers in the middle of the field and the third "linebacker", Woodson, shaded to the opposite edge, all Olsen needed to do was bother B.J. Raji long enough for Forte to get outside for 25 untouched yards. If the Packers do come out in the Psycho, don't be surprised to see the Bears use misdirection to try and take advantage of Woodson's aggression.

Our charting numbers suggest that the Packers won't blitz Cutler with significant numbers more so than their blitz rates against the rest of the league. They blitzed five against Cutler 30 percent of the time (24 times); against the rest of the league, they rushed five 27.6 percent of the time. They only rushed six three times in two games. The Packers often rush three in third-and-long, and Cutler only had a 23 percent Success Rate there. Cutler's numbers against four- and five-man rushes from the Packers were just about identical, as he had a 37 percent Success Rate in each case. He averaged 4.3 yards per attempt against four-man rushes and 4.7 yards per attempt against five-man rushes, well below both the league average and the Packers' average allowance to opposing offenses.

On the other hand, they don't want Cutler to scramble. When he gets out of the pocket, Cutler has a league-best 61 percent Success Rate and averages 7.8 yards per attempt. Cutler decided to run on five such plays against the Packers during the regular season, and he produced 45 yards and three first downs. One was a 16-yard gain on third-and-15.

Finally, the red zone could be a point where the Bears struggle. Chicago ranks 28th in red zone DVOA, while the Packers have the second-best red zone defense in the league, including the best goal-to-go defense in football. Chicago had five trips to the red zone in their two games against Green Bay, and they produced just 16 points: One touchdown, three field goals, and a fourth-and-1 stuff when Desmond Clark dropped a pass in the end zone off of a pick play.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Bears have a dramatic advantage over the Packers on special teams, which exhibited itself in a variety of ways during the regular season. In addition to the huge disparity in short fields that I mentioned earlier, the Bears blocked a field goal and got a Devin Hester punt return for a touchdown in Week 3. In Week 17, the special teams battle was essentially equal (the Bears had a 4.9% DVOA and the Packers were at 4.2%), but the Bears are the huge favorites to make something happen with their specialists. Remember from earlier previews -- the Bears' offense has the league's best starting field position, with 66.6 yards to go for a touchdown.

OUTLOOK

Even if we consider weighted DVOA to try and capture how Chicago is playing at the moment, Green Bay is the better of these two teams. Although there are places where Chicago has an advantage -- notably special teams -- the Packers have far more mismatches to exploit than the Bears do on offense and defense. The hip injury to Harris, which has kept him out of practice for most of the week, should create another one even if the Bears safety can go on Sunday.

Certainly, the Bears could win this game. They should be able to slow down Rodgers some and prevent the Packers from running the ball effectively, and with a key turnover here and a big special teams play there, they could win a close game, just like they did in Week 3. But more often than not, the Packers are going to win this game.

STATS EXPLAINED

DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) breaks down each play of the season and compares it to the NFL average based on situation and opponent. You'll find it explained further here. Since DVOA measures ability to score, a negative DVOA indicates a better defense and worse offense, and a positive DVOA indicates a better offense and worse defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS numbers are different; they represent value in points of extra field position gained compared to NFL average. Field goal rating represents points scored compared to average kicker at same distances. All special teams numbers are adjusted by weather and altitude; the total is then translated into DVOA so it can be compared to offense and defense. Those numbers are explained here.

Each team is listed with DVOA for offense and defense, total along with rush and pass, and rank among the 32 teams in parentheses. (If the DVOA values are difficult to understand, it is easy to just look at the ranks.) We also list red zone DVOA and WEIGHTED DVOA (WEI DVOA), which is based on a formula which drops the value of games early in the season to get a better idea of how teams are playing now (explained here).

Each team also gets a chart showing their performance this year, game-by-game, according to total DVOA. In addition to a line showing each game, another line shows the team's trend for the season, using a third-power polynomial trendline. That's fancy talk for "the curve shifts direction once or twice."

