Packers' next opponent: Surging Bears bring playoff atmosphere to Lambeau Field
The Green Bay Packers open the first of three consecutive NFC North games this weekend at Lambeau Field by hosting the defending division champion Chicago Bears. Thanks to their 10-3 victory at Soldier Field in Week 1, the Packers lead the all-time series 98-95-6.
Basics on the Bears
Head coach and play-caller Matt Nagy turned back the clock against Dallas last Thursday in a 31-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys — meaning he turned quarterback Mitch Trubisky loose in the run game for really the first time all year. Trubisky went 23-for-31 for 244 yards passing with 3 TDs and an interception, but he rushed 10 times for 63 yards and a score. The Bears also ran the ball well with David Montgomery (20 carries, 86 yards).
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 Trubisky. Defensively, the club runs a base 3-4 but changed coordinators from Vic Fangio (now the head coach of the Denver Broncos) to Chuck Pagano.
Straight victories for the Bears, keeping their slim playoff hopes alive.
League rank of the Bears’ scoring defense (17.8 points per game).
League rank of the Bears’ defense.
Rush yards for running back David Montgomery the last two weeks.
Players to watch
David Montgomery, RB
The rookie out of Iowa State was making his NFL debut in Week 1, and the Bears didn’t quite know what to do with him to start the year. But they’ve figured out lately that giving him the ball consistently can be a good thing. He has averaged 4.5 yards per carry the last two weeks on 36 attempts and has balanced out the offense to a degree.
Kevin Pierre-Louis, ILB
Speedy inside linebacker Roquan Smith tore a pectoral muscle against Dallas and is lost for the year, and his immediate backup last week was Pierre-Louis, a fourth-round selection by Seattle in 2014. He’s 6-feet, 231 pounds and finished the game with five total tackles and one for loss. He has played 68 career games for four teams, so even if he’s not as physically gifted as Smith he should know where to be and when.
Anthony Miller, WR
The second-round pick out of Memphis in 2018 had been a disappointment for much of the year, with Nagy calling out his route-running after a loss in Los Angeles. But that lit a fuse, and over the last three weeks the second-year receiver has caught 18 passes on 26 targets for 259 yards and a touchdown. He had a big drop against Dallas, so that is still an issue, but Miller seems to have found chemistry with Trubisky.
Reasons to worry
The confidence of the Bears is high as they head into Lambeau Field, and they will approach the game with a sense of urgency: They must win to stay alive in the playoff chase. Nagy is a creative play-caller and a risk-taker, so he may pull out all the stops on offense and on special teams to score points in what could be a close game. Trubisky started running with the ball again last week and utilized not just the running game, but unheard-of tight ends Jesper Horsted and J.P. Holtz. That could be a recipe for trouble for the Packers' defense.
Defensively, Chicago is down to two backup inside linebackers, potentially a backup corner and even if defensive tackle Akiem Hicks can play — he has been on injured reserve since mid-October — it won’t be for very many snaps. But Pagano’s group is still led by Khalil Mack, and they are allowing less than 18 points per game. They can rush the quarterback and have started turning the ball over again. They can still wreck a game and have kept their woeful offense in every game (6.6 points average margin of defeat).
Reasons to relax
No matter how good the Bears seem to be, or when the Packers play them, Aaron Rodgers (17-5 career record vs. Chicago) will keep the Packers in the game. Though the Packers' offense hasn’t been consistent week-to-week, head coach Matt LaFleur has found ways to exploit matchups early in every game — and there should be some for the picking against the Bears.
The Bears have a winning record, confidence and a real defense — but poor quarterback, tight end and offensive line play have put them in this spot. Trubisky played his best game against Dallas, but the Packers won’t be caught off guard by his run actions — and if he’s forced to diagnose coverages, he’ll be in trouble. Green Bay may not be able to sack him consistently, but they should be able to create pressure and have chances to turn the ball over.
Contact Jim Owczarski at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @JimOwczarski or Facebook at facebook.com/JOwczarski.