Packers' next opponent: Bears present difficult opening test
The Green Bay Packers open up their 101st season of football by traveling to Chicago to take on the Bears at Soldier Field on Thursday night to commemorate the 100th season of play in the National Football League. The Bears are the defending NFC North champions while the Packers have not made the playoffs since 2016. The Packers lead the all-time series 97-95-6.
Basics on the Bears
Matt Nagy opened his first season as Bears head coach in prime time at Lambeau Field and proceeded to pay tribute to founder George Halas by running his first play out of the famed T-formation. It set the tone of the year, as the Bears unveiled a “special” play every week en route to a 12-4 season and a divisional crown. Led by All-Pros Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller, the Bears' defense became the No. 1-ranked scoring unit in football by forcing 36 turnovers.
Nagy runs a version of the old West Coast system as he came up under Kansas City’s Andy Reid, and it is similar to what the Chiefs run (along with Philadelphia, which has former K.C. offensive coordinator Doug Pederson as its head coach). Nagy utilizes motion to create pre-snap mismatches, but he is not afraid to also experiment with different players throwing the ball besides QB Mitch Trubisky. Defensively, the club runs a base 3-4 but has changed coordinators from Vic Fangio to Chuck Pagano. Pagano hasn’t called a defense since 2011 in Baltimore and reports out of Chicago’s training camp had him being a little more aggressive than Fangio with blitz packages.
Career yards per rush Bears rookie running back David Montgomery had for Iowa State. Drafted in the third round, Montgomery is expected to give the Bears’ running game an explosive lift.
Defensive touchdowns scored by the Bears last season (5 interceptions, 1 fumble).
Interceptions Trubisky threw last season in 434 attempts. Only the New York Jets’ Sam Darnold (14, 414), Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston (14, 378) and Arizona’s Josh Rosen (14, 393) threw more in fewer passes.
Players to watch
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR/KR/RB
Patterson was an under-the-radar acquisition for the Bears, but the two-time All-Pro remains one of the most dangerous kick returners in football. While he never quite put it all together as a wide receiver when he was in Minnesota, he still has that ability — and New England deployed him as a huge (6-2, 238) option at tailback. Expect to see him all over the field and in unique situations.
Roquan Smith, ILB
The No. 8 overall pick in 2018 held out almost all of training camp a year ago and was just finding his footing in limited snaps against the Packers in Week 1. Then, in the Bears’ Week 15 victory, he made 10 tackles and broke up two passes. He’s poised for a big second-year leap and he could be doing everything from chasing down Aaron Jones to Aaron Rodgers.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S
The Bears signed the former Packers first-rounder on a one-year “prove it” deal and Clinton-Dix feels he’s a good match next to All-Pro safety Eddie Jackson. But Clinton-Dix was pushed in camp by fourth-year player Deon Bush. It will be interesting to see how Clinton-Dix is used in coverage and/or run support and if the Packers look to take advantage of what they know about him.
Reasons to worry
There are a few. First, the entirety of the Packers' new offense under first-year, first-time head coach Matt LaFleur has not played any real football together yet. There will be inevitable growing pains. LaFleur is also in just his second year calling plays, let alone managing a game for the first time in a loud, hostile environment. How all that comes together is a total mystery.
The Bears, on the other hand, are entering the second year of Nagy’s system. They were just the No. 21-ranked unit in football last year but they return pretty much the entirety of the No. 3 defense — and now linebackers Mack and Smith have had an entire training camp to work together and get in shape.
Reasons to relax
Rodgers just seems to have the Bears’ number. No matter how each team is constructed or what their final record ends up being, Rodgers has kept the Packers either on top — or competitive — against his rivals to the south since 2008. He’s 16-5 as a starter with a 105.9 rating. And for as the bad as the Packers were in 2018, they still only lost 24-17 in Chicago last December and had a chance to send the game to overtime late.
The Packers' defense has also shown improvement through camp with all of the upgrades general manager Brian Gutekunst provided defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Nagy and the Bears used an efficient first-down offense to combat Pettine's scheme in their last meeting (Trubisky completed 71% of his passes and had a 120.4 rating), but Pettine has a younger, bigger and faster group to help create pressure and cover the Bears' quick receivers.