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 21 Jan 2011

57 comments, Last at 24 Jan 2011, 10:47am by Will Allen

Comments

1
by Will Allen :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 5:38pm

If you are in third and 20 because your offensive line is committing penalties, and your offensive line is committing penalties because it is getting whipped, as is often the case with offensive line penalties, then it is meaningless to say an offensive DVOA was pretty good when it wasn't in third and 20. Yes, everybody is pretty good when they are not being bad.

If there is a team which gets its qb hit harder, by a significantg margin, it will lose. Capers vs. Tice is an interesting match-up, and not as one sided as many may suspect, even given Capers significant advantage in personnel. If the Bears don't get behind early, they'll have a chance to dish out a little punishment to a guy who has already missed time this year to concussion, while protecting their guy a little, and one thing I'll say about Cutler is that he can take a punch.

2
by Flounder :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 5:39pm

I have never heard Green Bay's two defensive lineman set referred to as the "Psycho" package. My impression is that terminology is strictly for when they go with one defensive lineman.

9
by nuclearbdgr :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 6:23pm

Agreed - psycho is the 1-5-5 or 1-4-6 alignment, the 2-4-5 is the standard nickel package for the Pack (see http://www.acmepackingcompany.com/2011/1/20/1946904/the-innovative-caper... for more details)

12
by Flounder :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 6:42pm

Exactly. They play a lot of nickel (I think actually a majority of the time) but are unusual in that they take out a lineman instead of a linebacker. The 2-4-5 nickel is really more their "base" defense than the 3-4. Psycho is when they have one lineman, and they have not played it much this season because the 1 lineman is Cullen Jenkins, and he has either had a cast on his hand, a hurt calf, or out with a hurt calf.

Frankly, it is a pretty embarrassing gaff by Mr. Barnwell.

20
by johnny walker (not verified) :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 7:42pm

Definitely embarrassing but not that significant otherwise. As a Packer fan I know that Psycho is the 1-5-5 but I'm not bent outt've shape that Barnwell doesn't. Calling the 2-4-5 by the wrong name doesn't change any of his other points.

21
by johnny walker (not verified) :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 7:48pm

In fact Barnwell appears to have based his statement off the Blitzology blog, which is also erroneously calling the 2-4-5 "Psycho."

42
by Nathan :: Sat, 01/22/2011 - 9:43pm

double

41
by Nathan :: Sat, 01/22/2011 - 9:42pm

I think the entire trend of referring to a specific team's personal or grouping by the name they give it is excessive, annoying and not helpful. Who cares if the Packers call it "Psycho"? If it's 1-5-5 it's 1-5-5. And don't get me started on "Bone."

I feel like it started after the "Wildcat" when suddenly announcers felt compelled to tell us we were watching the "Flash" package or the "Wild Horses" package.

43
by johnny walker (not verified) :: Sat, 01/22/2011 - 10:18pm

Maybe not helpful for people who follow the game in fine enough detail to be reading this article, but I'm thinking that referring to it as the 1-5-5 would confuse a lot of viewers. If you don't know football it's easier to get from "Psycho" to "rarely-used package that confuses opponents" in your head without stopping at "a 1-5-5 means..." and "a 1-5-5 is rare because..." on the way.

Not that I personally disagree; if it was up to me there would be a lot more technical details given out. We'll know this thing is really going too far if the announcers start referring to the GB full house as Falcon or Rhino.

44
by johnny walker (not verified) :: Sat, 01/22/2011 - 10:23pm

Adding to this: what I'd love to (and probably will never) see is an alternate audio channel of "advanced" commentary. Hit a button to switch from Simms to Mayock? Why yes, I would be happy to pay extra for that.

46
by Nathan :: Sat, 01/22/2011 - 11:21pm

I'll see that and raise you a third audio channel with no commentary whatsoever, just game noise (real hot in the mix) and crowd noise.

3
by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 5:49pm

The crew that officiated the first game with umpteen penalties is calling this playoff game.

