Who: Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers
When: Noon CT
Where: Soldier Field
Radio: WBBM (780 AM & 105.9 FM)
The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers will square off on Sunday for the 191st time on Sunday. It is the oldest rivalry in the NFL, one in which the Bears hold a slight 93-91-6 advantage. This will be the 32nd time the two clubs have met on opening day, yet this will mark only the third time for the Bears at home. The Bears have a 17-12-2 record in season openers against the Packers: 1-1 at home, 16-11-2 at Green Bay.
The Bears enter Sunday's contest with 54 opening-day victories all-time (54-36-5), the most in NFL history. Chicago's .600 opening-day winning percentage is fourth best in the NFL and second best in the NFC. Green Bay's 52 opening-day victories are second most in NFL history and their .571 winning percentage (52-39-3) is sixth.
The Packers have won 11 out of the last 13 meetings, including two lopsided victories last seson (38-18 in Week 4 and 55-14 in Week 10), as well as the 2010 NFC Championship.
Head Coach Comparison
|John Fox||Mike McCarthy|
Regular Season Record (pct.)
|14th||Years as NFL Head Coach||10th|
|1st||Years as Team's Head Coach||10th|
|2-4||Career vs. Team||13-6*|
*Includes 2010 NFC Championship
|BEARS (NFL RANK)||PACKERS (NFL RANK)|
|19.9 (23rd)||Points Scored||30.4 (1st)|
|327.1 (21st)||Total Offense||386.1 (6th)|
|90.1 (27th)||Rushing Offense||119.8 (11th)|
|237.0 (15th)||Passing Offense||266.3 (6th)|
|27.6 (31st)||Points Allowed||21.8 (T-13th)|
|377.1 (30th)||Total Defense||346.4 (15th)|
|112.7 (17th)||Rushing Defense||119.9 (23rd)|
|264.4 (30th)||Passing Defense||226.4 (10th)|
|-5 (T-22nd)||Turnover Ratio||+14 (1st)|
Bears general manager Ryan Pace was a scouting assistant (2002-03) and pro scout (2004-5) with the Saints while Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was New Orleans' offensvie coordinator (2002-04).
Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was a defensive assistant with the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars of the USFL from 1984-85 when Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers was a defensive backs coach with the Stars. The two would move on to the Saints where Fangio coached the linebackers and Capers oversaw the defensive backs from 1986-91. The coaches would reunite in Carolina (1995-98) and Houston (2002-05) as Capers was the first head coach in each team's history with Fangio as his defensive coordinator.
Bears OLB Sam Acho (illness) and CB Tracy Porter (hamstring) will not play. Receivers Alshon Jeffery (calf), Eddie Royal (hip), Marquess Wilson (hamstring) are questionable, as is LB Jon Bostic (ankle). T Jermon Bushrod (back), QB Jimmy Clausen (concussion) and NT Eddie Goldman (concussion) are probable.
For the Packers, LB Sam Barrington (ankle) and S Morgan Burnett (calf) are quesionable. WR Randall Cobb (shoulder) is probable.
The Cutty Files
Bears QB Jay Cutler is coming off one of the best statistical seasons of his career. Yet most of that was garbage-time production during a 5-11 year that spiraled quickly out of control. He also led the league in total turnovers and was benched by former head coach Marc Trestman in Week 16.
The 31-year-old is now working in his fifth playbook the past seven seasons in Chicago and it's highly unlikely that new offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who has just two years experience as an OC, is going to "fix" Cutler, whose mechanics and decision making last season were arguably the worst of his career.
Or is it?
Cutler is old in NFL years but it's never too late get better, which is what we saw from him this off-season. Cutler did not throw an interception in training camp or the preseason, and never really put the ball in harm's way. Instead, Cutler made wise decisions with the ball and threw it away when nothing materialized. He's got a cannon for an arm but he's always lacked the awareness and mental fortitude to stay consistent on game days. If Gase somehow found a way to take the bonehead out of Cutler's game, who knows what he can accomplish.
Admittedly, Cutler is not in the best positoin to succeed. The offensive line is playing musical chairs while his top three wide receivers are listed as questionable on the injury report. But still, in a well-built, balanced offense, Cutler can succeed. It's when he's asked to play "hero ball" that turnovers typically commense.
If Gase built Chicago's offense with that in mind, then Cutler and the offense have a chance to move the ball on a regular basis. On Sunday, Gase's plan of attack will be revealed and we'll know then, whether good or bad, what we're in store for this season.
Bears on Offense
Matchups to Watch
DE Julius Peppers vs. LT Jermon Bushrod
Peppers could flip sides in this game but he's expected to line up across from Bushrod on most passing downs. Bushrod is listed as probable but his back is not 100 percent. If his injury inhibits his movement, Bushrod is going to struggle to keep Peppers out of the backfield.
"He's still a guy where, we better know where his and understand what his strengths are," Bears head coach John Fox said of Peppers. "He's playing football at a really high level."
This is a crucial matchup because a rough game by Bushrod puts Cutler's health at risk and would force running backs and tight ends to help on the blindside. Yet if Bushrod is stout, Cutler will stay upright and those backs and tight ends will be put to better use.
WR Alshon Jeffery vs. CB Sam Shields
Jeffery was limited in practice the past three days but I expect him to play, although not at 100 percent. Shields will see the most reps against Jeffery in man coverage. Shields has intercepted Cutler in each of the past two seasons, yet he's inconsistent in coverage. Jeffery is four inches taller than Shields, so Chicago's Pro Bowl receiver needs to utilize his height and leaping ability, particularly on deep balls, to take advantage of the smaller defender.
