GREEN BAY—Aaron Rodgers is back and Randall Cobb could return to active status on Saturday, but the Packers defense will be without its No. 1 star, Clay Matthews, for the biggest game of the season on Sunday.
"The last time we played the Bears we didn't have Clay. We won't have him this time and we'll move ahead with the other guys," Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said when he met with reporters on Friday, two days before the Packers face the Bears in a game that'll send one team to the playoffs and the other team into the offseason.
Capers' defense is facing a daunting challenge. Matt Forte is a dual-threat running back that can stretch a defense sideways in the screen game, and crease it between the tackles in the run game.
"They do an excellent job with their screen game. Their receivers are big, physical blockers," Capers said.
When the two teams faced each other at Lambeau Field on Nov. 4, Forte rushed 24 times for 125 yards and one touchdown, and caught five passes for 54 yards. Forte was the driving force in a Bears offense that held the ball more than six minutes longer than the Packers. Those are numbers the Packers must deny this time around.
"Neither team wants the other team to get the run game going, but this is not a one-dimensional offense. They can attack you in many ways," Capers said. "Their offense is the best it's been since I've been with the Packers.
"Our guys know we have to do our part. We have to hold up our end of the bargain."
To that end, the Packers defense has contributed to the Packers' cause over the last three weeks.
"The thing I like about the last three games – we went through a stretch where we couldn't get off the field – three games ago we had the sack-fumble against the Falcons, and then against the Cowboys we had the two critical interceptions, and last week we had the fumble recovery down near the end zone and we had A.J.'s (Hawk) interception," Capers said of a sudden penchant for takeaways the Packers defense previously lacked.
Special Teams Coordinator Shawn Slocum is expecting a much stronger performance this week than was the case against Pittsburgh last Sunday, when the Steelers used a fake-punt play to help them take the lead in the third quarter.
"I felt like I could've put us in a little better position against that play," Slocum said. "He (punter) threw it better than I expected."
The Packers "teams" will be facing a familiar adversary, Devin Hester, this Sunday. He remains a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball.
"What a competitor! What a player! He shows up to play. Devin can affect the game as well as anybody. There has to be tremendous focus from our coverage units," Slocum said.
It was Slocum's kickoff return team, specifically return man Micah Hyde, whose 70-yard return in the final minute of last Sunday's game nearly sent the game into overtime.
This Sunday's game will also be a confrontation of cold-weather kickers, Mason Crosby and Robbie Gould.
"Both guys are kicking well. Robbie embraces poor weather conditions," Slocum said of the Bears kicker.
Crosby is coming off a blocked field goal attempt against the Steelers that resulted in a penalty that gave the ball back to the Packers at the Steelers' 2-yard line and led to a Packers touchdown.
"Mason had poor footing on his plant and hit the ball too low," Slocum said.
Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements is the big winner this week. He's got his quarterback back and could get his star receiver, Cobb, back on Saturday.
"He's been practicing the last few weeks, so he's ready. It's like riding a bike," Clements said when asked about possible rustiness for Rodgers. Additional coverage - Dec. 27