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First, Starks eschewed offers to bigger Division I schools and stayed close to home at the University of Buffalo, where former Packers director of player development Turner Gill had just become head coach. (Gill gave the Packers a glowing recommendation of him.)
Second, Starks ended up rooming at Buffalo with the son of Packers scout Alonzo Highsmith, a running back as well.
Third, Starks missed his senior year with a shoulder injury, and not too many people n the NFL went back and studied his sophomore and junior tapes. (The Packers already were clued in.)
Finally, the Chicago Bears had Starks on the phone on draft day and were about to make him the 12th pick in the sixth round, when they quickly did an about-face and drafted quarterback Dan LeFevour instead. (Twelve picks later, the Packers took Starks.)
"I knew I'd get an opportunity somewhere," Starks said this week. "As long as I was getting an opportunity, I'd be happy. I knew things would fall my way. Now I'm a Green Bay Packer, and I'm loving it."
Starks' injury problems prior to this season have been well documented. A hamstring injury kept Starks out of off-season workouts, and when he strained it again in training camp, he was left on the physically unable to perform list.
It took until Week 11 before he was finally activated to the 53-man roster. At one point, Starks told Bass he thought the Packers were going to cut him, but Bass told him there was no chance.
Starks broke out with a 73-yard performance against San Francisco on Dec. 5, but late in the year, coach Mike McCarthy didn't feel he could trust him to carry out every assignment. Starks was put on notice that he needed to study harder. After two weeks of inactivity, he was activated for the second Bears game and was the only running back who had any success carrying the ball that day (five carries for 20 yards).
When Starks broke out against Philadelphia, one of the most noticeable things about him was his smile every time he had a good run. He broke one long run in the game, but the Packers think he has the ability to do it more often.
Some of his teammates could see that potential early on.
"He's strong," injured running back Ryan Grant said. "Physically, he can get it done. I told him he's in the best position to do that because he doesn't have the bumps and bruises of the season. He should be strong and fast. He's put in the work. He's hot right now."
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Scouts Inc. predicts the Packers will beat the Bears, 21-17.
Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. ranks the Packers superior to the Bears at quarterback, wide receiver, offensive line, linebacker, defensive back and coach.
He ranks the Bears better than the Packers at running back, defensive line and special teams.
A few of Williamson's talking points:
"Late in the season, opposing wideouts were doing a lot of damage against the Bears," Williamson writes. "And Green Bay is sure to test Chicago with five-wide receiver sets, where (Aaron) Rodgers will often find a linebacker covering a wideout. The Packers will use a lot of empty sets regardless of what personnel is in the game. They also use a lot of their "Bone" formation, which consists of two fullbacks and a running back all lined up in the backfield. It makes for some ideal run-blocking angles and added protection in the pass game. Green Bay is very tough to prepare for."
"The Packers are the more talented team overall and are playing at an extremely high level, but they are at a major disadvantage in the kicking game. No one wants to kick to Devin Hester, but that is easier said than done and often results in short kicks and great starting field position for Chicago. Hester's 17.1-yard per punt return average is the best in NFL history, and he could be the difference in this contest. The Bears' coverage teams and specialists are also superior to Green Bay's. However, the Packers did not have to punt once last week."
This has been going on for a while, but it finally became public last week when it was reported that the Bears practiced indoors with piped-in noise -- for a home game, mind you.
It was reported because the Bears needed to have it reported. They had to get the word out, but they couldn’t tell their fans to shut up. What to do? How do the Bears tell the paying customers they’re idiots?
By using the media, of course. We’re good at telling fans they’re idiots. It’s one of our four major food groups. No amount of in-stadium shushing was working, so the Bears turned to the media that frequently turns on them. That’s the way I connect the dots, and that tells you how desperate they are to create the Soldier Field Library when they have the ball. I believe some of us in the Evil Media have done our job. WSCR-AM 670 reporters Zach Zaidman and Laurence Holmes tweeted and talked about it Friday. I mentioned it in Sunday’s column. Score afternoon annoyance Dan Bernstein blogged about it yesterday. And I’m back at it again today.
This feels like a last, desperate act by the Bears. Fans making noise when the Bears have the ball is not a new development, but it wasn’t much of a problem before because the noise vanished quickly out of the old, wide-open Soldier Field. Poof, gone, like Michael McCaskey’s management skills.
The new Soldier Field spaceship design, which looks as stupid as some fans sound, does a better job of keeping noise in, which has meant worse things for the Bears. The issue became most acute this season with Mike Martz’s demanding play-calls that include constant shifting like he’s working some kind of human Rubik’s Cube. The more the the Bears won, the louder the noise, the worse it got for the offense that would lead the league in wasted timeouts if they kept that stat officially.