While not prone to conspiracy theories this certainly has the potential to look like David Stern calling in a crew for an NBA finals that will call the game to insure it stays close. (Bill Simmons Theory)

As long as the game is called evenly then there should be no issue as Chicago's secondary takes the same approach as the Green Bay secondary.

4
by Charles Jake (not verified) :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 5:56pm

It is not the same crew. The regular season crews do not work the playoffs. Instead, the playoff crews are made up of the best officials from each crew based on regular season grades. The only carryover is the head guy.

Many of the penalties were called because the Pack couldn't handle Peppers. No reason (except the turf) to think that can't happen again.

6
by Will Allen :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 6:06pm

Yeah, I'm not a big proponent of coach's imploring players to maximize intensity, because I tend to think guys just do what they normally do, but even so I might suggest to Marinelli that he have a brief discussion with Peppers, and remind him that lots of pundits have accused him of disappearing at times, and that Sunday would be an excellent time to show the world why he got the money he did from the Bears, with a huge game on a huge stage.

7
by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 6:07pm

Charles:

The illegal procedures on Clifton and Tauscher are attributed to Peppers. As is the holding call on Clifton. There were holding calls against Sitton and Colledge who are guards and to my knowledge Peppers never lines up inside but since I do not know for certain will set those aside.

These are penalties clearly not attributed to Peppers. I find it interesting that everyone seems to forget the penalties that negated interceptions. The Zombo call was technically correct but by all game accounts the contact was incidental. There was nothing 'rough' about the hit. And Burnett's PI was highly dubious.

(10:03) 6-J.Cutler pass incomplete short middle to 23-D.Hester. PENALTY on GB-21-C.Woodson, Defensive Pass Interference, 8 yards, enforced at GB 46 - No Play.

2-M.Crosby kicks 69 yards from GB 30 to CHI 1. 38-D.Manning to CHI 28 for 27 yards (83-T.Crabtree). PENALTY on GB-55-D.Bishop, Offside on Free Kick, 5 yards, enforced at GB 30 - No Play.

(4:01) 6-J.Cutler scrambles up the middle to CHI 43 for 10 yards (52-C.Matthews). PENALTY on GB-52-C.Matthews, Face Mask (15 Yards), 15 yards, enforced at CHI 43.

(3:55) 4-B.Maynard punts 49 yards to GB 18, Center-65-P.Mannelly. 38-T.Williams to GB 40 for 22 yards (58-R.Wilson). PENALTY on GB-29-D.Martin, Illegal Block Above the Waist, 10 yards, enforced at GB 28.

(6:45) 6-J.Cutler pass short middle intended for 23-D.Hester INTERCEPTED by 56-N.Barnett [58-F.Zombo] at CHI 37. 56-N.Barnett to CHI 36 for 1 yard (22-M.Forte). PENALTY on GB-58-F.Zombo, Roughing the Passer, 15 yards, enforced at CHI 26 - No Play.

(6:34) 6-J.Cutler pass short right to 22-M.Forte to GB 44 for 15 yards (36-N.Collins). PENALTY on GB-36-N.Collins, Unnecessary Roughness, 15 yards, enforced at GB 44.

(2:33) (Shotgun) 12-A.Rodgers pass incomplete deep right. PENALTY on GB-12-A.Rodgers, Intentional Grounding, 10 yards, enforced at GB 48.

(1:51) (Shotgun) 6-J.Cutler pass deep right intended for 80-E.Bennett INTERCEPTED by 36-N.Collins [52-C.Matthews] at GB 10. 36-N.Collins ran ob at GB 9 for -1 yards. PENALTY on GB-42-M.Burnett, Defensive Pass Interference, 24 yards, enforced at GB 33 - No Play.

35
by Tom W (not verified) :: Sat, 01/22/2011 - 12:58pm

Clifton and Tauscher weren't playing well early in the season. Clifton played much better in the 2nd half of the season, and Tauscher finally was placed on IR and replaced with Bulaga, who's made some mistakes, but generally been solid. I seriously doubt you'll see any team flagged 18 times in a conference championship game. Along with the absence of Finley, that makes the week 3 game almost completely irrelevant, which is, more or less what Barnwell said.

