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Butler's Breakdown: Packers vs. Bears


When I came to Green Bay in 1990, the Packers-Bears rivalry was the first thing I learned about.

I'd just flown into town and as I was walking off the plane a little old lady came up to me and said, "You know you've got to beat the Bears twice."

She meant twice every season, but at that point the Packers had only defeated the Bears two times over the last five years.

It didn't get much better right away. We lost five in a row to the Bears at the start of my career before beating them on the road in 1992. That was the start of things turning around.

Including that win, the Packers have won 18 of the last 21 meetings.

There's no question that the Bears are the Packers' biggest rival. These two teams will meet for a record 165th time Monday night, making it the longest-standing rivalry in the NFL.

You can throw out the records when these two teams play, because they just don't matter. The fans get into it and the players can't help but get excited.

Before I get to this year's Monday night match-up, let me share my favorite Packers-Bears memories:

The first would be the monsoon game of 1994. It was Halloween and we were wearing throwback uniforms. There were 50 mph winds that day, it was raining hard and Soldier Field was muddy as can be. But we went in there and creamed them 33-6!

My other favorite memory was 1995. Again it was a game at Soldier Field. The Bears ran a flea-flicker and Erik Kramer threw a pass that I intercepted at the 1-yard line. Right after that, Brett Favre hit Robert Brooks for a 99-yard touchdown.

It was a 14-point swing. The Bears should have scored, but instead we came away with the touchdown. When I talk to some of the older guys, we bring up that game all the time. That's the kind of thing you remember when your career is over.

Just thinking about it gives me chills right now. That's how big this rivalry is.

Now back to this year's game:

The Bears are 0-2 and coming off their bye week. They haven't looked very good through the first two games, but with that extra week to prepare, they'll be ready for the Packers.

If you think this game means a lot to the Packers, think of what it means to the Bears. A win would be huge for them and they're going to throw everything at the Packers to try and get it.

One of the keys to victory will be containing Chicago quarterback Kordell Stewart. He's not Michael Vick, but he can do damage with his feet.

Stewart is in a new system with Chicago and hasn't gotten off to a good start, so look for the Packers to confuse him with some combination coverages. They're going to do a lot of disguising and blitz to his weak side.

But Stewart isn't the only problem. The Packers have to stop the run.

Chicago will try to run it 35 times led by Anthony Thomas. They're going to try to control the clock and run play-action to make bigger gains.

Expect the Packers to stack the line with eight-man fronts and make Stewart try to beat them with his arm.

Chicago wide receivers Dez White and Marty Booker are good blockers, and Booker is a threat to go downfield.

The Bears like to have one guy going deep while the other runs an underneath route. They're always crossing guys in front of the linebacker and trying to throw him off with play-action. Packers rookie Nick Barnett is going to have to make good reads.

The Bears' offensive line is inexperienced. With tackles Gilbert Brown and Cletidus Hunt clogging up the middle, along with Rod Walker, expect Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila to get around the end and get some sacks.

KGB should have a good game, but since the Packers have had trouble getting pressure on the quarterback, expect them to mix in some blitzes and apply more pressure. If they can do that, they can get Stewart throwing off his back foot and let their secondary come away with interceptions.

Offensively the Packers have to get out of the box early and start going vertical down the field. They can do that by setting it up with play-action.

If you'll remember, last season Favre threw an 85-yard touchdown pass to Donald Driver on the road against Chicago. The Packers need big plays like that again this year.

For play-action to work, they need to establish the run with Ahman Green.

Green has had some fumbling problems so far this season, and it doesn't matter how good or bad your opponent is, turnovers are tough to overcome on the road. He needs to protect the football, but the Packers also need to make sure that Green gets at least 25 touches a game, rushing and passing combined.

The Bears are going to blitz a lot and Green will have to help there, too. Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher will be all over the field. On first and second down he's going to be mirroring Green. On third down he's going to be trying to get into Favre's face.

The Packers have to wear Urlacher down. Fullbacks William Henderson and Nick Luchey need to pound him with blocks and the Packers need to exhaust Urlacher by making him run sideline to sideline.

I expect that Favre's juices will be flowing for this game. He's well aware of the tradition and history of this rivalry, and he's always done well against the Bears.

Favre has been in kind of a funk so far this season, and the Bears are just the team to get him out of it.

Robert Ferguson is still dinged up, but this might be the healthiest the wide receivers have been all season. If Chicago tries to double-team Driver or Ferguson, the Packers can do damage with Bubba Franks, Javon Walker and Antonio Freeman.

If the Packers can control the tempo of the game, they'll be in good shape.

Special teams has been solid for the Packers this season. Antonio Chatman has been very consistent and he can be a weapon. But to give him more chances the Packers have to stop their opponent on third down so Chatman can have some room to make a return.

Punter Josh Bidwell is off to a Pro Bowl start and Ryan Longwell is automatic, even in bad weather.

The Packers' coverage teams should be trying to strip the ball because the Bears have been known to fumble on their returns.

The biggest thing the Packers need to do is be more aggressive on both sides of the ball. On defense that means mixing in some blitzes. On offense it means throwing the ball downfield more.

The West Coast offense is set up to pick apart teams with short passes that allow for ball control. But it seems the perception is growing that the Packers aren't looking to go downfield.

If that's the case, teams are just going to get into Cover 2 and neutralize those short passes and runs. Favre still has a live arm, and the Packers need to prove that they can make big plays down the field before defenses start respecting it as a threat.

The Packers always get the best effort of every team they face, but maybe with the 1-2 start they can sneak up on some teams. That said, they can't wait for their opponent to strike first. They have to take it to them. That means taking chances. It's the only way the Packers can regain that elite status.

A few predictions for this weekend:

On special teams I think Longwell is going to have a big game with as many as three field goals. On defense I like linebacker Hannibal Navies and Gbaja-Biamlia this week.

On offense I'm going to go with Franks and center Mike Flanagan.

You might we wondering why I'm picking an offensive lineman, but Flanagan will be huge in this game. Expect him to help neutralize Urlacher on blitzes up the middle and to make the correct calls on the offensive line to keep Favre from getting hit.

Flanagan is faster than any other center in the game, and the Packers will pull him on several plays to make lead blocks that will open holes for Green.

As I said in my Tuesday column, this is a big game for the Packers. It's a need-win to stay in the NFC North race.

If you're a Packers fan, you can't help but get excited. I know I am.

One final note before I go: In my Tuesday column I asked readers if they thought the Packers should have gone for the 2-point conversion or forced overtime had they scored a touchdown at the end of the fourth quarter against Arizona.

According to a poll, 70 percent of you think they should have forced overtime. I agree with you.

They say that you go for the win on the road, but I think that the Packers are a superior team to Arizona. Therefore I think the longer that the game goes, the better the chance that the Packers come out on top.

It was hot out there, so one thought would have been to go for 2 and get off the field, but I have bad memories of going for 2 to win a football game.

In 1987, my Florida State Seminoles were No. 4 in the nation playing No. 3 Miami. We scored a touchdown with less than a minute left and went for 2, but Miami stopped us, won the game and went on to win a national championship.

Things like that are hard to forget.

*LeRoy Butler played 12 seasons for the Green Bay Packers, helping them to two Super Bowls and earning NFL All-Decade Honors for the 1990s, before retiring in July 2002. This season Butler is providing exclusive analysis to Monday, Packers fans will be able to submit questions to LeRoy for his Tuesday column.

Butler's autobiography, 'The LeRoy Butler Story ... From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap,' is available on his website,*

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