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Attacking the Middle of the Field, Green Bay Poked Holes in Bears Vaunted Defense

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COMMENTARY | As I watched Sunday's game between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears, I had the words of Aaron Rodgers echoing in my head.

Last week, Rodgers talked about his expectations from the Bears defense and how their scheme really took away staples in this offense like the back-shoulder fade and the slant route.

I wrote that the middle of the field should be open in the cover 2 scheme and that Green bay had to find a way to complete some of the in-breaking routes the Packers like to run.

Rodgers downplayed expectations of this offense, especially against cover 2.

"We haven't seen a lot of 1-on-1 coverage and the last team to come up and really challenge us, we had a big night on. I'm tired of talking about it," Rodgers said on his weekly radio show, referencing the game against Houston.

"Don't look for this offense to be the flashy offense that you saw last year."

Coming into the game against Chicago, the Packers had produced just 23 plays of 25 yards or more this season, compared to 46 all of last season.

The flash was back against Chicago as Rodgers had five plays of at least 25 yards including a 29-yard touchdown to James Jones.

The Green Bay quarterback may have been playing possum with his pre-game comments, knowing teams might listen to his show to try and glean parts of the game plan.

Rodgers said Chicago played almost exclusively cover 2 against the Packers in Week 2, but that last year, the Bears had played more single-high safeties.

"At times, especially late in the season (Chicago) played a more balance or one and two high safeties."

That meant fewer slants, fewer go-routes, and fewer shots down the field, at least until this week when Rodgers found the middle of the field wide open.

Whether in zone or man, Rodgers was consistently able to get in-breaking routes in key situations. For the game, Rodgers was 8/9 for 139 yards and touchdown throwing to the middle of the field.

Seven of the eight completions were for first downs, while the other was a touchdown. Two of the conversations were on fourth down.

The slant pattern was back as Rodgers completed about a half dozen, depending on how many were true slants versus skinny posts. Either way, Green Bay was finding seams against a really tough Bears defense. Rodgers found Jones inside the hashes for a touchdown.

When Rodgers saw man coverage, he was throwing verticals and even the shot deep in the fourth quarter to Greg Jennings was open; Rodgers just missed the throw.

The first back-shoulder fade in what seems like a season was completed to James Jones for one of his three touchdowns.

Jones has become the go-to receiver when teams play man coverage as two of his biggest games this season came against Houston and Chicago, both of whom played man.

It's been clear that Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson being in and out of the lineup has hurt the Packers, but Randall Cobb has stepped up and filled the void.

Three of those chunk pass plays of 25 yards or more were to Cobb and half of the completions in the middle of the field were to the second-year receiver.

Jermichael Finley's 31-yard catch down the seam is exactly the kind of impact play the Packers thought they'd be getting from Finley against cover 2. This week, the much-maligned tight end with a history of success against the Bears stepped up.

With the running game getting going and Rodgers once against finding success not only deep but in the middle of the field, the Packers are getting into a grove offensively.

If they had a professional kicker, the Packers would have won Sunday by two touchdowns at least.

Once Greg Jennings is fully integrated back into the offense and Jordy Nelson gets healthy, defenses are going to have to decide what they want to try and take away.

Rodgers has played Houston, Chicago and San Francisco, arguably the three best defenses in the NFL - at the very least three of the best five. All of them played a considerable amount of man coverage.

Despite rarely having a full compliment of offensive weapons due to injury, Rodgers was 99 of 149 for 1,151 yards with 12 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions for a quarterback rating of 110.89. Green Bay has a record of 3-1 in those games.

It may have taken some time, but Aaron Rodgers and this offense have adapted and found ways to attack the defense no matter the coverage. Rodgers has stomped the best defenses in football and after 15 weeks, shows no signs of slowing as the Packers are now 8-1 since their letdown against Indianapolis.

The offense is rolling and still hasn't gotten fully healthy. Jordy Nelson's return will make this offense even more potent and give opposing defenses even fewer options to take away. Play man and Rodgers will burn you deep, blitz and he will find the 1-on-1 match-ups. If you play cover 2, now the Packers are finding ways to gash teams in the middle of the field, not to mention rush the ball effectively.

Green Bay is finding holes in opposing defenses while closing holes in its own offense. It brought the Packers the NFC North crown and playoff birth. The only hole left? A Super Bowl run.

Peter Bukowski is a Wisconsin transplant living in New York and has been covering sports since 2007. He is an award-winning television and newspaper reporter. Follow him on Twitter @BukoTime

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