Beginner's Luck: Ch-ch-ch-changes

Who will have the upper hand on Sunday? Will it be Dom Capers and his attacking and complex defense? Or will it be Jay Cutler and the Bears' revamped offense? Film is scarce as the teams prepare for Sunday night.

It's the matchup within the matchup that makes this season-opening showdown so intriguing. Which unit is ahead in Week 1: Dom Capers and the Packers' new-look defense, or Jay Cutler and the Bears' new-look offense? Will the Bears' offense be prepared for the Packers' defense, with precious little tape to scout? Will the Packers' defense be prepared for Cutler and Co., for the same reason?

From the Packers' perspective, they downplayed the newness factor.

"The reality of playing in the opening game is you have the whole offseason to prepare," coach Mike McCarthy said after Wednesday's practice. "We always spend time in the offseason on our division opponents. We always spend more time on our opener, so we have had plenty of time to research Jay Cutler in Denver. We played there two years ago, so we have some familiarity with him as an individual. I had a chance to watch all of his snaps in the preseason and try to project how they are going to use them in their offense."

The challenge might be different from the Bears' perspective. Even with an elite passer like Cutler, it's hard to believe Chicago coach Lovie Smith is going to deviate much from his core beliefs. He came to Chicago as a defensive-minded coach, which means running the ball and playing field position. So, even with a rocket-armed quarterback, it's hard to imagine the Bears lining up with four wide receivers and throwing the ball over Lambeau Field on Sunday night.

Smith said as much during his conference call with beat writers in Green Bay on Wednesday.

"You have a philosophy that you stay with," Smith said. "Jay knew what our philosophy was and is and will be before he came in, and he's embraced that."

Of course, that could be sandbagging. The Bears didn't give the Broncos two first-round picks, a third-rounder and incumbent quarterback Kyle Orton just to see Cutler hand off the ball 40 times a game.

"We're going to take our shots, there's no doubt about it," Cutler said during a conference call preceding Smith's.

The Packers' defense enters this game with a mountain of confidence, a confidence that's obvious when star cornerback Charles Woodson said: "(Cutler) doesn't really concern me. My concern is just how well we'll play. If we play well, it won't matter."

It's not just that the No. 1 defense allowed only one touchdown in four games. It's that the defense was so solid while unveiling relatively little of Capers' complex, attack-oriented scheme.


Al Harris and the defense have gotten physical.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
"In the preseason, you hold a lot of things back," Woodson said. "You maybe run 10 or 12 defenses. We have a hundred and some defenses. So, there'll be a lot of things that we can pull from the packages that we have and play on Sunday. It'll be fun to go out there and just give it everything we've got."

Cutler is impressed by what he's seen from the Packers, even if it's just a chapter in the novel that is the defensive playbook.

"They're blitzing a lot from different angles and different gaps," Cutler said. "So, it's definitely a challenge. Don't have a lot of film on them, which makes them even harder."

While there might not be much film on these Packers, there's plenty of tape on Capers. Just as Smith's philosophies figure to loom large over the Bears' offense, Capers' tendencies are well-developed in three stints as a defensive coordinator and two runs as a head coach.

While Cutler wouldn't say whether or not he's watched film from Capers' prior stops — Capers was a special assistant to Bill Belichick for New England last season after spending the previous two seasons as Miami's defensive coordinator — it's a good bet the Bears are leaving no stone unturned. Especially since they've had several months to prepare for this game.

"Dom Capers has been a great coach in this league for a long time,' Smith said. "We're familiar with his work. He's new to the Packers, but normally you have a basic philosophy that you believe in and you normally bring it with you wherever you go, and that's the case with Dom. He has a history and we go off of that."

Also working in the Bears' favor is their last two preseason games were against Denver and Cleveland, both of whom run 3-4 defenses. While Broncos defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan run different versions of the 3-4, at least the Bears are familiar with some of the basic premises.

"Well, you're not going to trick anybody in this league," McCarthy said. "It's very common. Every season, when it starts, you're probably going to see 20 to 30 percent of what we refer to as unscouted looks. So, we're in the same boat that Chicago is in. They're going to run plays that we haven't seen them run before and we may run plays that they haven't seen us run before. Conceptually, they'll have something to draw from, no different than we will. I don't see us going down and tricking people in the first couple of the weeks of the season based on us having a new scheme."

That means it's going to boil down to what this rivalry always boils down to: Execution. Blocking. Tackling. Poise. If the Packers' defense fails to execute the scheme, Cutler will carve it apart. If the Bears' offense fails to execute, Woodson and Co. are going to have a pick parade.

"In the end, it will come down to fundamentals," Packers linebacker Aaron Kampman said. "There will be some trick plays here or there, a new formation, but in the end, it will be won with basic stuff."

Or, as McCarthy said: "We're not sitting here counting on fooling Chicago on Sunday night. It's going to come to fundamental football. That's where we're spending our time."


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, 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.


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