So, we have a long-standing streak of fan stupidity, further amped by Bears fans noisily getting the anthem singer of their choice, thus making it more difficult for such learned behavior to become unlearned, and it must be unlearned in a hurry, believe me, because of Green Bay’s defense. The Packers play a 3-4 that has consistently vexed the Bears’ offense with its unpredictable but deadly blitzing ways. That places more importance not only on efficiently relaying the play-call from the sidelines to Cutler, but also allowing Olin Kreutz to be heard out to the tight end spots with his calls for blocking assignments -- and they can’t do it if you people don’t shut up.
Bears fans made enough noise to get the anthem singer of their choice, not the one being pimped by the network to the league of negotiable virtue. Good for Bears fans. Mad props. Or is it mad propz, with a Z? Phat, I got that spelling, but props/propz, I don’t know. Doesn’t matter. The point is not whether I’m tragically hip, but whether Bears fans are tragically flawed.
They are. Some of them, anyway. Stop it. I’ll try to kept this simple for those simpleton fans: Jay Cutler is conducting an orchestra, while Julius Peppers is leading a jailbreak. Wolfgang Amadeus Cutler. Joliet Julius Peppers. Understand?
Probably not. I must be speaking too fast. Try this:
The first time the Bears played the Packers this season, Bears coaches thought their team was better without Tommie Harris on the field. The next time the teams play, it's the Packers coaches who no doubt would love for Harris to be off the field.
No one knows whether or not Harris will be a difference-maker in the NFC championship game Sunday at Soldier Field, but he was one against the Seahawks for the first time.
What is significant is the defensive tackle has established that he still is capable of a dominant performance. He had two sacks against the Seahawks, which is 1/2 a sack more than he had all season, and one less than he had all of 2009.
As one pro scout who studied the game tape said, "Where the hell did that come from?"
But is Harris capable of repeating that type of performance?
If he is, the arrows Rod Marinelli shoots will be laced with poison. The Bears' defensive scheme is reliant on a three technique tackle who can penetrate and create pass rush opportunities for others.
Marinelli has been searching all season for a second player who can burst off the line and get upfield quickly to complement Julius Peppers. If Harris can be that man, confetti may be raining on the Bears in the coming weeks.
The tricky thing is Harris has changed over 17 games. One offensive coach and two pro scouts from opposing teams agreed they saw improvement in Harris' game throughout the season.
"Later in the year, you saw more quickness, more of the suddenness off the ball that he had early in his career," the coach said.
Harris lost his starting job for 10 games. He regained it Dec. 12 against the Patriots and has started the four games since.
"I thought he was playing very average early in the year, like a dancing bear at the line," one of the pro scouts said. "You can see now he's playing with better pad level and working the edges. He's getting off the ball fast, trying to finish."
Physically, Harris is not the same player he was a few years ago. Scouts say knee and hamstring problems have taken some of Harris' lower body strength. But he clearly still has enough first step explosion and pass rush savvy to defeat blockers. And he is only 27.
It's possible Harris is regaining effectiveness as he has become further removed from the injuries. At times in the past, Harris appeared to be very protective of his knees. That's not the case so much anymore.
"It seems like the life is back in his legs," the second scout said. "He's not quite the same player he was two years ago, but he's better than he was earlier in the year."
Chicago Tribune: The Packers have done a number on the Bears wide receivers before, and they also have clamped down on tight end Greg Olsen in previous meetings. Play Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers. Who do you want to stop and how?
Matt Bowen: I'm going to go after Olsen and take him completely out of the game because the rest of the Packers DBs, especially their nickel personnel, can win against Johnny Knox and Devin Hester. That doesn't mean they can win all the time but the majority of the time. Olsen is the type of tight end the Bears can use creatively, remove him from the formation, get him down the field vertically like we saw against the Seahawks versus the safety. I think Capers will say, "OK, I'm going to put Charles Woodson, my best defensive player, on Olsen and force you to beat me in other areas.''
CT: The Packers have had success running against the Bears. Can they run with James Starks against the Bears' Cover-2?
MB: I don't think anyone can run the ball on the Bears right now. I know Starks is getting a lot of hype and he blew up the Eagles, but there is a reason they are at home. If the Bears can't stop the run with their front seven, which I believe they will do, that will be huge for the Packers. If you can keep those two safeties deep, which you do in Cover-2, and let your linebackers chase down the running game, that is an advantage. The Bears up front are too tough versus this Packers offensive line. They will get penetration and you will see Brian Urlacher running to the football.
CT: Jay Cutler ran for 43 yards against the Seahawks and had 37 rushing yards against the Packers in the first meeting. Why is he a threat to tuck and run this time?
