Packers vs. Bears: 5 things to watch and a prediction

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The Green Bay Packers (4-1) and Chicago Bears (3-2) will battle Sunday at Soldier Field for early control over the NFC North. The winner will be the leader in the division after six weeks.

Can Matt LaFleur’s team win its 13th game in 14 tries against the NFC North? Or will the Bears find a way to beat LaFleur’s Packers for the first time in five tries?

Here are five things to watch and a prediction for Sunday’s NFC North showdown at Soldier Field:

Justin Fields the scrambler

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Fields can use his athleticism to escape the pocket and create plays, but the rookie hasn’t done much damage as a scrambler so far (20 rushes, 59 yards). Still, Fields using his legs is something to watch on Sunday. The Packers allowed 94 yards on scrambles to quarterbacks Jameis Winston, Jared Goff and Joe Burrow through the first five games. That’s almost 20 percent of the total rushing yards the defense has allowed this season, and Fields is a much better athlete and runner than Winston, Goff and Burrow. Can the Packers keep contain on Fields and limit his ability as a runner?

The pressure battle

Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY NETWORK

This game might be decided by which defense affects the opposing quarterback most consistently. Both Aaron Rodgers and Justin Fields have struggled under pressure this season. Affecting the quarterback is especially important for the Bears; Rodgers has been terrific from clean pockets, and the Chicago defense is first in total sacks but also 28th in coverage grade at Pro Football Focus. If the Packers can protect Rodgers, the offense should move the football. If not, the Bears have a real chance to make this a slugfest. On defense, the Packers’ front must force Fields to make tough throws from collapsing pockets. The rookie hasn’t looked comfortable at all against any sort of pressure early in his career.

Turnover battle

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Here’s a fun fact: Under Matt LaFleur, the Packers are 23-0 overall and 4-0 against the Bears when winning the turnover battle. Since losing the turnover battle 3-0 in Week 1, the Packers have delivered eight takeaways (two in each game) and only two giveaways in the previous four games, all wins. The Bears know the importance of turnovers, too. Matt Nagy’s team won the turnover battle in all three wins this season and is plus-five in wins and minus-two in losses. Few stats are more predictive of wins and losses than the turnover battle, especially for these two teams. Getting a takeaway or two against a rookie quarterback could fuel another win for the Packers in this rivalry.

Limiting big plays

(AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Justin Fields hit four passing plays over 20 yards in the Bears’ win over the Lions in Week 4, including a pair to Darnell Mooney, the team’s best deep threat. But the rookie didn’t complete a pass over 18 yards last week, and he’s about to face a Packers defense that has allowed only 11 plays over 20 yards this season (2nd fewest in NFL). Then again, Green Bay won’t have Jaire Alexander and probably won’t have Kevin King available on Sunday. Can the Packers keep everything in front and force the rookie quarterback to go the distance over many plays to score? Containing the run and limiting big plays could make it extra difficult for the Bears to put points on the board on Sunday.

Davante Adams vs. Jaylon Johnson

(Photo by Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images)

The Bears no longer have Kyle Fuller, but second-year cornerback Jaylon Johnson is emerging as one of the best young man-to-man corners to start the 2021 season. Will the Bears have Johnson follow Davante Adams, the NFL’s most productive receiver? This could be a fascinating individual battle within the game. Johnson has a nice mix of length and athleticism, and he’s competitive at the line of scrimmage and the catch point. Adams is expected to beat just about anyone in one-on-one situations, but Johnson and a mix of double teams could limit the Packers’ best offensive weapon. The Bears need Johnson to play well because the rest of the secondary is struggling and will likely need help on Sunday.

Prediction: Packers 24, Bears 15 (3-2)

The Bears have won two straight games and can’t be overlooked, especially considering the strength of Chicago’s defense, but this is still a matchup that favors the Packers. The offensive line is slowly getting healthy, and the Packers defense should feast on a rookie quarterback running one of the NFL’s worst offenses. Unless Justin Fields can consistently create big plays or the Packers offense gives the ball away, it’s difficult envisioning the Bears scoring enough points to win the game. The guess here is that the Packers control the game along the defensive front, allowing Aaron Rodgers and the offense to chip away at the Bears defense and build a lead. It might not be pretty, but the Packers should win this one comfortably.

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