Packers: Bears' pass defense has been toothless
By JASON WILDE
GREEN BAY The question came at Aaron Rodgers in much the same way that the Minnesota Vikings' pass rush had a few days earlier: Strong, and from multiple directions.
But this time, unlike with Jared Allen & Co., the Green Bay Packers quarterback was able to deftly side-step it.
First, standing in front of his locker, the man with the camera on his shoulder just had to know: Are Rodgers and the Packers "licking your chops" to face the Chicago Bears' pass defense Sunday?
What the question might have lacked in style most players are smart enough to recognize potential bulletin-board fodder when they hear it it certainly made up for with substance: The Bears enter the game with ranked 30th among the NFL's 32 teams in pass defense, having allowed a whopping 251.8 yards per game.
"That's only because they gave up about 20 yards rushing (to Tennessee last week)," Rodgers replied, pointing out how the Titans' LenDale White (10 carries, 14 yards) and Chris Johnson (14 carries, 8 yards) went nowhere against the Bears.
"In this league you're going to give yards one way or the other, any defense. And they shut down the run great and Tennessee had to try to run the ball through the air. They have a solid back end. ... So it's going to be important for us to execute the way we know how to. But it's going to be tough sledding all day, no doubt about it."
Next up were the slightly craftier Chicago-area reporters, who asked Rodgers during a conference call whether he was "surprised that teams are throwing the ball so well" against the Bears.
Again, the numbers don't lie.
In their nine games, the Bears have allowed five quarterbacks to establish season highs for passing yardage: Tampa Bay's Brian Griese (a career-best 407 yards, two touchdowns), Atlanta rookie Matt Ryan (301 yards, one TD), Minnesota's Gus Frerotte (298 yards, two TDs), Detroit's Dan Orlovsky (292 yards, two TDs) and Tennessee's Kerry Collins (289 yards, two TDs).
Hardly a Murderers Row of signal-callers there, by the way.
But Rodgers again refused to take the bait.
"Now, that's a loaded question there," he said, preparing to give a variation on his answer to the lick-your-chops question. "They're really doing a great job against the run as they showed against Tennessee and when that happens, you've got to try to throw the ball to try to be effective. I think they're playing incredibly well. It's impressive to see those guys. They're doing a great job against the run, and in that case you're going to have to be effective throwing the ball."
While Rodgers was being politically correct, the two men who know the Chicago defense best Bears coach Lovie Smith and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher gave their unvarnished opinions of the pass defense.
"We're just not stopping the pass very well," Urlacher said.
"With how we've played pass defense, I would assume most teams would want to pass just about every time against us," added Smith, whose defense has generated just 17 sacks and only five in the last four games. "We just haven't made enough plays in the passing game. I can't give you a reason why. Sometimes statistics can be a little misleading. We haven't made some plays in key situations, but overall I'm pleased with some of the things we've done on the defensive side.
"To me, you talk about good defense, you're talking about, how are they doing on scoring? And we're 15th in that. Third downs are also important. We're a top-five team on that. You look at takeaways (tied for first in the NFL with 20). We just haven't played the pass well. Hopefully, we can get that taken care of."
Packers coach Mike McCarthy, meanwhile, said in his conference call with Chicago-area media that he'd like his offense to be "balanced," and he wasn't just saying that.
Halfback Ryan Grant has grown increasingly productive 439 of his 625 yards have come in the past five games and the ground game (16 carries, 75 yards) was one of the few offensive bright spots in last Sunday's loss to Minnesota.
That said, if the Bears take the same approach to stopping the run they took against Tennessee putting eight and nine defenders up near the line of scrimmage McCarthy won't be afraid to go pass-heavy in his play-calling.
"How are they going to play us this week? ... Are they going to load the box like you saw a lot of in the Tennessee game? Those are the questions that really will be answered on Sunday," McCarthy said. "The bottom line is scoring points. It's important to run the football because you establish the line of scrimmage, (but) we're going to get the ball in the end zone any way we need possible."