Keys on Offense
-Packers DE Letroy Guion is suspended and NT B.J. Raji hasn't played a snap since 2013, and even then he was struggling against the run. With the injuries to the receivers, Chicago must focus on the run game in this contest to help control the clock and keep Aaron Rodgers off the field. In that effort, they'd be well served to attack Raji and Guion's replacement, Mike Pennel, who will be making his first NFL start.
The key to a consistent rushing attack is to keep the ball away from Mike Daniels, who is one of the league's best run-stopping defense ends. On run calls, the offense must know where Daniels is lined up and then make the correct adjustment to run it away from him.
Committing to Matt Forte and the run game, and repeatedly shoving the football down the throat of the Green Bay defense, is the only way the Bears stand any chance of keeping pace with Green Bay's high-octane passing attack.
-Clay Matthews is a wildcard for the Packers defense. He's been an outside linebacker for most of his career but slid inside during the second half of last season due to injuries. This year, he's expected to play a hybrid role, lining up at both inside and outside linebacker, depending on the situation. What those situations are, though, only Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers could tell you, meaning the Bears must be aware of Matthews' location before each snap.
"He's kind of listed in a bunch of different places but he's a really good football player," said Fox. "I call him a 'joker' because he gets to move around and they put him in different spots. We'll be curious to see what linebacker he actually plays on Sunday."
Moving Matthews around pre-snap could create confusion for Chicago's offensive line, which will feature a brand new starting front five on Sunday. It's a unit that has never played with each other at their current positions, so expect plenty of confusion and lapses in chemistry. Capers knows this, so expect Matthews and his positional flexibility to be the cause of most of that confusion.
-During four-linebacker sets in which Matthews is lined up on the outside, the interior linebackers will be Sam Barrington and Nate Palmer, who have nine career starts between them. They are inexeprienced and can be exploited in coverage.
The Bears must find a ways to get TE Martellus Bennett matched up one-on-one with these linebackers. If they do that on regular basis, Bennett - who is Cutler's healthiest, most-reliable target right now - could match his numbers from Week 4 last season against the Packers (9 catches, 136 yards).
Bears on Defense
Matchups to Watch
CB Sherrick McManis vs. WR Randall Cobb
Cobb is dealing with a shoulder sprain but is probable and expected to play. He led all NFL receivers in cataches (75) and yardage (1,067) out of the slot last season. Even with Jordy Nelson on IR, don't expect the Packers to alter Cobb's usage. That means McManis, the club's Week 1 nickelback, will be tasked with covering Cobb for most of the afternoon. Mcmanis, a core special-teams player, has one career start in five NFL seasons and has never before played nickelback. McManis has size on his side (6-1 compared to Cobb's 5-10) but this is a nearly impossible task for an inexperienced corner. If McManis struggles, Cobb will go off, Aaron Rodgers will a monster day and the Packers offense will roll up a lot of points.
LB Shea McClellin vs. RB Eddie Lacy
The Packers finished 11th in rushing last season and with the injury problems at receiver, expect them to lean even heavier on Lacy and the run game. McClellin and Christian Jones will be starting their first career games as 3-4 inside linebackers and it will be up to them to make sure Lacy doesn't reach the second level. That means making correct reads, fililng correct gaps and getting off blocks, that latter being McClellin's Achilles heel throughout his career. If McClellin and Jones struggle inside, Lacy is going to break off a number of long runs.
Keys on Defense
-Stopping Aaron Rodgers has proved fruitless for the Bears in recent years. Chicago is 1-9 the past 10 games against the Packers, with their only win coming in 2013 when Rodgers was knocked out of the game early. Rodgers is 11-3 in 15 career regular-season starts against the Bears, with 31 TDs, eight interceptions and a 108.6 passer rating in those games. Last year, Rodgers threw 10 TDs and 0 INTs in two games against Chicago.
The best way to limit Rodgers is to pressure him. Excessive blitzing isn't a great idea, as Rodgers is the best QB in the league against opposing blitz packages, so that puts pressure on Chicago's edge rushers to collapse the pocket. Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Pernell McPhee and Willie Young will all rotate at outside linebacker, and they'll be responsible for getting Rodgers off his spot.
The problem is that Green Bay has arguably the best pass-blocking offensive lines in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus, no team in 2014 had a better overall pass-block grade than the Packers' front five. LT Bryan Bulaga and RT David Bakhtiari are very hard to beat one-on-one, so defensive coordintor Vic Fangio needs to get creative with his defensive line stunts and pass-rush packages to have any chance of pressuring Rodgers.
-Alan Ball and Kyle Fuller both struggled during training camp and the preseason. The club's two boundary corners will be tested by the emerging Davante Adams and recently signed James Jones. Rodgers doesn't need Pro Bowl receivers to carve up a defense, so while Adams and Jones aren't elite, they can still hurt Chicago's secondary in a number of ways. Ball and Fuller must be aware and alert in coverage, as Rodgers will pick apart every mistake they make.
-Rookie Adrian Amos has a lot on his plate. In his first NFL start, he'll need to make sure Rodgers doesn't find a deep receiver over the top. That's a tall task for a player who has never played a snap in the regular season. Rodgers is going to have one eye on Amos the entire game and will exploit any mistakes the rookie makes. Amos is being thrown into the fire and it's up to him to avoid being burned.
-Jeremiah Ratliff is suspended and won't play. That puts pressure on rookie NT Eddie Goldman to anchor the defensive line and eat up blockers against Green Bay's rushing attack. If Goldman, as well as defensive ends Ego Ferguson and Jarvis Jenkins, get pushed around in the run game, Lacy will have truck-wide holes through which to run.