MB: Any time you play Cover-1 and play your corners in a press alignment and your pressure does not contain the quarterback, you're asking for trouble. Cutler is not Michael Vick, but he's athletic enough where he can pick up 10, 12, 15 yards. Start putting those things together, and all of a sudden you're at midfield. It's a killer for the defense.
CT: Jermichael Finley had 115 receiving yards against the Bears in the first meeting before a knee injury cost him the rest of the season. How did Aaron Rodgers replace him?
MB: I don't think he replaced him, he just has spread the ball around a lot more. James Jones has made big plays, Jordy Nelson has become more involved. Everyone knows what Donald Driver can do. He's the most reliable player in the NFL. Greg Jennings is a legit No. 1. From an X's and O's standpoint, I think we'll see them line up Jennings inside as the No. 3 receiver. That puts Jennings down the middle of the field versus Urlacher in Cover-2. You're trying to get speed on the linebackers and safeties versus Cover-2, so that is a tough matchup. That forces the safeties to lean inside a little bit, and when you lean inside in Cover-2, that opens up the sidelines.
CT: Mike Tice put seventh-round pick J'Marcus Webb at right tackle and moved Chris Williams, who everyone else thought was a left tackle, to guard. The line finished last in the league in sacks allowed, but when you look at the body of work from Week 1 to now, how do you evaluate it?
MB: It's what you expect from a guy who has been a head coach. Tice knows what he's doing. He's coaching the O-line, which is his bread and butter, but he has that head coach mentality and he's making the right decisions for his team. All of those moves he made, he has gotten this line to play better. At the end of the season, the arrow should be pointing up. That's a sign of good coaching.
CT: Besides Cutler, who could be a difference-maker for the Bears?
MB: I want to say Devin Hester, but Packers coach Mike McCarthy is too smart to kick to him. The deciding factor for the Bears is Earl Bennett because if the Bears can get rid of the ball versus that pressure and work routes inside the numbers, Bennett could have a huge game. When they pressure, you throw the ball the shortest distance, and that means to the inside guys. If they have Woodson on Olsen, that means Bennett is on a No. 3 corner, and I would expect him to win.
Ever since Aaron Rodgers returned from the concussion he suffered against Detroit (Dec. 12th), he has been untouchable and the Packers have been unbeatable. They won four in a row over the Giants, Chicago, the Eagles and Atlanta to advance to the conference final. They are playing with tremendous confidence and for good reason: They have the hottest quarterback in the final four.
Rodgers had a 134.5 quarterback rating in the playoff wins over the Eagles and Atlanta with six touchdown passes and no interceptions. He was 31 for 36 passing against the No. 1 seed Falcons and was in complete command, avoiding the rush and coolly picking apart the Atlanta defense. The Packers won the game 48-21 and it really wasn’t that close.
The Chicago defense is very good (fourth in points allowed), but it is also very vanilla. The Bears play almost exclusively a Cover 2 zone scheme with the safeties deep. They allow few big plays, they tackle well and they are stout against the run (90.1 yards per game), but Rodgers knows them so well at this point he will know exactly where to go with the ball.
If the field is as sloppy as it usually is -- it was an absolute mess for the Eagles game in November – it may work to the advantage of the visiting Packers. The Bears must get a rush on Rodgers if they hope to slow him down, but if the footing is bad, it will make it harder for Julius Peppers and the other D-linemen to push off. Also, Greg Jennings, the Packers best receiver, loves to double move and that could leave a defensive back on the seat of his pants.
On the other side, Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler had a big game last week against Seattle (two rushing touchdowns, two touchdown passes), but the Green Bay defense is a different animal. When these teams played in the final week of the regular season, the Bears managed just three points and Cutler was one-for-13 on passes to wide receivers Devin Hester and Johnny Knox.
The suffocating coverage of cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams combined with the pass rush of linebackers Clay Matthews and Erik Walden will be more than the Bears can overcome.
the thing that i love about aaron rodgers, that tom brady does not possess, is when the OL breaks down and the play breaks down, i love how mobile he is and how well he can throw on the run passes. IMHO, if rodgers can win a SB this year, he is bound to win one more. His team, if it stays intact, is so stacked its unbelievable. I also love AR'S swagger and how accurate yet powerful his passes are.
Kids got talent.
Rogers is fun to watch, great QB. The problem with the "Steve Young" type QB is Concussions. Steve Young had 7 before he was forced to leave the game, but Ive heard of people getting only 4 and having serious problems. Theres a possibility he might have his career cut short, if he keeps diving in for TD's. Im pretty sure the 2nd concussion happened because the 1st one was not fully healed, usually thats the case.
Hes fun to watch, I hope he has a long career.
Time to make the DOMENuts!!!!
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