Let’s all take a second, please, and rejoice together: football is back. Not only is it back, Week 1 promises an exciting slate of games, one of which is none other than a matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. This will be the first installment of my weekly series in which I breakdown the Packers’ opponent each weekend, and I couldn’t pick a better place to start than in Chicago.
Hopefully, you don’t need me to tell you about the Packers and Bears storied rivalry, one of the greatest in all of professional sports. Every time the two teams meet, excitement and trash talking permeate both Wisconsin and Illinois. It’s a game both fan groups mark on their calendars, for different reasons. Since Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler have taken over as the starting quarterbacks for their respective teams, it’s been a relatively one-sided affair. Rodgers is 11-3 against the Bears, with a 31:8 TD:INT ratio on a 69% completion percentage. Cutler, meanwhile, is an ugly 1-10 against Green Bay, with a 14:21 TD:INT ratio while sporting a 57% completion percentage.
Needless to say, Packers fans are probably feeling a little better than Bears fans heading into Sunday’s tilt. So much so in fact, that Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy declared they were going to “kick Chicago’s ass” this weekend. All ass kicking aside, let’s take a look at two of the key match ups and issues that could decide who comes out on top Sunday.
Can the Bears’ defense slow down Rodgers, Lacy and company?
Probably not. The Bears, once known for their aggressive and suffocating defense, trudged to a 5-11 record last season. Although many Chicago faithful would love to point the finger at Jay Cutler, most of the blame should be laid on the Bears’ awful defense. They were especially bad defending the pass, ranking in the bottom five in the league in passing yards and touchdowns given up.
Although Jordy Nelson won’t be taking any snaps this year, Rodgers should be able to feast on this secondary. In 2014, he burned Chicago to the tune of 617 yards and 10 (!) touchdowns across two games. It’s unfair to think that Rodgers throws for another five touchdowns on Sunday, but with Randall Cobb slated to play, things should be business as usual for the Packers offense.
The Bears were actually more towards the middle of the pack defending the run last year, and they managed to do a decent job containing Lacy as well. He only managed 98 yards on 31 carries, good for about 3.1 YPC. Going against the Packers well-balanced offensive attack, it’s really a matter of picking your poison between Lacy and Rodgers. If the Bears can slow Lacy down again, then they should be able to hang around. Then again, we all know how that strategy worked out last year.
The one wrinkle in all of this is that the Bears are hoping they have a much improved coaching staff they can throw into battle. Out is offensive guru Marc Trestman, and in is the more defensive minded John Fox to control the reigns. Fox enjoyed plenty of success in previous stints with Carolina and Denver, leading the Panthers to the Super Bowl (with Jake Delhomme, no less) and winning the AFC West four consecutive years in Denver along with the Super Bowl XLVIII loss to the Seahawks. He is a disciplined guy who often earns the respect of his players and who has years of both regular season and playoff experience.
Fox notably brought in Vic Fangio to be his defensive coordinator, another defensive mind with a history of success. Among other stints, Fangio spent the last four years as the DC in San Francisco, where he lead a top-ten defense each of his four seasons there. His presence and scheme alone should help the Bears defense earn back some credibility.
The most important part of this matchup on Sunday will be the amount of pressure the Bears can generate up front. If they sit back in coverage, Rodgers will pick them apart. Fangio has had plenty of success sending blitzes at quarterbacks, but he also had All-Pro players in his scheme in San Francisco. There’s talent here, but it’s significantly worse, and it will be up to Fangio to get creative. One player to watch here is Jared Allen, who is past his prime but still capable of giving offensive lines headaches, and his transition to a 3-4 will be important to Chicago’s success this year.
Will Chicago’s offense be healthy enough to compete?
No, this section will not be dedicated to Cutler and his, to put it nicely, lack of success against the Packers. Unfortunately, the Bears wide receiving core has been ravaged by injuries. After trading stud receiver Brandon Marshall in the offseason, the Bears brought in rookie standout Kevin White to pair alongside Alshon Jeffery. White has to have surgery for a stress fracture in his leg, and he will likely miss most if not all of the season. Jeffery, an elite receiver in his own right, is dealing with a calf issue and is currently marked as questionable heading into Sunday.
In an underrated move, the Bears brought in Cutler’s former Denver teammate Eddie Royal to man the slot this year. He too is questionable for Sunday with a hip issue, though Fox feels good about him playing. Marquess Wilson is in line to be the third wideout, and he too is listed as questionable for week one, this time with a hamstring injury. Even if Royal and Wilson suit up on Sunday (a big if), losing Jeffrey means the Bears will need to drastically change their game plan to attack the Packers’ defense.
That leaves Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett as Cutler’s main weapons. Forte has continually found holes in the Packers’ defense over the years, and even at 29 he’s still one of the best running backs in the league. The behemoth Bennett stands at 6’7” and presents matchup problems as well, but if Jeffrey is out the Packers will be able to focus on him and Forte in the passing game.
Bottom line, there might not have been enough fire power here originally for the Bears to keep up with Rodgers, and the task is mounting with all of their injuries.
Final Prediction: Green Bay 38, Chicago 20