Packers must be tough on Bears

The Green Bay Packers enter Sunday's season opener as underdogs to the Chicago Bears. In order to be the alpha dogs at the end of the game, the young Packers will have to play smash-mouth football against a highly-ranked Bears defense, says PackerReport.com's Matt Tevsh.

On paper, it would seem the Packers offense has little chance to move the ball against the Bears defense when both teams open the regular season against each other this Sunday. The matchup really is no contest.

The Packers will start three rookies (wide receiver Greg Jennings and guards Jason Spitz and Tony Moll) on offense and will have a rookie head coach and rookie offensive coordinator calling the plays. They also have a starting running back, Ahman Green, who everyone wants to write-off and will employ a new offensive system in which they have yet to find a comfort zone.

On the other hand, the Bears have all 11 starters back from a defense that was statistically second best in the league in 2005. They have a head coach, Lovie Smith, who runs a defensive scheme that appears to have Brett Favre's number. Oh, yeah, the Bears are also favored to win the NFC North while the Packers are not expected by many to do much of anything.

Packers' fans would not want to believe the situation is as dire as described above, but it certainly appears that way. Does the offense have any chance at all? Toughness may provide the answer.

At least two of the shrinking number of Packers' veterans indicated as much on Wednesday after preparing in practice for the Bears "Cover 2" defense. The scheme has given the Packers problems in the past, but can be beat with a simple attitude and approach.

"Hit them in the mouth," summarized tight end Bubba Franks. "Their defense is designed… they have a lot of speed on their defense. As long as they have guys in the right spots, it's hard to beat them. But if you can move a guy out of his spot, then you can gash them. So it will all be about hitting them right in the mouth."

Franks and his backup, David Martin, have seen plenty of the "Cover 2" over their respective careers, and with a more active role in a new offense, they will be counted on heavily to "move guys out of their spots."

"We need to just attack them," said Martin. "Don't try to do anything fancy to beat them or anything like that. Just run at them and attack them."

While the Packers offense has improved athletically this off-season, it needs to take more of a power against speed approach on Sunday. The Bears can match them athletically, so there is no advantage there.

The Packers offense is, self-admittedly, still trying to find its personality. Such uncertainty could lead to problems in Week 1.

"We're not quite established on what we hang our hat on. We'd better figure it out pretty quickly," said Favre. "But I like Mike's (McCarthy) thoughts. We go back a ways. We talked a lot this off-season and during camp about what we would like to do. Of course, it all sounds good on paper and looking at it on film, but it all is based on how we protect and how we run the football."

For the season opener, the Packers offense need not worry about something to hang their hat on just yet. It just needs to take the approach that the 1980's Packers under Forrest Gregg did when they were repeated underdogs against the Bears for a span of several years. They could not match the Bears in talent back then, but by matching their intensity, they kept the games competitive.

The same rings true this season for the matchup of the Packers offense and Bears defense. Maybe that is why McCarthy had Donald Driver address his young team this week to try to get the point across that this game is a special one.

Being effective against the Bears defense will not just be about execution, it will be more about winning an individual battle, finding success in making a good block, or breaking a tackle for extra yardage. The Packers can find an edge in those areas.

Normally toughness is a trait associated with defense, but the Packers were pretty tough on offense in 2003 under Mike Sherman when they dominated teams with the run to set up the pass. That year's offense had toughness about it, starting with the offensive line, which forced the coaching staff to change the overall personality of the unit. They veered from more of a true West Coast system to a gap-scheme running, play-action pass philosophy and smashed several offensive team records. They used the U-71 package and brought back the I-formation to the backfield. Though opposing teams knew what was coming, they could not stop it. The Packers had confidence on offense and it showed.

Just as the first offensive drive can set the tone for a game, the first game can set the tone for a season. The Packers will encounter their share of mistakes with so many new and young players in the mix this year, but their attitude can carry an entire season.

The zone-blocking scheme and West Coast version that the Packers offense will employ this year have historically been viewed as finesse systems, but exhibiting a degree of toughness will lead a young team to becoming better in the long run. Confidence built up over time has a way of filtering to other areas that may be deficient.

Think back to Thompson's hiring of McCarthy in January and the reason he was chosen over the others who were interviewed. Thompson said he liked that "Pittsburgh macho stuff" McCarthy brought based on McCarthy's personal background. Above all other criteria, it was his perceived toughness that got him the job. It was his separating quality. The Packers offense will need to find some of that toughness to beat the Bears defense on Sunday because other indicators do not show much hope.


Matt Tevsh

Editor's note: Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com.


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