3 things to watch in Packers opener

Weston Hodkiewicz
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Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler faces the Green Bay defense during last November's game at Lambeau Field.

A reformed Cutler

Can Adam Gase save Jay Cutler from himself? The 37-year-old offensive coordinator is the latest coach who will try to steer the Bears quarterback away from turnovers. Cutler, 32, never has posted a passer rating higher than 90 in any of his nine NFL seasons. Comparatively, Aaron Rodgers has registered a passer rating under 100 only once in his seven seasons as a starter. Cutler’s propensity for turnovers — 24 in 15 games last season — has been a perfect marriage for Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, whose zone-blitz scheme preys on an opposing quarterback’s mistakes. Cutler has been a tease because of his athleticism and ability to make all the throws. He just hasn’t been able to limit the mistakes. His 67.1 passer rating against the Packers looms large in the series. That won’t cut it against Rodgers, who has a 109.8 rating in 14 games against the Bears. Chicago is stressing ball security with Cutler, who didn’t throw an interception in 33 preseason attempts. “He's done a good job in the preseason of getting the ball out of his hands quick,” Capers said. “A lot of high percentage passes, and I think you combine that, I think they've made a commitment to running the football. … I think what they've done with Cutler, it's been a quick-rhythm passing game. He hasn't held the ball for a long time.”

Shouldering the load

Green Bay Packers receiver Randall Cobb looks on from the sidelines after getting injured during last month's preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lambeau Field.

Randall Cobb won’t be 100 percent against the Bears, but fully intends to play through the sprained AC joint in his right shoulder, which he hurt against Philadelphia two weeks ago. He was limited in the two practices open to the media this week. Chicago’s new defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio, hopes to fare better against the fifth-year receiver than his predecessors. The Packers are 7-0 against the Bears in games Cobb has played, and he has registered 23 catches for 410 yards and five touchdowns. His 48-yard touchdown in the 2013 winner-take-all showdown for the NFC North title was backbreaking for the Bears in the 33-28 loss. Chicago’s secondary is thin with 2014 first-round pick Kyle Fuller and veteran Alan Ball taking over the perimeter posts once held down by Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, but it could be sixth-year veteran Sherrick McManis taking on Cobb in the slot. The special-team stalwart hadn’t played nickel cornerback until this summer, but has impressed the Bears with his quickness and ball skills. Cobb is a matchup nightmare for most defenses and James Jones’ return should allow him to do what he does best in the middle of the field. Cobb doesn’t have his full range of motion yet, but said the pain is tolerable. Fangio expects a fully capable Cobb. “He’s a really good runner after the catch,” Fangio said. “He’s really quick. He’s a good route runner. The quarterback has a lot of comfort with him throwing him the ball and he’s a dynamic player.”

Green Bay Packers defensive lineman B.J. Raji works on his rush technique during training camp.

On the run

The Packers feel like their run defense is in a good place after languishing for most of last season, giving up a league-high 153.6 rushing yards per game at the bye week. Matthews and Sam Barrington helped halve that average during the second half of the season. The Packers still finished 23rd in the category. Expectations are the run defense should improve with B.J. Raji returning from his torn right biceps muscle, but the maturation of second-year lineman Mike Pennel could be even more essential. Pennel, a 6-foot-4, 332-pound behemoth, was the Packers’ most disruptive lineman in the preseason. He’s listed as the starter ahead of third-year lineman Josh Boyd in the base defense with Letroy Guion serving his three-game suspension. Still, the Packers will need all five of their active defensive linemen to survive this early stretch with dates against Chicago’s Matt Forte, Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch and Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles. Forte had been a pain in the defense’s side before the Packers limited him to 54 yards on 17 carries in November’s 55-14 win at Lambeau Field. “I think we’ll find out early,” Raji said on whether the run defense will improve. “Ultimately, one game is one game, but I think this will be a good test for us, a good challenge. A great back like Forte and a scheme that does enough to keep you honest. It’ll be a good challenge.”

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