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Notebook: Containing Cutler A Focus

For the most part this season, a strong performance from Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has gone hand in hand with a Chicago victory.


Including the Bears' Divisional playoff win over Seattle last Sunday, Cutler's passer rating in Chicago wins (missed Week 5 at Carolina due to concussion) was 106.9 compared to just a 50.3 rating in five defeats. Of Cutler's 25 touchdown passes this season, 24 have come in victories, and the Bears are 7-0 this season when he posts a 100-plus passer rating. In the five defeats, Cutler's highest passer rating was 69.4 with a sub-55.0 mark in the other four.

"If he gets time to throw it, he can make every throw on the field," defensive end Ryan Pickett said. "So you have to pressure him. You've got to get a good pass rush on him, you've got to make him uncomfortable, because you give any quarterback in the NFL a lot of time to throw, they're going to make a lot of completions.

"When he has games where he has a lot (of success), they're usually not at his feet. So we'll try to get pressure on him."

Cutler was sacked an average of 5.4 times per game in losses compared to just 2.5 in victories, and the Packers were able to get to him as they matched their season high of six sacks in the 10-3 victory over Chicago at Lambeau Field. The pressure came from all over, with five different players registering at least a half sack, including a career-high three from linebacker Erik Walden as well as one from cornerback Charles Woodson.

Cutler threw for just 168 yards on 21-of-39 passing in the season finale with two interceptions for a 43.5 passer rating. In his four starts against Green Bay since coming to Chicago in a 2009 trade, Cutler has a 57.5 passer rating with four touchdown passes and nine interceptions. That included a career-high four picks thrown by Cutler in his Chicago debut in Week 1 of 2009.

"I don't think you can look at last year," Cutler said. "We had a totally different offense this year. Those games are kind of out the window. This past game, they did a lot to disrupt our timing in the offense, especially the passing game.

"I would expect them to be aggressive. They have the last four or five games with Charles blitzing a lot and Clay Matthews and those guys. We've just got to be on our keys and our tips and hit our hot routes and do what we do in the offense."

Under offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who was hired by the Bears this past offseason, Cutler significantly cut down on his turnovers from his first season in Chicago. After posting an NFL-high (and career-high) 26 interceptions in '09, Cutler was picked off just 16 times this season.

Cutler's mobility that allows him to extend plays is an added dimension, and his 232 yards on 50 carries (4.6 avg.) this season were a career high. In Chicago's win over Seattle last Sunday, he became just the second quarterback in NFL history (Otto Graham) to run for two touchdowns and pass for two scores in a playoff game.

Cutler enters the third matchup with the Packers playing some of his best football, with a 100-plus passer rating in five of the past seven games (including playoffs).  A Green Bay defense that is coming off the Packers' first four-takeaway performance in the postseason since 1997 knows that as with any quarterback, opportunities will be there on Sunday as well. The challenge will be to capitalize on those chances when they present themselves.

"You always are going to get two or three plays that you are going to force them into, and that's what (defensive coordinator Dom) Capers always tells us," cornerback Tramon Williams said. "We have to make them pay for that, and it's going to be big to make them pay for that.

"Our job is to make the quarterback as uncomfortable as we can, and that's where we make our plays at. Hopefully we can get to Cutler and we can make him some quick decisions back there. When we watch film, you let the guy sit back there, he can be a nightmare. You get pressure on pretty much anybody, you make them make quick decisions, then you can make plays on balls."

Friendly foesGreen Bay's rivalry with Chicago will go to new heights this Sunday in only the second postseason matchup between the teams with a berth in Super Bowl XLV on the line, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers said that doesn't stop him from respecting the players on the other side of the field.

"They have a number of guys who played in the league for a long time, and I think you can't help but when you're playing guys like that have respect for them and what they've done in their careers," Rodgers said. "But it's about getting through this week, so there's not going to be a whole lot of friendship out there until after the game."

One of the players Rodgers is friendly with is Cutler, a bond that developed even more when Rodgers' younger brother, Jordan, also a quarterback, decided to attend Cutler's alma mater of Vanderbilt last year.

"Obviously Jay went there, and Jay kind of played my role in helping him kind of be like a big brother to him at Vanderbilt, kind of helping him around time and getting his feet wet out there, also helping him with that decision and why that would be a good decision," Rodgers said. "So definitely as a big brother you thank Jay for that and appreciate his role in helping my little brother feel comfortable out there."

Happy to be hereIt isn't uncommon for college players to hear from several teams during the draft, and one franchise that Packers rookie running back James Starks had contact with back in April on draft day was the same one Green Bay will face on Sunday in the NFC title game.

Starks, who was selected by the Packers out of the University at Buffalo in the sixth round with the 193rd overall pick, said he did hear from the Bears when they were on the clock 12 picks earlier in the round. Chicago elected to choose quarterback Dan LeFevour from Central Michigan.

"They said, 'Would you like to be a Bear?'" Starks said. "I said, 'Yes, anybody would be happy just to get an opportunity. I am happy, yeah, I would like to.' He said to hold on for a second. He went back and came back to me and said, 'Well, we're going to go in a different direction.'

"It didn't get me down at all. I knew that is not the right place for me as far it wasn't God's choice for me to be there. I am proud that the Lord gave me an opportunity to be a Packer."

Starks posted a franchise playoff record for a rookie with 123 yards in Green Bay's Wild Card win at Philadelphia, and his 189 yards on the ground this postseason lead all NFL running backs. Even though for a moment this spring he thought he might be a Bear, Starks said he doesn't hold any grudge against Chicago.

"They were going to give me an opportunity, and I thank them for that," Starks said. "At least they thought of me. I am here now and I am happy to be a Green Bay Packer. I am going to keep continuing to play how I have been playing and work that I can be the best back that I can be."

Familiar nameThe Packers will be playing their second game this season at Soldier Field, a franchise first, and the referee will be the same one from the Week 3 meeting in Chicago.

Terry McAulay has been selected as the referee for Sunday's game. He was the lead official in the Packers' 20-17 loss at Soldier Field earlier this season when the team was flagged for a franchise-record 18 penalties. The other members of the officiating crew are chosen based on the ratings they received.

"The 18 penalties in one game, we look at that as more of an anomaly," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "I know it is more of an all-star crew. Terry is the referee. He has obviously been selected for this game for good reason.

"I don't think this game is going to be about anomaly officiating. These are two very good teams that earned the right to be in this game, and this game will be about the football teams."

The Packers bounced back in a major way from their record-setting performance against Chicago back in September. Green Bay finished tied for the third-fewest penalties in the league with 78, the lowest number by a Packers team since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978.

Injury/participation updateLinebacker Frank Zombo (knee), who has missed the last five games, did not participate on Wednesday. McCarthy said he was "hopeful" that Zombo would be able to return to action on Sunday, but he wasn't coming along as fast as they had expected.

Tackle Chad Clifton (knees), defensive end Cullen Jenkins (calf), running back John Kuhn (shoulder), cornerback Pat Lee (hip), Matthews (shin), defensive end Ryan Pickett (ankle) and center/guard Jason Spitz (calf) were limited participants.

Linebacker Diyral Briggs (ankle) and Woodson (toe) participated fully in practice on Wednesday.

For Chicago, wide receiver Earl Bennett (not injury related), cornerback Zackary Bowman (not injury related) and safety Chris Harris (hip) did not participate in practice. Defensive end Israel Idonije (thumb) was a full participant.

Additional coverage - Jan. 19

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