KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural grass
TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
KEYS TO THE GAME:
This rivalry regained some steam as three meetings, including the NFC Championship Game, were decided by seven points or fewer last season. QB Jay Cutler has been sacked once every eight dropbacks, and the Bears have a nightmare scenario this week with RT Frank Omiyale against OLB Clay Matthews. That begs for more of a run focus, but it hasn't been the Bears' prerogative to hand to Matt Forte 20 times. The Packers aren't running much, but when they do RB James Starks has averaged 6.8 yards per carry. Given time, QB Aaron Rodgers can shred zone looks and his mobility causes a conundrum for linebackers dropping into coverage.
The Packers sacked Cutler 11 times in three meetings in 2010. ... Rodgers had 80 rushing yards and two touchdowns in three meetings last season.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Then-rookie halfback James Starks had carry totals of 23, 25, 22 and 11 in the Packers' four playoff games last season.
RB James Starks
Ronald C. Modra/Getty
The latter number that he had as Green Bay's one and only ball carrier in its Super Bowl XLV win over the Pittsburgh Steelers mirrors the moderate touches for Starks after the first two games this season.
Starks, though, has been unfazed by working in a rotation with veteran starter Ryan Grant and has generated a lot more bang for the few bucks that have been tossed his way.
The powerful and slippery Starks ranks second in the league behind Atlanta workhorse Michael Turner for backs with at least 20 carries by averaging a robust 6.8 yards in his 21 rushing attempts.
"I'm fine with the carries that I receive," Starks said. "I try to make the most out of every opportunity I'm given. It's not how many carries you receive. It's what you make of the carries that you get."
Starks all but maximized his nine carries in Sunday's 30-23 win at the Carolina Panthers, churning out 85 yards for an average of 9.4 yards per rush. He had big second-half runs of 40 and 12 yards that led to huge passing touchdowns from Aaron Rodgers as the Packers rallied from an early 13-0 deficit.
Together, Starks and Grant rushed for 110 yards in 15 carries Sunday, giving Green Bay two straight 100-yard games in unconventional style from its committee of backs, which also has included short-yardage fullback John Kuhn.
Head coach/play caller Mike McCarthy will take that type of mass production any day when the carries typically are few and far between in the Packers' pass-heavy offense.
"We're going to be as balanced as the way the game flows," McCarthy said.
Running the football effectively Sunday, when the 2-0 Packers will play the 1-1 Bears in Chicago, could be a must since Rodgers has traditionally not thrown for a lot of yards against their Cover-2 defense.
The Packers struggled in the run game in the teams' two regular-season meetings - Kuhn was Green Bay's leading rusher with 31 yards in its Week 3 loss at Chicago, and Rodgers had a team-high 21 rushing yards in its Week 17 win at Green Bay. Starks, however, came through in the NFC Championship at Chicago with 22 carries for 74 yards, including an early 4-yard touchdown, to help the Packers win 21-14.
Not only have the Bears allowed more sacks than any team in the NFL, they'll face the Packers Sunday with their third different offensive line in as many weeks.
Frank Omiyale will start at right tackle in place of rookie Gabe Carimi, who is out with a partially dislocated knee. In addition, Chris Spencer, a center by trade, figures to start a second straight game at right guard in place of Lance Louis, who is battling back from a sprained ankle in Week 1. Louis was able to practice only on a limited basis on Thursday. Offensive line coach Mike Tice said Louis will play somewhere on Sunday if he's healthy, but that's 50-50 at best.
Still, quarterback Jay Cutler remains calm.
QB Jay Cutler
"We're two games in," he said. "I don't think there's any reason for anybody to hit the panic button. Those guys are going to be fine. They're working fine. They're doing what they have to do. We just have to help them out some."
Cutler said that doesn't mean scaling back the offense.
"We're going to do what we do," he said. "It's not like we're out there busting plays or forgetting stuff. We're just missing one little thing offensively. This takes 11 guys, and if we have one miscue, the thing's going to go up in smoke. I don't think we're going to dial anything back."
The Bears learned last season how important cohesion is on the offensive line. They won't have that until they can line up with the same five up front for a few weeks in a row. Last season, it took nine weeks before the Bears hit on the optimum line combination.
"In an ideal world, you want to get five offensive linemen in their positions as soon as you can and let them grow together," coach Lovie Smith said. "You set your roster up for that."
Omiyale started all 16 games last season, including the final 14 at left tackle for a team that reached the NFC title game. But he was not in the starting lineup when the 2011 season began. Now, he's back at one of the three line positions where he's started games for the Bears over the previous two seasons.
Looking at the glass as half-full, Omiyale has the experience of having started 28 games for the Bears. The glass-half-empty crowd would point out that he never played well enough to become entrenched as a starter at any position, and he had two false start penalties in relief of Carimi last week.
Spencer has started 70 games in the NFL but only four at guard.
"I'm just glad that we had two good options, in Chris and Frank," Smith said. "Now those guys are able to get every (practice) rep and really prepare themselves for a good defense coming in. It's not an ideal world, but that's what we have right now, and we'll make the most of it."
That was the same attitude Omiyale had when he was relegated to a backup role in training camp.
"It was frustrating," Omiyale said. "But decisions were made, and my goal was just to get on board and make sure I made the team and be around for this situation. (Now) it's here, and I want to make the most of it and try to get it done Sunday."
Omiyale will have the daunting task of dealing with Packers Pro Bowl outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who had 13.5 sacks last season, second in the NFC.
LB Clay Matthews
--LB Clay Matthews has yet to practice this week because of a thigh injury the star pass rusher aggravated in the Packers' win at Carolina on Sunday. Matthews, though, participated in the jog-through at the start of Thursday's padded practice. The team's expectations are Matthews will be fine to play Sunday at Chicago.
--CB Charles Woodson has been on the same schedule as Matthews this week, meaning the veteran leader hasn't practiced thus far but did take part in Thursday's jog-through. Woodson aggravated a chronic foot injury in Sunday's game, in which he had two interceptions and a fumble recovery. He also is expected to be OK to play this weekend.
--CB Tramon Williams had limited work for the second straight day, but his participation in padded drills Thursday is encouraging for his availability Sunday. The Pro Bowl player missed the last game because of a shoulder bruise.
--DE Ryan Pickett also practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day. The veteran is optimistic he will play against the Bears after he dropped out of Green Bay's last game in the fourth quarter because of a foot bruise.
--OLB Frank Zombo already has been ruled out for the third straight game, but last year's onetime starter opposite Matthews was getting some side work during practice Thursday. Zombo appears to be close to being cleared for football activity after being out since mid-August with a broken shoulder blade.
--WR Roy Williams (groin) went through a full practice Thursday and is expected to play Sunday after missing last week.
--OG Lance Louis, who has been out since suffering a sprained ankle in the season opener practiced on a limited basis Thursday and, according to line coach Mike Tice, will play somewhere if he is healthy by Sunday, which is probably 50-50 at best.
--C/OG Chris Spencer will start at right guard if Lance Louis isn't back from a sprained ankle.
--OT Frank Omiyale will start at right tackle in place of rookie Gabe Carimi, who suffered a partially dislocated knee last week and is probably out 2-4 weeks.
--S Chris Harris (hamstring) was limited Thursday but hopes to be back by Sunday.
--S Craig Steltz would start at strong safety if Chris Harris is out.
--S Major Wright (head/neck) has a slim chance of playing Sunday but did not practice Thursday.
--WR Earl Bennett (chest) did not practice Thursday and isn't expected to play Sunday.
Bear Report: The only publication exclusively dedicated to your Chicago Bears.