As we approach kickoff for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, here are two factors (one for each team) that could potentially keep the Packers or Bears from reaching the Super Bowl.
Green Bay Packers: Special Teams
Against the Falcons last week, the Packers dominated two of the three main phases of the game (offense and defense) but lost the third (special teams). After tying the score 7-7 early in the second quarter, Eric Weems returned a 102-yard kickoff for a touchdown against Green Bay’s shaky kickoff coverage. In Week 12, it was Weems’ 40-yard kickoff return and subsequent facemask penalty on Matt Willhelm that helped put the Falcons in position to kick a game-winning field goal in the final seconds.
In the Bears’ Week 3 win over the Pack, Devin Hester returned a punt 62 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown, which gave Chicago a 14-10 lead with 14 minutes to play. If there’s one area of concern for the Packers heading into this weekend, it has to be their special teams. They’re allowing 38.9 yards per punt attempt this season, which ranks them 26th in the league in that category. Granted, they rank first in kickoff touchback percentage (4.23%), but Weems proved last week that their coverage unit is liable to give up a big play at any time. Hester is a game-changer; the Packers better be prepared.
Chicago Bears: The Mad Scientist
The Bears have a couple of concerns this weekend, which includes figuring out a way to defense a red-hot Aaron Rodgers and having a solid backup plan in case stout rookie J’Marcus Webb can’t stop the relentless Clay Matthews. But at least we know Chicago’s defense will be up to the task of slowing Rodgers and Webb has been one of the more pleasant surprises this year on the Bears’ O-line (and therefore might match up well with Matthews). It’s Mike Martz and his unpredictability that Chicago should be most concerned about.
Martz is one of the main reasons that the Bears have gotten this far. He’s remained more balanced this season than in years past and he’s playing to his personnel’s strengths. He knows that Jay Cutler has more success throwing short-to-intermediate passes than he does vertically, so he calls plays that suit his quarterback’s strengths. Sure, he still allows Cutler to take cracks downfield, but only when the time is right and the defense is vulnerable. Martz called a great game last Sunday against the Seahawks, but he also drew up a halfback pass with Matt Forte in the middle of the second half when all his team needed to do was run some clock. Forte threw an interception and for the first time all game, Seattle had life. That’s the kind of unnecessary risk-taking that has gotten Martz into trouble before and if he’s not careful, it could cost him this weekend against a better defensive mind like Dom Capers.