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Packers rely on patchwork line

GREEN BAY, Wis. — With Aaron Rodgers trying to help the Green Bay Packers secure a No. 1 playoff seed against a sputtering Chicago Bears team missing its two best offensive players, the NFL’s most storied rivalry is looking pretty lopsided these days.

Going into tonight’s matchup at Lambeau Field, the Packers can clinch home-field advantage in the NFC with a win, with the added bonus of knocking their rivals out of the playoffs and beating them for the fourth — yes, fourth — time in 2011.

The Packers might have lost their shot at a perfect season at Kansas City on Dec. 18, but they probably won’t need a perfect performance to beat a team that has turned to Josh McCown at quarterback.

Green Bay does have one major concern, though: Can an offensive line depleted by injuries keep Rodgers from taking too many hits from a still-dangerous Bears defensive line?

Rodgers conceded that the Packers may have to adjust their offense to compensate for a reshuffled line.

“Depending on who’s playing where, you might have to tweak a few things because those guys are used to playing in certain spots,” Rodgers said. “If they have to move around a little bit, it’s going to take getting used to.

“We feel confident about the guys we’re going to line up, and there’s an expectation they’re going to play and play well. But you’ve got to be smart with the personnel you’ve got as well.”

Kansas City got good pressure on Rodgers, including four sacks, and the Bears hope to do the same.

“We’re lucky we’re athletic up front,” linebacker Brian Urlacher said. “We’ve got some guys who can rush the passer with four, which has helped us quite a bit. And we’re pretty athletic in the back end as well, so we run around. But there’s really not a whole lot you can do against him. He’s going to make his plays. Hopefully we can make some as well.”

The Packers could be without their top three offensive tackles after injuries to starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga and backup Derek Sherrod. Bulaga sprained his left knee and has been ruled out for today, while Sherrod broke his right leg and is out for the season.

Veteran left tackle Chad Clifton returned to practice this week, but it’s not clear when he’ll be ready to play. Clifton hurt his hamstring in the Packers’ victory at Atlanta on Oct. 9, then hurt his back during the rehabilitation process.

The Packers could play Marshall Newhouse at left tackle, Evan Dietrich-Smith at left guard, Scott Wells at center, Josh Sitton at right guard and T.J. Lang at right tackle. In that scenario, Wells and Sitton would be the only starters playing their natural positions.

Even before losing Bulaga and Sherrod, the Packers allowed too much pressure on Rodgers the past few weeks. Rodgers has been sacked seven times in the past two games and taken several other big hits.

“Obviously, everybody knows the sacks and the hits, problems that we’ve had the past few weeks,” Lang said. “It’s never good to watch a quarterback get hit as many times as he’s getting hit. We’ve got some guys moving around. That’s not an excuse for us. Our mentality is, whoever’s playing, your No. 1 job is to protect the ball carrier, protect the quarterback.”

Packers receivers also struggled to make up for the absence of Greg Jennings, who has a left knee sprain and is expected to return for the playoffs. But Urlacher said Rodgers’ play can cover up a lot of other issues for the Packers’ offense.

“No. 12’s still playing quarterback, so that’s all that matters in that offense,” Urlacher said. “He gets rid of the football so fast and knows where to go with the ball. It may be a little bit of a weakness for them, but he’s still playing quarterback for them, so they’re still dangerous.”

But even if the Bears deliver a typically good performance on defense, they still might struggle to score without their two most critical players on offense, quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte.

 

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