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Packers At Bears: When Chicago Has The Ball

Chicago won seven of its final nine regular-season contests, and that second- half surge coincided with a renewed commitment to a running game that had been a non-factor in the early going. The Bears continued to move the ball effectively on the ground in their playoff opener, with the backfield duo of Matt Forte (1069 rushing yards, 51 receptions, 9 total TD) and Chester Taylor (267 rushing yards, 3 TD, 20 receptions) teaming up for 124 yards on 36 carries against the Seahawks and a judicious Cutler (3274 passing yards, 23 TD, 16 INT) adding 43 more and two scores on eight scrambles. Chicago is 10-1 when rushing for over 100 yards this season, though that lone blemish came against the Packers in Week 17, and that approach has also helped to combat Cutler’s hit- or-miss tendencies as a passer and a troublesome front line that allowed a league-worst 56 sacks, including six to Green Bay in the finale. Provided he gets ample time to survey his surroundings, Cutler will be looking downfield for playmaking wide receiver Johnny Knox (51 receptions, 5 TD) and talented tight end Greg Olsen (41 receptions, 5 TD), who burned the Seahawks for 113 yards on just three catches last week. He’s also got a reliable safety valve in Forte, whose 547 receiving yards placed fourth among NFL backs this year.

Using a smash-mouth philosophy makes sense against the Packers, who led the entire NFL in pass efficiency defense during the regular season while ranking second in both interceptions (24) and sacks (47) as well. A high-caliber secondary features a pair of Pro Bowl selection in veteran cornerback Charles Woodson (12 tackles, 1 sack) and free safety Nick Collins, while Williams (5 tackles, 3 PD) is showing he’s worthy of such honors with a sensational postseason in which the undrafted free agent has delivered three interceptions, including a game-sealing pick in the end zone during the Philadelphia win. The pressure will be coming from relentless edge rusher Clay Matthews (7 tackles), a Defensive Player of the Year candidate who racked up 14 sacks prior to the playoffs and has added three more in two postseason games. Fellow outside linebacker Erik Walden (7 tackles, 1 sack) took down Cutler twice in Green Bay’s victory over the Bears earlier this month, while nose tackle B.J. Raji (4 tackles, 1 sacks) and end Cullen Jenkins are adept at getting to the quarterback as well. Raji and inside linebacker Desmond Bishop (10 tackles, 1 sack) also serve as two of the top run defenders on a unit that held Atlanta bruiser Michael Turner to a harmless 39 yards on 10 attempts last weekend.

— Sports Network