Bears vs. Packers: 10 Keys to the Game for Green Bay
To make sure they don't find themselves behind by two games, the Packers will have to beat the Bears in their nationally televised Thursday night matchup with the Bears.
It's not going to be easy. During Sunday's loss, the Packers showed they have a lot of things to get better at. Here are 10 things that will be in their game plan for the Bears.
Get Better Play from the Secondary
The secondary may have been the Packers' most disappointing positional unit in their season-opening loss to the 49ers on Sunday.
Outside of Charles Woodson's blitzes, the safeties were particularly disappointing. Nickel safety M.D. Jennings was benched midway through the game after making a weak tackle attempt on Frank Gore and after not being in position to defend against Randy Moss's 14-yard touchdown reception.
Morgan Burnett is becoming the king of finger pointing, such as he did on Moss's touchdown but also couldn't tackle Gore himself on Gore's 23-yard touchdown run.
And Charles Woodson had a costly pass-interference penalty that capped an underwhelming day from safeties.
At cornerback, Jarrett Bush had a pass-interference call of his own and gave up a 29-yard reception to tight end Vernon Davis.
Tramon Williams was slightly better, but even he gave up more receptions than a player of his caliber perhaps should.
If the Packers are going to have a better defensive outing against the Bears, improvement must start in the defensive backfield.
Establish the Run
No one expects the Packers to have a dominant ground game. Passing always has been and probably always will be their calling card as long as Aaron Rodgers is behind center.
Even so, Green Bay has to do better than they did against the 49ers when Cedric Benson gained a paltry 18 yards on nine carries.
Rodgers was actually the Packers' leading rusher, and that's never a good sign when the quarterback is leading the team in rushing. At least if your name isn't Michael Vick.
Benson averaged 2.0 yards per carry, which is partially a product of the lack of blocking in front of him. Between Benson and the offensive line in front of him, there needs to be better production on the ground.
As Wes Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette points out via Twitter, every single one of Benson's nine rushes went inside and to the right. Better balance is needed.
More success in the run game will help open up the Packers' play-action attack, but when there's no threat—like against the 49ers—the play action is useless.
Get Continued Solid Play from Marshall Newhouse
There was a lot of attention on Marshall Newhouse coming into the 49ers game. Facing off against the tandem of Justin Smith and Aldon Smith, he had his work cut out for him.
After an injury-plagued as well as an up-and-down preseason, there was legitimate reason for concern. Newhouse, however, held up well and may have had the best performance of his young career.
For the most part, he stone walled the pass-rushing Smith tandem on the 49ers defense, which allowed the Packers' passing game enough time to operate.
The same type of performance is needed from Newhouse on Thursday against the Bears. He'll need to keep Aaron Rodgers off the ground if the Packers are going to operate at peak efficiency.
The job won't get any easier against the Bears either, because Newhouse will frequently be lined up across from Julius Peppers. If Newhouse can stymie Peppers, he'll have really taken a step forward from 2011.
Rookies Need to Step Up
The Packers used their first six draft picks on defense during the 2012 draft to infuse some talent into a unit that was downright poor in 2011.
Through one game this season, none of the rookies has yet to make an impact. Granted, none of the rookies are expected to be Pro Bowlers in their first year in the NFL, but the Packers could really use some solid play out of them.
Nick Perry, who started and played pretty much every down in the season opener, held his own against the 49ers, but the Packers could really use some production out of him.
Jerel Worthy also made his NFL debut and probably played more than originally planned after C.J. Wilson came out of the game with a groin injury. Worthy, however, was mostly invisible.
Jerron McMillian and Dezman Moses also made their defensive debuts this past Sunday, and even though they played sparingly, they failed to make an impression in their limited playing time.
The Packers really need a couple of these players to step up, even if it's only for one shining moment. One sack by Perry or Worthy, or one interception by McMillian would go a long way towards seeing success against the Bears.
Increase the Roles of Sam Shields, Jerron McMillian
The Packers just can't stand put and watch performances like they got from cornerback Jarrett Bush and M.D. Jennings.
Bush had a penalty and gave up a long catch to 49ers tight end Vernon Davis while Jennings made a feeble attempt at a tackle in the ground game and was a non-factor in coverage.
Given the way the defense played last year, not to mention the way they played in the season opener, defensive coordinator Dom Capers has to be proactive and promote Sam Shields and Jerron McMillian.
Shields has proven himself. After being demoted late last season, Shield responded by having an impressive preseason and finally shows he's willing to lay out his body for a tackle.
