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Key Matchups

Week 15 Key Matchups: Bears at Packers

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When the Bears travel to Green Bay to take on the Packers Sunday, keep an eye on these three matchups:

Bears LB Leonard Floyd vs. Packers T Bryan Bulaga

Floyd has record 40 percent of his career sacks against the Packers, dating back to his two-sack performance as a rookie in 2016. He matched that number in the season opener.

Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has spoken well of Floyd's performance this season and hinted that Floyd could continue the trend in Green Bay.

"He did a great job in that first game of finishing plays," said Pagano, "and there have been times where not only him but we have left plays out there. He'd tell you the same thing. There were opportunities. You just have to finish them."

Bulaga, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, has been with the Packers longer than any other player apart from quarterback Aaron Rodgers and kicker Mason Crosby.

Bulaga has missed a significant chunk of time due to injuries, but he's currently on pace to play the second 16-game season of his 10-year career. Overall, the offensive line has been able to keep Rodgers upright at a far better rate this season (2.38 sacks a game) than in the previous two seasons.

That number would look better if Floyd and the Bears hadn't collected five sacks back in September.

Bears T Charles Leno Jr. vs. Packers LB Za'Darius Smith

The Packers brought in two outside linebackers in the offseason, Smith and (unrelated) Preston Smith. Both have already recorded double-digit career highs in sacks.

Za'Darius Smith has a knack for pushing past blockers, utilizing the same sort of a size-strength combination that Khalil Mack uses, though Smith is listed as being a little bigger than Mack.

"He's scary," said offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. "He's playing at a very, very high level. Both the Smiths are deployed in a lot of different ways than they have in the past. That makes it that much more difficult."

The Bears offensive line has played better in recent weeks, giving quarterback Mitchell Trubisky more time to challenge defenses downfield. Leno has played his part by cutting down on the penalties that plagued him earlier in the season.

After collecting seven flags in the first five games, Leno has only had one accepted penalty. If he can keep that up, the Bears could be able to string together a few scoring drives that eluded them in Week 1.

LB Nick Kwiatkoski vs. RB Aaron Jones

Jones has emerged as the Packers' feature back this season, showing the ability to take over games. The third-year running back has totaled more than 150 yards from scrimmage four times this year, coming off a performance against the Redskins where he rushed for 138 yards and added 58 through the air.

"I think he's one hell of a running back," said Pagano. "He's good when they hand the ball off to him. He's good in space when they throw it to him. He's a good protector. They have him split out a lot in empty formations. He becomes a matchup issue for you defensively, so you have to have guys that can cover on him."

Five teams, the Bears included, have been able to bottle up Jones and hold him to under 50 all-purpose yards. The key to this go-around will likely be the play of Kwiatkoski.

Before the season began, there was a quiet agreement the Kwiatkoski could be a solid starter on a team that didn't already have Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith manning the middle. In five starts this season, Kwiatkoski has gone a long way to confirm that.

Kwiatkoski has stepped into a leadership role. If Trevathan is unable to return from his arm injury this week, Kwiatkoski will wear the green dot on his helmet, designating him as the player with the headset connected to the booth.

While Kwiatkoski has dispelled worries about his pass coverage, his strength remains stopping the run.

"I think his best trait is probably the way he plays the game," said inside linebackers coach Mark DeLeone. "He plays the game of football the right way. You talk about what you want your linebacker to play like: he's downhill every single play. He's got great eyes, great instincts."

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