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Bears’ offensive minds have been no match for Packers’ D-coordinator Capers

When the BEARS HAVE THE BALL

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Marc Trestman and Aaron Kromer vs. Dom Capers — a fairer fight?

We’ll see about that. Capers was hired as the Packers’ defensive coordinator in 2009, the same year the Bears acquired Jay Cutler — and it hasn’t even been close.

From the 2009 season opener, when Cutler threw four interceptions and the Bears had four false starts; to the 2011 NFC Championship Game, when Capers fooled Caleb Hanie into throwing a key interception that B.J. Raji turned into a crucial touchdown; to last season — when five different Packers combined for seven sacks of Cutler — Capers has come up with something to flummox the Bears.

And often right away. Last year the Bears’ came into Lambeau Field flying high off a 41-14 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the season opener. On the first play of the game, Packers linebacker D.J. Smith — whoever he is — came in untouched and sacked Cutler for a 13-yard loss.

Capers has a habit of making the Bears look like they were preparing for a different team. In 2010, Frank Zombo sacked Cutler on the third play of the game. At Lambeau Field that year, Cutler had a delay-of-game penalty on the third play of the game. In 2011, Josh McCown burned a time out on the third play of the game, then took a delay-of-game penalty later in the opening drive, which came up empty. The Bears have had a delay-of-game penalty in four of the last five regular-season games against the Packers.

And don’t kid yourself — it’s all about Capers putting players in the right place to succeed. Of the 16 players from nine different positions to sack a Bears quarterback in the Capers era, only two — Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson — have been elected to the Pro Bowl. While Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman have done much of the dirty work against Aaron Rodgers, the Packers are beating the Bears with Frank Zombo, Erik Walden, Jarius Wynn and Sam Shields.

Capers has driven the Bears to distraction. Last year at Lambeau Field, Gabe Carimi — normally a cool customer — shoved linebacker A.J. Hawk for an unnecessary roughness penalty in the second quarter. Cutler was sacked by Clay Matthews on the next play and was caught by television cameras chewing out J’Marcus Webb and shoving Webb as they headed to the sideline on fourth-and-25. On the Bears’ next offensive play after that confrontation, Webb had a false start. Three plays later, Cutler threw an interception.

That was the game in which Brandon Marshall was shut out for three quarters and finished with two receptions for 24 yards. Asked why Marshall was so ineffective, an annoyed Cutler credited Capers ‘‘two-man’’ defensive coverage — as if it were some diabolical, new-fangled strategy that couldn’t be countered. (Two weeks alter, the Saints’ Marques Colston had nine receptions for 153 yards against the same Packers defense; the following week the Colts’ Reggie Wayne had 13 receptions for 212 yards in an upset victory. In fact, there have been 28 100-yard receivers against the Packers in the Capers era — but none by the Bears in nine games.)

So will Trestman and Kromer fare any better than Ron Turner, Mike Martz and Mike Tice?

‘‘We’re going to have some things that he won’t expect and he’ll have some things that we don’t expect,’‘ Kromer said. ‘‘And that’s what the sideline is for. That’s what your veteran players are for — to [say] in the huddle — ‘Hey guys, don’t forget we have these rules, understand this is you pick this up or block this particular scheme.’ And we’ll have some things that [will force Capers to] to do the same thing on his sideline.

‘‘We look forward to it. We look forward to seeing what Dom has for us and the guys are excited and rested and it’ll be a fun opportunity and a good atmosphere.’’

Kromer enters the fray with some credibility. He was the offensive line coach for the Saints when they scored 27 points and gained 477 yards in a 42-34 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field in the 2011 opener. And he was the acting head coach of the Saints last year when they scored 27 points and gained 474 yards in a 28-27 loss at Lambeau Field.

Having Drew Brees helps. The Packers are 9-0 in prime-time games at Lambeau Field with Capers as their defensive coordinator. The average passer rating is 58.6. The only quarterback with a rating higher than McCown’s 76.8 in 2011 is Brees’ 112.5 in the 2011 opener.

But Kromer and Trestman have instilled a discipline in the Bears defense that we haven’t seen before. The Bears have had one false start this season. They had 15, 18, 11 and 12 through seven games in the previous four seasons.

But facing the Packers in a prime-time game at Lambeau Field will by far be the biggest test of that discipline. And they know it.

‘‘When you go into a place like that, you know your nerves are high, but it’s a matter of fighting to be as poised as possible,’’ said Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who started for the Saints in both games at Lambeau. ‘‘It’s all about being on the same page and communicating and doing the little things we have to do.