37
by Will Allen :: Sat, 01/22/2011 - 3:19pm

Look, I don't know what is going to happen, but I don't understand the reasoning by which it is determined that it is irrelevant that the Packers offensive line, and not just the departed Tauscher, was throughly whipped the last time they played in Soldier Field, especially in light of what was a poor pass protection performance by the Packers 7 days ago.

38
by JoeHova :: Sat, 01/22/2011 - 3:30pm

You're really desperate for the Packers to lose, aren't you?

40
by Will Allen :: Sat, 01/22/2011 - 6:41pm

Uh, no. Why would you hallucinate such a thing? Perhaps more eggs, and fewer 'shrooms are in order.

48
by JoeHova :: Sun, 01/23/2011 - 1:45am

It's kind of pathetic at this point.

56
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/24/2011 - 10:40am

I agree. You really need to take your medication.

47
by Arkaein :: Sun, 01/23/2011 - 12:16am

I don't buy that GB's pass pro was that bad against Atlanta.

Sure, Rodgers elusiveness saved him from a few sacks, but those were mostly on occasions where Rodgers decided to hold onto the ball to let his WRs work their way open. Other QBs may have thrown the ball away on some of those plays, or taken a short checkdown. Atlanta never got quick pressure or untouched rushers from what I can remember.

EDIT: I just finished watching the first three quarters of the game on DVR, with special attention to GB's pass blocking. I'd say that there were 2 plays where the O-line made serious mistakes in blocking and another 4 plays where minor mistakes may have been made.

The 2 sacks were both minor mistakes, as Rodgers held the ball in the pocket and had time to throw. The first play he was in the pocket for about 3 seconds, the second was after a play action where Abraham was initially blocked, then looped inside while Rodgers was looking for someone to throw to.

The 4 Rodgers escape moves plays all involved a blitz or fake blitz with no TEs or RBs to pick up the pressure. In 3 cases a tackle blocked down instead of taking the outside rushing LB or CB and ended up double teaming a rusher inside and turning the blitzer loose. In one of those cases it's hard to blame the O-line because the D lined up a defender over the C, LG and LT, while blitzing outside the LT, however the player lined up over the C backed out and the defender over the LG looped inside, leaving the LG with no one to block. If the LG and LT had both known to block the man to their left they would have picked up everyone, but Atlanta sold the middle blitzer right up to the snap.

Outside of these plays the pressure was non-existent. Rodgers was maybe hit during a pass once. His TD run was on a scramble, but he left the pocket because of a huge void in the defense, not because any defenders were near him. Overall the O-line played a very solid game, without much help from backs or TEs.

The GB offense is built largely upon Rodgers beating the pass rush with his quick release as much as any blocking scheme. On all of the escape plays GB chose to attack the defense with numbers and dare them to blitz. GB did this a lot in the first game at Chicago. It was effective much of the time (check Rodgers DYAR in Quick Reads for week 3), and when it wasn't it was a combination of long yardage 3rd downs (often due to penalties) and good tackling by Chicago's LBs and DBs. GB's O-line committed zero penalties against Atlanta (at least while the game was in hand).

54
by Tom W (not verified) :: Sun, 01/23/2011 - 1:16pm

I wasn't even aware that GB's pass pro was poor against Atlanta until Will pointed it out and I watched the entire game. And they were still able to put up 48 pts. and Rodgers a pass rating of around 140. Amazing. As for week 3, the Packers committed 18 penalties, gave up a punt return for a TD, and it still took a last-second FG for the Bears to win. By what insane logic does that portend a Chicago victory today? I mean, I'm not saying it's not going to happen. Cutler's played much better since the first meeting. But, there's a reason GB's a four-point favorite on the road - because they're a better team.

57
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/24/2011 - 10:47am

The point was trying to make, pehaps poorly, was that giving up sacks to a team with one decent pass rusher is not a good performance.

