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Why the Chicago Bears can produce yards – but not points

By The Sports Xchange
Why the Chicago Bears can produce yards – but not points
Chicago Bears quarterback Brian Hoyer says the problem is simple. It's just that a solution is not happening. Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI | License Photo

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears can't help but scoff at the criticism and boos Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers received last week.

They know better than to think something is wrong with their long-time nemesis. And besides, heading into Thursday night's game in Lambeau Field, they've got offensive problems of their own to worry about in the passing game.

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Like, how does a team ranked seventh in offense and fourth in passing also rank 31st in points scored, at 16.8 a game?

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"The yards are there, but we have to convert on some third downs, get in the red area and score touchdowns," Bears quarterback Brian Hoyer said. "It's really plain and simple."

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The numbers would add up if Hoyer was turning over the ball or the Bears piled up yardage trying to come back in lopsided games.

Instead, the Bears average 284.2 yards passing a game. They've begun to run the ball better and are no disaster in turnovers, with a minus-1 ratio.

Hoyer hasn't thrown an interception since he came in as injured Jay Cutler's replacement, and is 130-for-189 with six touchdowns. If he throws 17 passes without an interception, he breaks Kyle Orton's franchise record of 205 straight.

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But red zone problems are killing the Bears. They're 2-for-7 getting into the end zone from there the last two weeks.

"We're leaving points on the board," offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. "Every time you kick a field goal it's a four-point play.

"We had some opportunities, the defense set us up for one and we ended up kicking a field goal instead of scoring a touchdown. We've got to be better. We've got to execute better. I've got to call better plays and we've got to coach it better. In the NFL, the games are so close, you can't have that point change."

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Hoyer's decision making in the red zone has come under question as a reason why the Bears are 25th in the red zone in touchdown conversion.

He's been criticized for not throwing into the end zone and being too conservative with the ball.

"I think he's done a nice job distributing the ball," Loggains said. "I think he's done a nice job going through his progression and taking what the defense is giving him in that way."

The Bears are 25th in the red zone in touchdown conversion.

"Really last week was the first week not throwing touchdowns," Hoyer said. "I'm not about taking chances, risking the football.

"The No. 1 priority is taking care of the football. Whenever you start to turn the football over -- I learned the hard way in a playoff game last year -- you don't give yourself a chance to win."

Hoyer threw four interceptions and lost a fumble in Houston's 30-0 playoff loss to Kansas City last year.

Hoyer sees the three as a better option to zero.

"So even as frustrated as we are, trying to score touchdowns in the red area, you still don't want to take points off the board," he said. "It's us getting back, working hard at it and executing when it gets to game time."

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In addition to not throwing it down field, Hoyer has been scrutinized prior to last week for not throwing to Alshon Jeffery enough. He found Jeffery for 90 yards on six catches Sunday, but only 3 yards in the second half on one catch.

"I really think, we took a shot early to Alshon last week and after that he had a few catches," Hoyer said. "So it's all in how we game plan and how a defense is playing and going about it that way."

SERIES HISTORY: 191st regular-season meeting. Bears lead series 93-91-6. The Bears have won two of the last three played at Lambeau Field, including Thanksgiving night last year on a night set aside to retire Brett Favre's jersey number.

GAME PLAN: Dallas just gave the Bears a model to follow in order to beat Green Bay. Whether the Bears have the ability to follow it remains the question.

The offense has to establish the run first, and do it extensively and consistently. They haven't run more than 29 times in a game so far, and getting into the 30s is imperative to keep Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines. Doing this against a Packers front that had dominated on the ground until last week makes it difficult. A simple one-cut, downhill approach won't work against Green Bay because of Clay Matthews and the Packers pursuit. It will need to vary, using Ka'Deem Carey's slashing, quick-in-the-hole style besides the slower developing plays that have been Jordan Howard's forte. More than anything else, the passing game has to involve moving Brian Hoyer around within the pocket or with bootleg passes in order to slow the Green Bay blitz. Dak Prescott's mobility combined with the running game had the Packers defense on its heels all last week. It's an approach well worth adopting.

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On defense, Rodgers fell victim last week to the defensive system that often gave Brett Favre fits -- Rod Marinelli's cover-2. The Bears are going to need to limit the blitzes, get enough pressure with four men or three and play zone or man with a safety over the top. Rodgers likes going to the slant and skinny post, and Bears defensive backs can't be afraid to jump routes. So safeties need to be prepared to tackle in the open field if tackles are missed or dodged. They have to be prepared to cover for extended periods because Rodgers loves moving around outside the pocket and looking downfield. One constant problem for the Bears has always been contending with Eddie Lacy while also trying to handle the passing of Rodgers. But that problem might have been settled by the left ankle injury bothering Lacy.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

--Bears RT Bobby Massie, who did not allow a sack last week, vs. Packers LB Clay Matthews, who has three sacks and has played in four games.

Matthews always is a problem for the Bears and has 8.5 sacks against them in his career. Massie is a mauler who is at his best when he can get his hands on a player. The Packers scheme moves Matthews enough to keep this from happening. His speed lets him beat the best tackles. Massie fares better against a stronger, bull rusher. The Bears will need to line up a running back or tight end on that side for help if Matthews is coming from the left side of the defense.

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--Bears TE Zach Miller, who had a TD catch last year against Green Bay, vs. Packers safety Morgan Burnett, who had his first interception of the season last week.

Burnett is the unquestioned leader of the Packers secondary and capable of shutting down most tight ends. Combined, the Bears tight ends had six catches against the Packers in last year's win on Thanksgiving, but for a small amount of yardage. Miller needs to be a bigger factor in the red zone and Hoyer has to look for him in the end zone or near it much the way Jay Cutler did.

--Bears CB Tracy Porter, who gave up the game-winning TD against Jacksonville, vs. Packers WR Jordy Nelson, who has five TD catches this season.

When Nelson was out last year with a knee injury, it was a cause for celebration for the Bears. They've been burned three times for two-TD games by Nelson. In his comeback from knee surgery, it's been suggested he doesn't have the same speed. He hasn't h ad more than six catches in a game and only once went over 73 yards, but he has been effective getting in the end zone. Porter was enjoying one of his better games with the Bears last week until slipping and falling on the 51-yard game-winning TD. He is suffering from a knee injury and it's uncertain whether he'll play this week, but he'd also played through an injury last week, as well.

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