Even though Bush is a tough tackler, the Packers need Shields' coverage abilities on the field more often than on Sunday when he only played as the nickel cornerback. Shields needs to start, and Bush needs to be relegated to the dime package and special teams only.
The same thing needs to happen at the nickel safety position where McMillian needs to get the nod ahead of Jennings.
Since coming to Green Bay last season, Jennings has not yet made a play in a Packers uniform while McMillian has a higher upside.
Get Consistent Play from Jermichael Finley
The Chicago Bears know just how dangerous Jermichael Finley can be. They found that out last season in the first meeting between the two teams in September of last season when Finley scored three touchdowns.
That game was probably Finley's high-water mark, never being able to come close to that sort of production since. Not that there's ever going to be many times when he scores three touchdowns in a game, but Finley certainly needs to play more consistently.
The Packers tight end did many good things in the season-opening loss to the 49ers by grabbing seven passes and a touchdown. But he also let two costly drops slip through his hands, a problem that dates back to last season.
If Finley can consistently catch the football and be a threat in the middle of the field for the Packers, it's only going to open up things for the rest of the receivers on the team and maybe even the running game as well.
Contain the Bears Return Game
The Bears have arguably the most prolific kick returner in NFL history on their roster in Devin Hester, and they've got another pretty good one in Johnny Knox.
So it was quite curious during the offseason when they went out and signed one-time Pro Bowl return specialist Eric Weems. With that addition, the Bears almost certainly have the best collection of return men the NFL has ever seen.
The Packers are going to have to be wary of Hester and Co. on Thursday, because any one of them is a threat to take a kickoff or a punt to the house.
Monday on CheeseheadTV.com's Railbird Central, long snapper Brett Goode said:
We've been playing the Bears for a long time, and they've always had a good return game, especially…with Hester and all those guys that have been there. It's going to be a tough task, and we just have to go to work and try to contain them the best that we can.
Utilize Randall Cobb but Maintain Balance
There's no doubt that making Randall Cobb a bigger part of the Packers offense this season was a good idea. He's just too talented to be sitting on the sidelines, and he's dynamite with the ball in his hands.
It was also a surprise to see him lined up in the backfield as much as he was on Sunday.
But the Packers have to be careful about the way they use him. According to Adam Caplan of Sirius XM Radio via Twitter, "Packers had 72 offensive snaps vs. 49ers: Driver only had 3. Nelson 69, Jennings 67, Finley 62, James Jones 62, Cobb 38..."
Considering that Cobb led the Packers in receiving with nine receptions despite playing a little more than one-half as many snaps as Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings and Finley, Cobb was targeted quite heavily.
If the Packers continue to target Cobb that often in fewer snaps, opponents are going to pick up on it awfully quick and figure out ways to stop him.
The Packers don't want to make Cobb any less a part of their offense, but they don't want to be unbalanced either. One answer would be to target Cobb early in the game in hopes that it starts opening up the rest of the receiving targets in the Packers offense.
Create a Pass Rush with Others Besides Clay Matthews
With only 28 sacks last season, the Packers were among the worst pass-rushers in the NFL, a stat that's looks even worse when you consider how often their defense was on the field.
So to see Clay Matthews get 2.5 sacks in Week 1 and the team have four sacks overall, it was a step in the right direction.
The problem is, the Packers didn't get much pass-rush production outside of Matthews. The other 1.5 came from Charles Woodson on blitzes. What the Packers really need is some push from the rest of the linebackers on the team or from the defensive line.
That's why the Packers went out and spent early-round draft picks on Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy. They could use some help from the rookies, but they're not the only ones on the hook.
B.J. Raji, D.J. Smith, A.J. Hawk and Phillip Merling all have to do their part too. The return of Erik Walden from his one-week suspension can't hurt.
Match Up Tramon Williams with Brandon Marshall
The Chicago Bears didn't have much firepower at wide receiver during the 2011 season. As good as guys like Devin Hester and Johnny Knox are on special teams, they're just average receivers at best.
Marshall has also been reunited with quarterback Jay Cutler, a former tandem in Denver. And all the two did in Marshall's first regular-season game with Chicago was hook up nine times for 119 yards and a touchdown.
With very few other dynamic receiving threats, the Packers are going to have to line up cornerback Tramon Williams across from Marshall more often than not in attempt to take away Chicago's biggest threat in the passing game.
Williams didn't look the greatest in the first game of 2012, but he's still the Packers' best cornerback and their best bet of limiting Marshall's success.
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