10
by tuluse :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 6:41pm

And many more are because the Packers commit fouls in the defensive backfield often and just hope to get away with it. They did in week 17, they didn't in week 3.

13
by Flounder :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 6:45pm

Frankly, I really don't find that to be the case with GB this year at all. And if it does apply to GB, then it certainly applies to the Bears as well. You did watch the Seattle game, yes?

14
by tuluse :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 7:06pm

Yeah, the Bears got away with some stuff in that game, although most of it was in the 5 yard buffer. It's possible they had some idea what the refs would call in that game.

I already detailed a few pretty obvious calls the refs missed in the week 17 rematch, and I haven't watched every Packer game, but whenever I do it looks to me like the secondary feels free to "jam" receivers at pretty much any point on the field.

19
by JasonG (not verified) :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 7:24pm

The Bears didn't do anything egregious, just for once didn't back down. Jennings had a pick nullified. Why? He did nothing. It seemed the receiver pushed him more. All Jennings did was hold his ground. Are DBs supposed to just let WRs to push off? Tillman had a similar BS call go against him. I LOVED the Bears DB play against Seattle. Finally challenging a WR instead of just giving up short passes. If you end up fighting for those balls more and you have to live with an occasional BS interference call, so be it. At least you're not just handing them 7-10 yards resistance free. I hope Lovie learned and it continues.

18
by Arkaein :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 7:21pm

Flounder, I agree, and posted the following in a brief discussion with Tuluse in the NYTimes Division Previews discussion, copied here because I don't think many people saw it before.

Basically, GB's patterns of rough play in the defensive backfield ended after about the first third of the season. Maybe it was because McCarthy finally got fed up with the penalties, maybe it was because Sam Shields was developing so well in coverage, maybe it was because Woodson has spent less time covering WRs and more time attacking the line of scrimmage. Whatever the reason, the change in number of called penalties is extremely clear.

Here's the copied text:

Here are the full number of defensive pass interference, holding, and illegal contact penalties by GB in each of their games, along with yardage (yardage for accepted penalties only, opposing offense OPIs thrown in for fun). The trend is obvious, and cannot be explained away by refs letting teams play.:

@PHI - 1/5 (1 PHI OPI)
BUF - 1/5
@CHI - 3/32
DET - 1/11
@WAS - 4/23
MIA - 2/10
MIN - 0/0 (1 MIN OPI)
@NYJ - 1/5
DAL - 1/0
@MIN - 0/0
@ATL - 1/5
SF - 0/0
@DET - 1/5
@NE - 0/0
NYG - 2/21 (1 NYG OPI)
CHI - 0/0
@PHI - 0/0

My conclusion: 11 penalties for 86 yards in the first 6 games, followed by a fundamental shift in coverage techniques and use of Charles Woodson that resulted in only 6 penalties for 36 yards over the last 11 games.

23
by DisplacedPackerFan :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 9:51pm

Excellent post.

Another thing people seem to forget, the Packers were the 3rd LEAST penalized team in the NFL with 78 (Atlanta #1 at 58, and I forgot #2 but they had like 72). They set a franchise record for fewest penalties. A full 23% of the Packers penalties came in that one game vs the Bears and, at MOST, 6 of them of were because of what the Bears were doing (holds and false starts happen from lapses even if you aren't over matched I don't assume every hold or false start or illegal procedure is because of something the D did). They averaged 4 a game in all other games. The Week 17 game was what you can expect, at least penalty wise from the Packers, not Week 3.

The Chicago game was a turning point. I know that the Washington and Miami games weren't good penalty wise (9 and 7), but I think that had something to do with players pressing due to the loss of Finley and Matthews. People forget we lost Matthews for 1.5 games this year. Though it may be that the shifts that caused the penalty reductions hadn't fully taken affect yet. But the team got better, and it wasn't just a fluke.

This is actually a pretty disciplined team for once.

