The Chicago Bears today face off against the team's oldest rival, the Green Bay Packers. The rivalry began in 1921 and has existed through 182 regular- and post-season games. The Bears currently lead the series 92–84–6.
This afternoon's contest marks the 183rd time the two teams have squared off. They faced each other three times last season, with the Packers winning the last two, including the NFC Championship game en route to a Super Bowl championship.
The Packers have picked up where they left off last season and are 2-0 so far. The Bears are 1-1 and have faced two of the best teams in the NFC and now must play arguably the best team in the league. A win today will put the team at 2-1 and lay a solid foundation for the rest of the season. A loss would not be devastating but would make the challenge of earning a playoff spot much more difficult, especially considering how good the Detroit Lions have looked through the first two weeks.
The Packers have ruled out three players: LB Frank Zombo, DE Mike Neal and S Nick Collins. Neal and Zombo are quality players but both are replaceable. Collins, on the other hand, is a three-time All-Pro. He'll be replaced at free safety by Charlie Peprah, a career journeyman. Green Bay has nine other players listed on the injury report, including LB Clay Matthews and CB Charles Woodson, but all are expected to play.
The Bears are also dealing with a number of injuries. The team has ruled out T Gabe Carimi and WR Earl Bennett. Listed as questionable are RB Marion Barber, WR Roy Williams, S Chris Harris, G Lance Louis and S Major Wright. All five players practiced on Friday though, which means there's a good chance they'll play.
Keys to the Game
QB Aaron Rodgers
Ronald C. Modra/Getty
-The Packers' offense is led by arguably the best quarterback in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers. Like Drew Brees last week, if Rogers is allowed time in the pocket, he will dissect Chicago's defense. He has a strong arm, makes very good decisions and is as accurate as they come. Without pressure, the Bears don't stand a chance. The Packers are strong at center and along the right side of the line but there are question marks on the left side. LG T.J. Lang has started just five games in his career and LT Chad Clifton is 35-years-old and is dealing with a set of awful knees.
From left side, DE Julius Peppers must make his presence felt early and often. He should be able to win one-on-one matchups with Clifton the majority of the time. If the Packers choose to double-team Peppers, Israel Idonije must take advantage of his one-on-one battles against RT Bryan Bulaga. Also, defensive tackles Henry Melton and Amobi Okoye – both of whom were non-existent against New Orleans – have to penetrate up the middle. The worst thing this defense can do is allow Rogers the time and space to step into his throws. Collapsing the pocket is absolutely critical.
-If the front four cannot get pressure by themselves, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli needs to have his blitz packages ready. Yet if they are the same boilerplate blitzes the team has been using for years now, Rogers will eat them up. Blitzes need to be hidden at the line of scrimmage. Delays should be used as well, forcing Green Bay's offensive line to lockup on Chicago's front four before an extra player comes crashing in. Whatever it takes to confuse Rogers, the Bears should be willing to do it.
Watch for D.J. Moore on the blitz. He's easily the team's best blitzer from the secondary and applies pressure seemingly every time he rushes. Moving him around and hiding him from the offense could create a number of opportunities for him to make plays. Rodgers may be as good as they get but defenses can still rattle him with constant pressure.
-Rodgers likes to use TE Jermichael Finley as his safety net, especially against the blitz. Finley is an extremely athletic tight end, similar to the Saints' Jimmy Graham, who lit up Chicago's defense to the tune of six catches for 79 yards last week. LB Brian Urlacher needs to pay close attention to Finley and not allow him to carve up the defense in the middle of the field. If Finley has success up the seams, things will open up for the receivers on the outside.
-The Packers receiving corps include one of the game's best, Greg Jennings. The Pro-Bowl wideout is in his prime and is as tough of a one-on-one matchup as there is in the game. He can beat teams on the short and intermediate routes but can also burn them deep. CB Charles Tillman will have his hands full shadowing Jennings, as it's doubtful Chicago will roll coverage his way, considering the numerous other passing options at Green Bay's disposal. Jennings will get his but limiting the impact of his catches is crucial. He can be a force after the catch, which means tackling in the secondary must be on point.
-WR Jordy Nelson has been on fire so far this year. He has more yards than Jennings on fewer targets, and has the same number of touchdowns. He works out of the slot and cannot be forgotten. If both Wright and Harris cannot play, the starting safeties will be Brandon Meriweather and Craig Steltz. Keeping all the receivers, including Nelson, in front of them will be key. Big pass plays could potentially crush their confidence, as it did last week when Brees hit Devery Henderson for a 79-yard TD on a 3rd down and 12.
-RB James Starks is Green Bay's biggest threat in the run game. He shares carries with Ryan Grant, who can be a homerun hitter when given space. But Starks can create his own space with his downhill running style. The Bears' front seven needs to make sure neither player is able to build confidence during the course of the contest.
TE Kellen Davis
-The Saints brought the blitz early and often last week and it worked like a charm. Expect Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers to follow that blueprint. Green Bay runs a 3-4 and hides their blitzes well. If the Bears' offensive line – which will feature backup Frank Omiyale at right tackle and possibly Chris Spencer, a lifelong center, at right guard – again has issues picking up the blitz, it will turn into a nightmare for QB Jay Cutler. Clay Matthews will be supplying the bulk of the pressure. If Omiyale can somehow hold his own against Matthews, it will go a long way toward easing pressure off Cutler. And don't forget about Charles Woodson, who can be an extremely disruptive force as a blitzer as well.
-The Bears may have to keep in more backs and tight ends to support the offensive line but that should not include TE Kellen Davis, who showed last week he's a liability in pass protection. Davis instead needs to be utilized as a hot route to counter those blitzes. His size (6-7, 270) makes him the perfect over-the-top target for Cutler when he's under pressure.
-Don't expect RB Matt Forte to receive just two second-half carries like he did last week. Everyone in and around the organization knows that Forte is by far the most-potent weapon on the offense. Don't be surprised if the Packers go to great lengths to slow him down as a runner but it's his value in the passing game that must be utilized. Expect the Bears to run a number of screens and dump-offs to Forte to get him into open space, where he's been deadly.
-In the run game, the offense must account for two players: NT B.J. Raji and LB Desmond Bishop. Raji is a space eater that can clog lanes in the middle, while Bishop is a hard hitter who's been playing with purpose this year, leading the team in tackles. If the offense can get these two blocked consistently, there should be room to run.
-One of the big questions for the offense is will any receiver step up? Last week, Chicago's wideouts were lined up one-on-one for the majority of the game, yet they could not take advantage of it and win the individual matchups. The Packers have a banged up secondary that just lost their Pro Bowl safety. The receivers need to take advantage of this and create targets for Cutler. If Roy Williams is able to play, I expect Cutler to look his way often, as Williams is the only receive with enough size to get after the jump balls. If he can't go, Devin Hester, Johnny Knox and Dane Sanzenbacher must do a better job of beating the jam, creating separation and looking in the ball. If they can do that, the Bears have a shot.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.