GREEN BAY, Wis. – Facing Aaron Rodgers and the streaking Packers on the road without your starting quarterback and top defender just seems downright unfair.
That's exactly the predicament facing the Chicago Bears on Monday night at Lambeau Field. Except that Green Bay also is hurting.
A torn groin muscle for Jay Cutler, and small fracture in the left shoulder for Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs have the Bears undermanned.
"It's tough watching. It's always the hardest part, not being able to do your job with the rest of the guys," Cutler said. "So I've just got to help Josh as best I can."
That would be Josh McCown, who's taking over for Cutler against the Packers (5-2). The league's second-highest scoring offense (30.4 points per game) is in the hands of a career backup who last started a game on Jan. 1, 2012 in a 17-13 win over the Vikings.
Coach Marc Trestman was saying it was "highly unlikely" Cutler would play after he was hurt in a 45-41 loss to the Redskins on Oct. 20, and the Bears (4-3) have said he could miss at least a month.
Five things to watch ahead of the 187th meeting in the NFL's oldest rivalry:
OVERCOMING ADVERSITY: Not that the Packers would necessarily sympathize with their NFC North nemesis, but they know what it's like to play shorthanded and still succeed.
Coach Mike McCarthy's club has been without receivers Randall Cobb (leg) and James Jones (knee), and tight end Jermichael Finley (neck), and outstanding linebacker Clay Matthews. Green Bay has also been without two other starting linebackers in Nick Perry (foot) and Brad Jones (hamstring).
"I look forward to the time when we get all of our troops together at the same time. I think what we're going through now is these guys are gaining experience," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "We'll be able to use that experience over the second half of the season."
BALANCED ATTACK: The Packers have vaulted into the NFC North lead with a four-game winning streak.
Minus three key receiving targets, Rodgers still put on a patient passing clinic in last week's 44-31 win over the Vikings, going 24 for 29 and 285 yards with a couple of touchdowns to Jordy Nelson.
Making just as big a difference is the Packers' revived running game, which has compiled at least 139 yards five of the last six weeks.
"We've put more on the plate of our quarterback and he's handled it very well. I always worry about putting too much on the quarterback's plate because at the end of the day he's not paid to make run adjustments," McCarthy said. "He's paid to throw touchdowns."
Fifteen touchdowns to four interceptions, and 2,191 yards passing on a 67 percent completion rate this season for Rodgers. Not bad at all.
NEXT QB UP: On the other side is McCown, drafted in 2002. Trestman likes his experience, and says that consistency is the focus against Green Bay.
"We think we can do that with Josh. We think we've got the players to do it," Trestman said. "And we've got to do a better job on third down, so we can keep the clock working in our favor."
Chicago is 21st in third-down offense, converting at a 36 percent clip. It's even worse on defense, where the Bears are 28th with a 44 percent conversion rate.
FORTE BEARS: All isn't lost with the Bears, who still have Brandon Marshall and the emerging Alshon Jeffery at receiver, and Martellus Bennett as a target at tight end.
Or maybe they turn to running back Matt Forte more to help control the clock, though Forte says he doesn't expect an increased workload.
"None at all. Everybody on offense has a load on their shoulders to continue to try to get better because we haven't played to our ability, and we've lost a couple games," he said.
CLAMPING DOWN: Stopping the run (83.6 yards) is the strength of the Packers' defense. But Capers' crew is generating a pass rush, too, even down Matthews and Perry.
Green Bay got three sacks last week against the Vikings, its fifth straight game with at least that many. The defense has 20 sacks total during that period.
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