32
by B34R51 :: Sat, 01/22/2011 - 8:50am

Terry MacCauley called the first game this year and He will call this one. The officials around him aren't ALL the same but several do remain.To say it can't happen again is "insane" as it can. I'll guaruntee that they will call "Def. Holding" if Woodson does to any receiver what he did to Roddy White in the endzone @ Atlanta.

5
by Ezra Johnson :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 6:01pm

Only the referee from Week 3 is the same. The crew were chosen based on merit. Also, this Packers O-line, while still not great, is not the same that played Week 3. Tauscher's gone, Bulaga has most of a season's experience, and Clifton started snorting antler velvet around Week 10.

8
by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 6:11pm

Ezra/Charles:

I have heard varying accounts. Two who stated just McAuley and others that state multiple members of that crew.

Anyway, it is to be hoped the game is decided by the game on the field as it has been for the games in the playoffs to date. I do not immediately recall anything this playoffs where the refs made a "Say what?!" call.

11
by Aaron R (not verified) :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 6:41pm

I don't even know what that phrase means, but it's hilarious. Clifton has played well against a number of great defensive ends this season, especially Jared Allen. Also, a lot of people are talking about the "overlooked" players in the middle of the Bears defensive line and how they could be the "difference makers" this week, but that's much less likely than just a traditional Peppers-on-Bulaga beatdown. The middle of the Packers' O-line is the strongest part. Has Sitton still not allowed a sack?

33
by B34R51 :: Sat, 01/22/2011 - 9:02am

Tommie Harris is back and Matt Toeinna

15
by Doug Farrar :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 7:10pm

I'm sorry, but no system that has Jeff Triplette calling a playoff game selects its officials based on merit. Demerit, perhaps.

16
by Ezra Johnson :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 7:14pm

Yeah, I almost put "merit" in scare quotes for just that reason, but decided to give the benefit of the doubt. I mean, ostensibly, they are supposed to be chosen based on performance during the season.

45
by johnny walker (not verified) :: Sat, 01/22/2011 - 10:29pm

So what's scarier: that a ref as bad as Triplette got into the playoffs (Jeff Triplette is the Seahawks of refs?) or the alternative, ie. that he's calling things exactly the way the league wants?

Honestly, I'd rather not think about it.

26
by zlionsfan :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 10:54pm

I agree; Jay DeMerit would probably be a better referee than Triplette.

17
by JasonG (not verified) :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 7:17pm

The Pack want to go crazy on D and explode on O. The Bears have it in them to control both of these things. On offense, even if it's like the Seattle game (45 rushes averaging only 3.9 yards), that's a win for the Bears. Second and 6, third and 2. MUCH better than 3rd and 10. Cutler throwing 25 times, is better than 40 times. Being able to grind clock, rest the D, be able to use play action, etc. and most importantly PROTECT THE BALL. It all adds up to controlling the game with possession, even if that possession isn't always in itself producing points.

Then on D, it's all about preventing the big play. The Bears' D does this better than most/all and it will be crucial. Force the Pack to earn every yard. Allowing explosive plays will be killer.

As always, the turnover battle is key. Both teams are capable of creating multiple takeaways. Which team comes out ahead here will be huge.

Lastly, special teams. Even if Hester/Manning don't break one, the field position, pinning deep and FG kicking in the elements could be decisive.

Control the clock and win the turnover battle and the Bears win. If not, it would take probably 3 huge plays (2 from Cutler/Forte and 1 from Hester/Manning) to see the Bears winning.
___

To particularly interesting subplots I'm very interested to see play out is the Bears pass protection and Peppers/Harris. It was only Seattle, but the o-line flat out stoned them on many plays. Aberration or true progress? The Pack will obviously test this and I'm curious (though nervous) to see where this line really is at this point. Second, does Peppers come up with an insane game? Boy, that would be awesome. And what of Tommie? One sack all season, but two last week? Is he back?

___

I know everyone views Capers and McCarthy as crazy schemers, while Lovie just Tampa-2's you over and over, but is it possible the Bears have two scheme/game-planning advantages over the Pack in this game? First, Week 17, Pack went full out and the Bears went vanilla. The Bears got info without giving any. Second, the bye. Not only should the Bears be more rested, but they had extra scouting and game-planning time.

