Behind Enemy Lines: Part I

Our experts, John Crist of Bear Report and Bill Huber of Packer Report, go Behind Enemy Lines for an analysis of Sunday's Week-1 matchup between the Bears and Packers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Let's start off this three-part series with five questions from John to Bill.

John Crist: If the preseason is any indication, Aaron Rodgers is going to have a monster campaign throwing the football, especially with all the weapons he has at his disposal. Rodgers was pretty good last year, but for some reason he had problems in the fourth quarter. Why should we expect 2009 to be any different?

Bill Huber: Well, the easy answer is just him being more experienced. That goes without saying. I think the big thing, though, is the start of the games more than the end of games. Last year, the Packers scored all of 13 points on their opening drives the entire season.

It's only the preseason, so you hate to read too much into it, but the Packers' No. 1 offense was replaced by the punter only once in four games. Some help from the defense and special teams, which ruined a couple of Rodgers' fourth-quarter rallies last season, will help swing the ledger, too.

JC: Ryan Grant has been one of the better backs in the league for stretches over the course of his career, but he's also looked awfully ordinary from time to time. I know he had the contract holdout and the hamstring injury this past season, so is this the year he puts it all together and makes a Pro Bowl run?

RB Ryan Grant
Getty Images: Christian Petersen

BH: Of course, that all starts with the offensive line. They have three new faces in the starting lineup: center Jason Spitz, the former right guard; Josh Sitton at right guard; and Allen Barbre at right tackle. How that inexperienced right side plays will determine the offense's fate this year.

Now, can Grant make defenders miss and run away from people like he did in 2007? I've never seen a running back work harder in practice. Whether he's "tackled" for no gain or a 10-yard gain, Grant still sprints 40 or 50 yards every time he gets the ball. That hard work seemed to be paying off in the preseason.

JC: There's no need to mention Green Bay's wide receivers since everybody knows how good they are. I want to know about the tight end position. Donald Lee was a decent player, but I guess he's been unseated as the starter by Jermichael Finley this season. What exactly does Finley bring to the table that Lee doesn't?

BH: Lee is a good tight end. Finley has the potential to be a dominant one. He's 6-5, can run, can jump and has superb hands. Finley was thrown the ball nine times in the preseason. He came away with nine receptions. He's just the tight end that offensive coordinators dream about. With his ability to break loose on crossing routes or get deep up the seam, it's going to be really hard for defensive coordinators to double cover Greg Jennings on the deep routes.

Finley seems to have his head on straight, unlike last year. He'll be as good as he wants to be.

JC: While he's always been billed around the league as a team player, Aaron Kampman apparently piped up once or twice that he wasn't crazy about moving from end to outside linebacker in the Packers' new 3-4 scheme. How is the transition coming along on defense, and is everybody on the same page now?

LB Aaron Kampman
Getty Images: Christian Petersen

BH: It's not that Kampman piped up. It's that he clammed up. Kampman's always been one of the most forthcoming players on the team, so his silence was translated to unhappiness. Kampman says he never was unhappy and that he just didn't feel comfortable with all of the focus of the scheme change being put on him. Whatever, it's water under the bridge now.

That the No. 1 defense looked so dominant during the preseason is a testament to the teaching acumen of new coordinator Dom Capers and his assistants. Will Kampman be beaten in coverage on occasion? Yes. But it's up to Capers to minimize those instances but keep the defense unpredictable.

JC: The NFC North's strength of schedule is skewed lower because Detroit was 0-16 last season, but I believe the division has improved tremendously. As a matter of fact, I could see Chicago, Green Bay and Minnesota all winning double-digit games and making a playoff run. Do you see it that way?

BH: Well, I think a lot of that depends on Detroit. If the Lions have improved, maybe they win a division game or two. That might make it hard for all three to make it, but it's certainly possible.

The Vikings obviously were good without Brett Favre. The Bears obviously were pretty good without Jay Cutler. The Packers seem a lot better with Capers. Getting the ghastly NFC West served up certainly will help boost the win totals. However it works out, it's definitely going to be a three-horse race in the North.

To read Part II of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where John answers five questions from Bill, Click Here.

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