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Protecting Aaron Rodgers will be key for Green Bay in NFC championship game

The Packers must make sure the quarterback, who has suffered concussions, is at his best against the Chicago Bears. Not forcing the run game also will be important for Green Bay.

January 18, 2011|By Sam Farmer

What the Green Bay Packers need to do to defeat the Chicago Bears in Sunday's NFC championship game in Chicago (Noon PST; Channel 11):

Keep No. 12 upright

No quarterback has a hotter hand than Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, who's coming off a close-to-flawless performance at Atlanta. He's had some concussion problems, though, and the Bears sacked him twice in the regular-season finale. As well as backup Matt Flynn played in a near-upset of New England, the Packers need Rodgers at his best to make this final push.

Run, but selectively

Yes, the Packers are running the ball more effectively than they did during the regular season, but they're going against the league's No. 2 rushing defense, and it makes no sense for them to pound their heads against the wall with rookie James Starks. Green Bay views those quick screens and slants as an extension of the running game, and Rodgers frequently checks out of runs to throw those. Packers receivers are very good after the catch.

Soft hands, heads on swivel

Chicago's Jay Cutler has done a better job of avoiding turnovers this season, with 16 interceptions compared with 26 in 2009. But every so often, he will throw the ball directly to a defender. It happened Sunday, but Seattle safety Jordan Babineaux dropped a sure interception at the goal line with 100 yards of open real estate in front of him. The Packers have superb defensive backs, led by top-notch playmaking corners Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams. They aren't likely to let an opportunity slip through their grasp.

Let Clay be Clay

There's no more disruptive defensive player in the league than linebacker Clay Matthews, who has been terrorizing quarterbacks all season. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has done an outstanding job of moving him around and creating the best mismatches, then letting the former USC star carve a path to the quarterback.

After starting the season with consecutive three-sack games, Matthews never got more than 1 1/2 in any subsequent game, but that's largely because opponents commit extra bodies to help slow him. That opens the door for other Packers to make plays up front.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesfarmer

Next: Chicago Bears

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