___

The turf. The Bears' D is built on speed not size, so I always felt there sloppy field actually hindered them. I clearly remember them being plowed by Bettis and the Steelers in very sloppy conditions a few years ago. But the Pack isn't a power run team and instead an up-the-field speed team. The conditions then go back to favoring the Bears D, no? And actually, the Bears O as well because the Packs' D is similarly speed-based with Woodson and Matthews. If those guys can't fly around like normal and the Bears can power run it, again advantage Bears. Didn't Week 17 already demonstrate this?

___

Please Lovie let Jennings and Tillman play tighter and tougher like you allowed last week. That was beautiful. Freaking beautiful. Loved it. Oh, and pound, pound, pound when you were on the 1 yard line? I loved that, too. And both strategies worked. I hope both were light bulbs for you and not just a one-game phase.
___

The national anthem. Did any one catch it last Sunday? Literally the most amazing anthem I've ever heard. That place was simply crazy. The same guy is coming back to do it again and this time it's against the Pack, for the right to go to the SB. It's going to be INSANE!!! The crowd could easily affect this game, especially early.
___

I see a lot of points that pundits make about the talent, schemes and matchups in this game and I can see how one could like the Pack. But, I just don't see it as overwhelmingly one-sided as most. The Bears don't do the sexy things like flinging it everywhere and blitzing all over. But that doesn't mean they are pushovers. They play fundamental in all three phases. They're not out of position, stay in their gaps, tackle well and take the ball away. They balance their offense with run/pass, have just enough trickery/misdirection to not be predictable and keep you honest, and spread it to as many as six different players. On ST, they block like crazy, punt it out of bounds at the 10 and almost never miss field goals.

If you don't go too overboard about Rodgers in Atlanta or go crazy discounting the Bears win against Seattle, you'll see this game isn't so one-sided. The Pack are not playing on the Georgia Dome turf, they're playing in the sloppiest field in the league. The media's new love affair aside, the Bears have limited Rodgers' offenses on a consistent basis. The Bears line isn't great, but it's definitely improved. The Bears' ST is superior. The Bears have a completely legit chance to win this game, and I haven't even mentioned the "nobody believes in us" chip on their shoulder they'll have.

Anyway, I can't freaking wait.

DA BEARS!!!

29
by TomC :: Sat, 01/22/2011 - 12:07am

Then on D, it's all about preventing the big play.

Agreed, which is why safety play is going to be so big for the Bears, and, hence, why C. Harris's injury is so worrisome. I expect the training staff to shoot #46 up with any and all manner of things to avoid having a rookie out there who might decide to jump the crossing route at a disastrously inopportune time.

(Not that Harris is immune from the dumb Cover-2 safety decision, but at this point in his career I trust him a hell of a lot more than Major Wright, who chose to jump the short route with no time on the clock in the 1st half of the Patriots game.)

31
by Turin (not verified) :: Sat, 01/22/2011 - 6:08am

I don't think anyone is picking the Packers as an overwhelming favorite, and almost every predicition I've seen in the past week has the outcome within 3 points. The Packers are, at best, a slight favorite.

34
by Jimmy :: Sat, 01/22/2011 - 11:23am

Please Lovie let Jennings and Tillman play tighter and tougher like you allowed last week. That was beautiful. Freaking beautiful. Loved it.

I couldn't agree more about this, instead of just having your CBs hand fight for leverage let them smack the WR as he tries to get a nice clean release for his precision timed west coast offense. I swear blind the Bears used to do this in '05/06 and I could never see the reason that they stopped.

39
by tuluse :: Sat, 01/22/2011 - 6:03pm

If I had to guess, I would say they couldn't get pressure so they had to blitz, and then had to back off in the secondary to stop deep passes.

Julius Peppers has really had a profound effect on the whole defense.

