Bears-Packers: It's the Stretch vs. the Nitro

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David Malinsky

Thursday, September 28, 2017 1:58 PM GMT

Thursday, Sep. 28, 2017 1:58 PM GMT

Bears-Packers and the subplots of the Stretch vs. the Nitro. … If it’s what’s up front that counts, then time to look at Texas-Iowa State closely. … House of Yards is here: Does Halloween come early for USC?

Point Blank – September 28, 2017

For the second Thursday in a row we have an NFL matchup with some fascinating football subplots, yet one that might have many folks yawning at the lack of sex appeal. The same can be said for Texas-Iowa State, so with a lot going on that does necessarily show in the stats and trends there is work to do. Let’s get right to it.

 

The Bears might be able to run the ball much better than most 7-point underdogs

As noted in the Tuesday review (link at the end of today’s sermon), the Chicago offense only did one thing right vs. Pittsburgh on Sunday, running stretch handoff after stretch handoff to Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. The production was exceptional, that duo rambling for 216 yards on 35 runs from scrimmage, and it was enough to win the game on a day in which the downfield passing was abysmal.

Now comes the fun, and the handicapping challenge. Those power ground plays from the Bears offense may be the kryptonite for Dom Capers' new Nitro Green Bay defense, those 2-3-6 alignments not bringing a lot of muscle to the line of scrimmage. Does Capers alter his schemes? Or is it something that is too difficult to manage on a short practice week?

Let’s review. Capers has gone to those new packages in part because it may be a good fit into the modern NFL offenses, but also because the Packers have a lot of depth in the secondary, including some safeties who can hit well enough to dare try them in run support. It is a work in progress, as something this radical would have to be, but there has been a quickness that has exacerbated some offenses, Seattle and Cincinnati combining for just two offensive TDs in the games at Lambeau field.

To better understand the rotations, and the challenges of adapting on a short week, let’s look at the Green Bay defenders who have been on the field for at least 90 snaps (out of 168) through the first three games:

SS Morgan Burnett  168
FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix  168
LB Clay Matthews  144
NT Kenny Clark  127
LB Blake Martinez  127
CB Damarious Randall  120
CB Kevin King  113
CB Davon House  98
LB Nick Perry  95
SS Josh Jones  90

That is only one DL in the top 10 players in the rotation, which is unheard of. And as we drop down the charts there is also CB Quinten Rollins at 87 plays and Kentrel Brice at 68 because he sat out vs. the Bengals but will play on Thursday. Further down there is also SS Marwin Evans at 54, which shows the depth in the secondary.

This is what Capers wants his defense to be in 2017, but is this what he is going to go into Thursday’s matchup with? In the one game against a team that is designed to run well between the tackles, the Falcons ran for 141 yards at 5.2 per carry and were only forced to punt four times.

Are the Bears attractive here because of the matchup considerations? Only to a degree, because there is always an issue when a bad passing team is a road underdog in this price range. The oddsmakers are telling us that the matchup likely calls for Chicago to be playing from behind in the second half, and playing from behind means needing to throw the ball. And here the football matchups flip-flop.

 

The Bears might not be able to pass downfield worth a damn

For as good as the Chicago ground game was vs. the Steelers, the aerial attack was abysmal. Mike Glennon’s 24 dropbacks only generated 84 yards, and there was only one completion to a WR the entire game, a mere nine yards to Deonte Thompson. The previous week, when the Bears fell down early at Tampa Bay and had to throw, it was also ugly, the only TD coming with 1:43 remaining when they were trailing 29-0.

Howard/Cohen and the ground game may bring opportunity against the Green Bay defensive scheme, but Glennon and one of the weakest WR corps in the NFL do not. There are talent issues in terms of getting open, but even if they could will Glennon be able to pick up the complexities of the Packer coverages in a short week and make the proper reads?

What does that leave the potential investor with? I will be quick on the trigger should the Bears be getting the ball first and put about a half of a position on #101 Chicago First Half (8:25 Eastern), looking for +4 or better but hoping to see a 4.5 out there in the marketplace.

Not only do I believe the Bears can have some success running the ball in the early stages, but that those runs will take time off the clock, as will short passes to Howard and Cohen (12 of the 15 Glennon completions on Sunday went to RBs). Naturally, shortening the game helps when taking points, and note that the Chicago offense is dead last in the NFL in first-half pace this season, snapping the ball at a 33.0 SPS that is far off of the league average of 28.4.

The Packers have also not been in any hurry, just a 30.8 in the opening half that rates #28, and with the problems they have in the OL, tackles David Bakhtari and Bryan Bulaga both doubtful, plus those positions exacerbated by Kyle Murphy and Jason Spriggs being on injured reserve, they won't be in any hurry to push pace. The most likely starter to protect Aaron Rodgers’ blind side is Justin McCray, who will be shifted over from guard.

Offensive line issues are also a big part of tonight’s NCAA matchup, so let’s head to Ames …

 

If it’s what’s up front that counts, is Texas in trouble

Tom Herman’s first season in charge of the Texas program has already had some speed bumps placed in the road, an inordinate number of injuries in the OL claiming Elijah Rodriguez early in fall camp, and then Connor Williams and Patrick Hudson, along with TE Andrew Beck.

It not only leaves a patchwork group of starters, including Tristan Nickelson and Denzel Okafor filling the two tackle spots, but literally no experience at all behind the first team. Herman might have been a little extreme when he said: “Desperation level is at an all-time high” last week, but then came the calmer and more rational reality: “We’ve got to figure out ways to do things that they’re able to do and not ask them to do too much because they’re not Connor Williams and they’re not Andrew Beck, not right now.”

How bad is the situation in terms of depth? The three guys in the middle of the line, Jake McMillon, Zach Shackleford and Patrick Vahe, have played every snap. That wouldn’t necessarily be a big deal, except that also included the 56-0 walkover vs. San Jose State, a setting in which there should have been some trust to get the younger guys a little action. They simply may not be ready.

Is there a way to take advantage of this? Not at the current prices, Texas now showing as low as -4, with Iowa State not ringing the bell for me at lower than +7, although +6 might have fit for a small bite. I do believe that an 'under' brings some value at 63 or better, but even that is becoming scarce this morning.

Here is the key in terms of the total – it isn’t just a matter of offensive execution but also pacing. One of the things that OC Tim Beck talked openly about is staying out of third-and-long situations, because of the difficulties of pass blocking on the perimeter of the OL. His take was: “You have to bleed them, which means we have to be more consistent than we have been”, and read grinding out rushing yards for the connotation of bleed.

Seeing how a good coaching staff works around those injury issues makes for some compelling viewing and grading this evening, as will measuring the upside for Cyclones QB Jacob Park, who originally signed on at Georgia. Park has the physical tools for an NFL opportunity down the line, but maturity had been an issue. Has he turned that corner?

And what better way to get ready for the weekend than listening to something else while viewing tonight’s action ...

 

For your listening pleasure

This week’s edition of House of Yards is now up, co-host Matt Landes and myself delving into tonight’s Bears-Packers clash, along with the other key matchups across the NFL, plus with Friday’s USC-Washington State showdown, perhaps the biggest obstacle on the Trojan path to the playoffs. There is the Beer of the Week as well, this one coming from Matt’s Saturday evening in Oakland after attending USC-Cal weekend, and as has become the custom I will bring forward those tasting notes in tomorrow’s edition of PB.

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