MATCHUPS TO WATCH: BEARS ON OFFENSE
TE Greg Olsen vs. LB Brandon Chillar
For all the talk of the tight end not being a mainstay in a Mike Martz-coached offense, it was Olsen who turned in the big offensive play against Dallas. Tall, athletic and smart, Olsen is one of the premier talents at his position. Expect Chillar, with his superior coverage skills, to take a lot of snaps from A.J. Hawk to keep Olsen in check.
OTs Frank Omiyale and Kevin Shaffer vs. LB Clay Matthews
Bears fans thought they were doomed last week against the Cowboys when they saw how much pressure was being put on Jay Cutler in the first series, and then those thoughts went from bad to worse when left tackle Chris Williams left the game early with a hamstring pull. But lo and behold, after offensive line coach Mike Tice inserted Shaffer into the lineup and, a series later, moved Omiyale from right to left tackle, and all of a sudden Cutler had time in the pocket to put together perhaps his best game in a Bears uniform. If the much-maligned Omiyale can keep DeMarcus Ware of the Cowboys at bay, perhaps he can do the same with Matthews, although Shaffer will no doubt see him on the other side of the formation, too.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: BEARS ON DEFENSE
DE Julius Peppers vs. LT Bryan Bulaga
The first-round pick out of Iowa makes his starting debut – assuming Chad Clifton's achy knees aren't vastly improved by Monday night – against one of the premier defensive linemen in the game. Peppers has one sack this year, which knocked the Lions' Matthew Stafford out for at least a couple games, and has reached double figures in five of the last six seasons. The Packers' history is not using an extra blocker to chip or double team, so it'll be up to Bulaga to keep Aaron Rodgers' blind side safe.
LB Pisa Tinoisamoa and SS Danieal Manning vs. TE Jermichael Finley
The Packers have one of the better duos at receiver in the league with Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, plus Jordy Nelson and James Jones are pretty good off the bench, but Finley is a physical freak and could be on the verge of his breakout campaign. In Chicago's base 4-3, we'll find out if Tinoisamoa is truly healthy after last year's knee trouble, as he'll be matched up with Finley on passing plays a bunch, and then Manning will have the honors more often than not in the nickel package. While the Bears haven't given up a lot of big plays in the passing game so far, except for Calvin Johnson's non-catch in Week 1, of course, Rodgers is the kind of quarterback that doesn't mind nickel-and-diming teams to death with short- and intermediate-range throws, which could mean a healthy dose of Finley.
TE Jermichael Finley
THE PACKERS WIN IF...
... their defense matches up well against the Bears offense. Green Bay's secondary and pass rush dominated last year's two matchups against Chicago. The Packers' pass rush had no trouble getting to Kevin Kolb/Michael Vick and Trent Edwards in the last two games, and the Bears' penchant for seven-step drops should play to Green Bay's advantage.
THE BEARS WIN IF...
... they finally get their running game going, dominate time of possession and keep Rodgers and Co. off the field. I haven't been bashful with my prediction that Rodgers will be the MVP of the league in 2010, so the Monsters of the Midway need to see if their tailback team of Matt Forte and Chester Taylor is ready to do more than catch passes out of the backfield. Forte averaged only 2.9 yards per carry in each of the first two games, and his troubles in short-yardage situations are well documented, so it's time for him and Taylor to step it up a notch with this physical ground attack we've heard so much about since Martz arrived.
THE PACKERS LOSE IF...
... they can't run the ball, because if you can't run the ball, you become one-dimensional and predictable. The Packers won both games against Chicago last year, but it had nothing to do with the high-powered offense. Lovie Smith wouldn't acknowledge it in the conference call, but the Bears defense seems to have a pretty good handle on the Packers' attack.
THE BEARS LOSE IF...
... their front four can't generate consistent pressure on Rodgers to get the ball out of his hand quickly. Like Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo the week before, Rodgers is nimble in the pocket, knows how to extend a play and will look to throw before he looks to run, which puts all kinds of pressure on a Chicago secondary that is still leaky at best. Dallas had some serious skill-position talent at its disposal, but Green Bay's is just as good and perhaps even better, so don't be fooled into thinking that D.J. Moore getting two fluke interceptions means the defensive backfield can handle the likes of Driver, Jennings, Nelson, Jones and Finley all night.
Bill Huber: The big question comes down to pass protection, because I don't think either team can run the ball against the opposing defense. Can the Bears protect Jay Cutler from an explosive Packers pass rush? And can the Packers protect Aaron Rodgers well enough to take advantage of his numerous pass-catching weapons? Advantage, Green Bay. ... PACKERS 24, BEARS 20.
John Crist: You have to be impressed by what the Bears did down in Dallas, even if the Cowboys are always overhyped and may turn out to be a shell of the Super Bowl contender all the experts made them out to be before the season started. That being said, the Packers are overdue for a big game offensively since they were inconsistent against both Philadelphia and Buffalo, and it could come at Chicago's expense. The race for the NFC North still has a long way to go, but I see the cheeseheads taking the early lead in the division. ... PACKERS 23, BEARS 20.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.