53
by Jimmy :: Sun, 01/23/2011 - 1:00pm

Sounds like a good guess to me. I should probably of thought of that. Does that mean Vasher would have not dropped off his cliff? He always seemed much more comfortable trying to dictate terms to the WR rather than playing turn and run.

24
by MK in VA (not verified) :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 10:03pm

If it's as one-sided as described here, why do the playoff odds give Chi a 49% chance to win? I think GB has a clear edge with Rodgers vs. Cutler (considering both defenses they will face), but in the other areas, Chi has an edge that erodes this margin. I tend to think the 50-50 probabilities are pretty close to right.

25
by Aaron Schatz :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 10:13pm

The playoff odds system doesn't look at specific matchups. It only looks at weighted DVOA for the two teams and who is the home team. It isn't designed to pick single games; it is designed to be a long-term look at playoff odds that we can use for the entire season.

28
by MK in VA (not verified) :: Sat, 01/22/2011 - 12:02am

Meant to post #27 in this space...

36
by Boots Day :: Sat, 01/22/2011 - 1:16pm

I think most people agree that the Bears' weighted DVOA is misleading because of the extended garbage time in the Seattle game. Their defense completely shut down the Seahawks until the game was decisively over, yet DVOA thinks it was below average.

27
by MK in VA (not verified) :: Sat, 01/22/2011 - 12:01am

OK, but then why present the odds at all if they have little relevance to a particular game (or 2 games as we're down to now)? Putting these odds (at least for the 2-game tournament) on the front page suggests FO gives them a fair amount of credence.

My comments on the matchup stand regardless; I think the 50-50 odds are more accurate than the unquantified but perhaps 60-40 or 2-1 odds in favor of GB implied by the preview conclusion. Of course, no result on Sunday can substantiate that opinion one way or the other, so I suppose I can only say that's my 2 cents based on viewing many games during the season (but minus any systematic quantitative evaluation).

You guys do a nice job with the analysis. One quibble on the plots in the previews: those trend lines in some cases do not look very representative of actual trends, which are extremely difficult to discern with such small data sets and large random scatter. (For example, does the arrow for Chi really point down that much on both O and D after a convincing performance against an admittedly poor Sea team that somehow racked up poor DVOA ratings on both sides of the ball? I noticed similar issues in some of the divisional round plots.)

30
by Will Allen :: Sat, 01/22/2011 - 1:39am

The other thing to note is that sometimes the numbers can conceal a performance. I thought the Packers were quite poor in pass protection against the Falcons, but because the Falcons don't finish well in their pass rushes, and, to be fair, Rodgers is really good, the Packers racked up huge numbers anyway. If they don't block better this Sunday, I think they will lose. Will they block better? Damned if I know, but I am sure that the Bears are a better pass rushing team than the Falcons.

49
by nflalternative.com :: Sun, 01/23/2011 - 7:00am

doesnt a one paragraph criticism of a long well researched piece calling a minor point a 'gaff' .constitute a gaffe?unless the author was putting a large hook into a fish the gaffer is the critic.

52
by Flounder :: Sun, 01/23/2011 - 9:58am

1/2 of the whole article revolves around the "psycho" defense, which is not actually the "psycho" defense. The 2-4-5 has never been referred to as such by the packers, nor have I ever heard anyone on Television refer to it as such, and outside the blog post linked by Barnwell, I've never seen it referred to on the internet as such.

This is a clear indication of lazy research, because it's a mistake that would have been avoided with any small modicum of effort. Thus, it tends to call the rest of the article into question. What else was done so lazily?

50
by nflalternative.com :: Sun, 01/23/2011 - 7:01am

foxlies

51
by nflalternative.com :: Sun, 01/23/2011 - 8:30am

foxlies at various times coach mccarthy sat all those linemen even wells. Yes he sat Sitton gramatically unlikely though that phrase is. Anyway i think they've developed an excellent unit.Don' t think peppers and mercurial harris will cause much damage.

55
by justanothersteve :: Sun, 01/23/2011 - 3:02pm

If this is another sales spam, I can't figure out what product is being sold. If not, I still can't figure this out.