GREEN BAY, Wis. – Halfway through the season, the Green Bay Packers' weakness on the ground has been exposed.
The Packers are having trouble stopping the run. Sunday night, they face the Chicago Bears — the same team that ran for 235 yards on them in the NFC North rivals' first meeting in September.
It's a good thing the Packers (5-3) had a bye week to regroup. Their league-worst rush defense seemingly can only get better after yielding 153.5 yards a game.
Coach Mike McCarthy said Green Bay must be more fundamentally sound in tackling and filling gaps. The Bears (3-5) also pose another particular challenge.
"If you can identify where Matt (Forte) is, what they got, the tendencies that they have, then I think we'll be good," defensive lineman Mike Neal said. "I think we got caught off-guard the first game, but we'll be well-prepared for the next game ... You make adjustments and move on."
They seem like simple yet critical adjustments that must be made if Green Bay plans to play deep into January.
And yet, the Packers still remain in good shape in the NFC North, a game behind first-place Detroit with four of their next five games in the cold comfort of Lambeau Field.
The Bears can only wish they were that close to first.
Chicago was mired in a 1-4 funk before its bye week, so Sunday night's game is about as close as it can get to being a must-win to stay in the hunt. Not that coach Marc Trestman is thinking that far ahead.
"We're not creating hypotheticals on what's going to happen after this game. We know we've got our work cut out for us this week," Trestman said.
Some other things to look for in the 190th meeting of the NFL's oldest rivalry:
FORTE'S CARRIES: Maybe relying on Forte more on the ground will help get the Bears going.
He ran for 122 yards on 23 carries against Green Bay, reaching season highs in both categories in a game in which quarterback Jay Cutler was intercepted twice in the third quarter of a 38-17 loss. The Packers led 21-17 at the half before shutting out Chicago in the second half to start the Bears' miserable five-game stretch.
Forte is seventh in the league in rushing with 562 yards. With the weather forecast in Green Bay calling for a 50 percent chance of snow showers Sunday and a high of 39 degrees, conditions might be ripe to do more running.
GETTING TO A-ROD: The last time the Bears visited Lambeau Field, they beat the Packers 27-20 on Nov. 4, 2013. There was one huge factor in Chicago's favor that night.
"Shea took out Aaron Rodgers," linebacker Lance Briggs joked.
He was referring to teammate Shea McClellin's first-quarter sack that knocked Rodgers out with a collarbone injury.
Going into Sunday, Rodgers is getting over a tweaked left hamstring. Otherwise, he has been playing very well this season with 19 touchdowns to just three interceptions.
"You never count him out," Briggs said. "I've played good defense against him for 58 minutes out of the game and the last minute, he throws a bomb and they win the game. You have to be on your toes for the whole 60."
OFF GUARDS: The Bears will have Jared Allen back after the defensive end missed the teams' first meeting because of illness. The Packers could be without their two best offensive linemen with guards Josh Sitton (toe) and T.J. Lang (ankle) missing practices with injuries.
At the least, Sitton and Lang may not be 100 percent. If they can't go, McCarthy would likely turn to Lane Taylor and J.C. Tretter — who was just activated off injured reserve following a knee injury — to man the guard positions.
FAST STARTS: Only the New York Jets have allowed more first-half points than the Bears, who have been outscored 137-89 in the first two quarters. Scoring early just happens to be a strength for the Packers, outpointing foes 136-89 before halftime.
Rodgers said he would prefer that McCarthy defer more in taking opening kickoffs, but the quarterback will certainly take the results.
"We've scored I think four out of five on first drives. That does a lot for your defense when you're giving them the lead when they take the field," Rodgers said.
CUE CUTLER: It hasn't been a good first half of the season for Cutler, even with his current 95.8 quarterback rating at a career high. He's still making questionable decisions and committing turnovers — like in the Bears' first game this season against the Packers.
Green Bay, especially, is a sore spot for Cutler. He is 1-9 against the Packers, including 0-3 at Lambeau Field. Cutler been intercepted 10 times to just two touchdowns in Titletown, completing 48 percent of passes.
AP Sports Writer Andrew Seligman in Lake Forest, Illinois contributed this report.
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