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Hub Arkush: Rodgers is back, but is he ready?

Published: Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

Reports from late last week were that Aaron Rodgers was never close to being medically cleared for the Packers’ game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

On Tuesday of this week, Rodgers did not receive medical clearance to play and Wednesday, according to the Packers’ official injury report, he was limited in practice.

On Thursday, he was announced as Green Bay’s starter Sunday afternoon against the Bears.

We’re talking about the best quarterback in the game today and one of the best ever. With A-Rod at the wheel, the Packers are capable of beating you with the pass or the run, and Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Jarrett Boykin and perhaps even Andrew Quarless all become weapons you have to scheme for.

If Randall Cobb is a late addition off the injured reserve list, Rodgers becomes even more dangerous.

But all of that assumes Rodgers is 100 percent, there is no rust for him to scrape off and he stays healthy for 60 minutes.

Is he ready, or is this akin to the Bears rushing Jay Cutler back for the Lions game?

The Packers are top five or top 10 in almost every offensive category regardless of who the quarterback is, except avoiding interceptions and allowing quarterback sacks.

Those gaudy stats are inclusive of the seven games (2-4-1) Rodgers has missed since getting hurt against the Bears. Underrating the players around him is a huge mistake.  

As for the interception and sacks issue, Rodgers has thrown four interceptions and been sacked 18 times in 251 attempts. Matt Flynn, Scott Tolzein and Seneca Wallace have thrown 10 interceptions and been sacked 24 times in 280 attempts.

The story of this game may very well turn out to be the Bears’ 32nd-ranked run defense vs. Eddie Lacy and James Starks.

With Flynn at QB, the Bears would have packed seven, eight or even nine in the box. Lacy is dynamic at getting to the second level but not a huge threat to outrun anyone in the secondary or go all the way.

With A-Rod playing, the Bears cannot afford to stack the box, and Lacy and Starks become that much more dangerous.

Defensively, the Packers have been a huge disappointment this year. After their best outing of the year against Atlanta in Lambeau Field three weeks ago, Dallas and Pittsburgh have scorched them the past two weeks. They had no answers for the Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell last week, and Matt Forte should have a big day.

B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett have been ineffective up front, and the loss of Johnny Jolly for the season with a neck injury has been huge, as he was playing the best football of his career.

With linebacker Clay Matthews out after reinjuring his thumb, rookie Andy Mulumba and converted defensive end Mike Neal will get most of his reps, and they and Nick Perry will be expected to provide pressure on Jay Cutler.

A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones at the inside linebacker spots are nowhere near as stout as they need to be against the run.

Tramon Williams and Sam Shields have been inconsistent at best on the corners, making the occasional big play but struggling in coverage often. That matchup with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery is a potentially big edge for the Bears.

Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings are serviceable safeties, but Burnett has failed to make the leap to perennial Pro Bowler the Packers envisioned.

The mistake going into Philadelphia was the perception the Eagles’ defense is as bad as the Bears’, and it never was. Green Bay’s on the other hand just might be.

What this very well could come back to is Cutler’s and Rodgers’ ability to swap paint, and points on offense, and which defense comes up with just a handful of third-down stops to make the difference.

• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at harkush@shawmedia.com.

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