The Bears (0-1) travel to Green Bay (1-0) to continue the NFL's oldest rivalry. The Bears are still smarting after a turnover and penalty-plagued 20-16 defeat to Detroit at Soldier Field. The Packers return for their home opener, coming off a convincing 24-14 Monday night victory over last year's NFC Champion Carolina Panthers. The term "rivalry" is only loosely used in the sense of this contest, since the Packers have dominated over the last 10 seasons, boasting an 18-2 record. Let's take a closer look at the injuries, and their impact on the matchups.
Green Bay lost one of their stout run stuffers when defensive tackle Grady Jackson suffered a knee injury (dislocated kneecap) on Monday night. James Lee will take his place, and it will be a big loss against the run. Interior lineman Kenny Peterson has a nicked up ankle and wasn't active for last week's game, so he's not likely an option. Olin Kreutz stands to benefit from the falling back in depth. Cornerback Mike McKenzie returns this week after holding out through the preseason because of a contract dispute. McKenzie is an excellent cover corner, and his addition is a boost to Green Bay's defensive backfield. The only questions that remain will relate to the kind of football shape he is in, and how much of a distraction it might be to work him into the lineup for the regulars. Michael Hawthorne played well in his spot on Monday against the Panthers. Hawthorne is a valuable player who can offer help at both cornerback and safety, and is an important player in their sub packages. The Packers will be very thin at linebacker if Hannibal Navies' shoulder injury is worse than expected, since Paris Lenon isn't at full strength and Torrance Marshall still is at least a week away from being ready.
The Bears' offense is relatively healthy, and although guard Mike Gandy finished last week's contest limping badly, he isn't listed on the injury report. If Gandy does have issues, either Steve Edwards or Terrence Metcalf will take over at right guard. Edwards played very well at guard last year, while Metcalf has had trouble staying healthy whenever he has challenged for the position. Metcalf has had trouble blocking on field goals, especially last week and last year against the Lions. Whoever lines up in that spot is likely to see a good dose of Cletidus Hunt, who can be a bit of mercurial player at defensive tackle. When he's on his game, there aren't many better.
Green Bay likes to create blocking mismatches by blitzing off the edge and from different positions. It means extra responsibility for whichever lineman is not covered, and also for the running backs to protect. Rex Grossman will have the responsibility to recognize where he doesn't have the numbers from a protection standpoint, and in those cases adjust his reads in kind with his receivers. Of course this means the receivers need to also be aware of this. It all comes back to communication and experience. The Bears have little experience in this offense, and communication could be at a premium playing on the road in Green Bay's home opener. To be effective, the Bears will need to keep Green Bay off balance by using screens and draws, and picking their spots to go deep. In the latter cases, the order of the day should call for maximum protection. If they draw single coverage as a result of the blitz, the height advantages of David Terrell and Justin Gage could become a key factor.
R.W. McQuarters and Brian Urlacher looked relatively sound on their injured hamstrings last week. McQuarters' health is especially important because the regular starter Jerry Azumah is likely to miss about half of the season following neck surgery. Additionally, McQuarters is an electric punt returner. He added a sore ankle after Sunday's contest and didn't practice on Wednesday. The situation could become dire if something happens to Charles Tillman, the other starter at cornerback. Tillman reported a sore shoulder after last week's game but isn't listed on the report.
The Bears' secondary will be facing an especially tough challenge. Donald Driver, Robert Ferguson, and Javon Walker are a strong trio, and when combined with the talented and savvy Brett Favre they can be lethal. Marcus Reese is still out with an injured hamstring, so Joe Odom will continue at the strong side linebacker position. Odom will have his hands full with Bubba Franks, William Henderson, and Nick Luchey. He had a calf injury late in camp, and may not be completely healthy, as evidenced by his play in the opener. Reese was initially listed as out for the game. He returned to practice on Wednesday and should see his status upgraded soon. Backup running back Najeh Davenport injured his hamstring Monday, although it's not considered a severe pull.
The Packers enjoy running the ball off tackle with lead blocking coming from the backside guard, fullback, or tight end in motion. It's not a particularly fast developing play, but it's very effective when blocked correctly. Under the previous regime, it would be incumbent upon the Bears' defensive ends to hold down the point of attack. Under the new scheme, they will be called upon to penetrate and disrupt, while the inside players will also need to get a big push up the middle. This penetration will stack bodies both in the backfield (by rerouting the pulling guard) and at the point of attack (the lead blockers). Rookie Tommie Harris will clearly be tested. Brett Favre is by no means easy to sack, but the Bears will have their chances. Adewale Ogunleye and the Bears' defensive ends will need to quickly discern pass or run and generate the pressure needed to prevent Favre from performing aerial surgery on the secondary. Additionally, they'll need to rotate bodies on the line as in the first game, because the Packers pounded on the Panthers on Monday to the tune of 47 carries for 152 yards, dominating time of possession at roughly 38 minutes to 22.