‘‘It’s easier said than done when you only have 15 seconds to call the Mike [linebacker] or put somebody down. But it’s just about going up there and being fundamentlally sound, executing, understanding the situation and getting the job done.’’

When the BEARS HAVE THE BALL

Key Players

The Bears’ chances lie in the design of their offense as much as the execution. Matt Forte’s run-catch versatility is a key to keeping the Packers off-balance and giving Josh McCown breathing room. Packers CB Sam Shields helped keep Brandon Marshall in check last season. With Alshon Jeffery on the other side, he’ll be challenged to win that battle again.

ON THE GROUND

While time of possession will be a key factor in keeping Aaron Rodgers off the field, the Bears aren’t going to switch to a run-dominant game plan to achieve that. ‘‘Ball control’s important any time you’re playing another good offense,’’ Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. ‘‘But we’re not going to hold our team back from scoring.’’ Matt Forte (116 carries, 533 yards, three TDs) is averaging 4.6 ypc, but 34 percent of his yards have come on four runs (55, 53, 50, 24). The Packers are fourth in the NFL in rushing defense (84 ypg) and already have faced four of the top nine rushers in the NFL.

IN THE AIR

You can make the statistical argument that backup Josh McCown gives the Bears a better chance to win against the Packers at Lambeau Field. In three games at Lambeau, Jay Cutler’s passer ratings were 43.5, 43.2 and 28.2 with three TDs, 12 INTs and 15 sacks. McCown wasn’t great in his lone start in Green Bay (76.8, one TD, two INTs and no sacks), but he avoided disaster. With better weapons this time, his job will be to attack the Packers’ 21st-ranked pass defense without making the plays that have gotten Cutler in trouble. RB Matt Forte and TE Martellus Bennett likely will have to figure prominently.

When the PACKERS HAVE THE BALL

Key Players

Though Aaron Rodgers makes use of whatever he has, WR Jordy Nelson is his favorite fall-back option when things get a little tight. Nelson (39 catches, 649 yards, seven TDs) has eight catches of 30-plus yards, including TDs of 76 and 64 yards. CB Charles Tillman is expected to play, but he is coming off a knee injury. How well will he play and how long will he last?

ON THE GROUND

Stopping the run is something the Bears can’t take for granted. L ed by rookie Eddie Lacy (112 carries, 446 yards, three TDs) and James Starks (41, 244, two), the Packers are third in the NFL in rushing (141 ypg, 4.8 ypc). And their two longest runs were by WR Randall Cobb (67) and backup RB Johnathan Franklin (51). The Bears’ once-formidable run defense is ranked 25th in yards (117 ypg) and 19th in average (4.0 ypc). The Bears have allowed 26 carries of 10 or more yards, sixth-most in the NFL. With rookie LBs Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene starting, run fits will be a big factor.

IN THE AIR

Aaron Rodgers against a struggling, injury-depleted defense doesn’t seem like a fair fight. Though the Bears used to give Rodgers fits, he has torched them for 12 TDs and passer ratings of 142.7, 116.8, 111.4 and 89.7 in the last two seasons. He is 8-2 against the Bears in his career, including 5-0 at Lambeau Field. Now he faces a Bears defense ranked 27th against the pass and without LB Lance Briggs and DT Henry Melton. With WR Randall Cobb out with an injury, undrafted free agent Jarrett Boykin has stepped up with 13 catches for 192 yards and two TDs in victories against the Browns and Vikings.

The X-factor

The battered Bears have had two weeks to rest, recover and prepare for the Packers after lo sing 45-41 to the Redskins on Oct. 20. ‘‘I think the rest was good,’’ coach Marc Trestman said. ‘‘It didn’t look like we had been away. We executed very well, and we had three good days of practice. I found nothing with the demeanor of our football team or in the building that would say that they’re not ready to go.’’ We’ll see about that. Playing the Packers in prime time at Lambeau Field has foiled even the best-laid plans. This might be the ultimate test of the coaching staff’s ability to prepare its team.

Special teams

It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which the Bears beat the Packers without a big play from the special teams. Devin Hester’s 81-yard punt return for a TD against the Redskins could be a random event or a sign the Bears’ special teams are kicking into gear under Joe DeCamillis. ‘‘Every week, we’re getting better, ’’ veteran Craig Steltz said. ‘‘Whatever happened [before], I’d rather be peaking at the end.’’ The Packers allowed a 109-yard kickoff return for a TD to the Vikings’ Cordarrelle Patterson last week but responded with Micah Hyde’s 93-yard punt return for a TD. It’s a battle the Bears can win — or lose.



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