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NFL: 5 Key Matchups for the Packers and Bears

Brad KurtzbergContributor ISeptember 9, 2016

NFL: 5 Key Matchups for the Packers and Bears

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    The Packers and Bears meet for the 185th time Thursday night at Lambeau Field to renew the NFL's oldest and one of its most intense rivalries.

    The Packers come in 0-1 after being outplayed Sunday in their season opener against the 49ers. Meanwhile, the Bears are 1-0 after defeating the Indianapolis Colts 41-21 in Chicago.

    These two teams are both considered favorites to make the playoffs this season. The Pack has their backs against the wall after their opening-week loss and don't want to start the season 0-2.

    Here is a look at five key matchups to look for on Thursday night.

5. Can the Packers Run the Ball Effectively and Limit Chicago's Rushing Attack

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    It would be surprising for the Packers to out-gain the Bears on the ground on Thursday, but they do have to make the comparison respectable.

    The 49ers and Frank Gore ran the ball very easily against the Pack and Green Bay has to improve its run defense against Matt Forte and the Bears.

    With the addition of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery to the Chicago receiving corps, the Bears will be less dependent on Forte's rushing to move the chains. Still, the Pack needs to hold Forte in check, preferably below 100 yards for the game.

    Meanwhile, the Packers' running game was almost completely shut down by San Francisco on Sunday, although the Niners do have one of the best rushing defenses in the league.

    Cedric Benson doesn't have to explode against Chicago, but he does have to run well enough to keep the Bears defense honest and occasionally move the chains. If Aaron Rodgers leads the Packers in rushing again, it will be tough for the Pack to win the game.

4. Can Clay Matthews and Company Put Pressure on Jay Cutler

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    Jay Cutler is a different quarterback when he has time to throw. The Bears' signal-caller can pick most defenses apart with his strong and accurate passes when given time.

    But as Packer fans well know, when Cutler is consistently pressured, his accuracy suffers, he can become flustered and will often throw interceptions at key times.

    The good news for Green Bay is that the Bears' offensive line is the weak link in its offense. The bad news is that under new offensive coordinator Mike Tice, the Bears are reducing the seven-step drops that they used so often under Mike Martz the past two seasons and going to more short passes with quick releases.

    Clay Matthews remains the Packers best pass-rusher and he did have 2.5 sacks in the season opener against San Francisco. Still, the Packers were unable to get consistent pressure on Alex Smith.

    Matthews should have a big edge against Bears OT J'Marcus Webb. Matthews has not been overly productive against Chicago recently, picking up only 1.5 sacks in the last five meetings between the two teams.

    Green Bay will have Erik Walden back in the lineup to help generate some pass rush. Walden was suspended by the league for Week 1 after being arrested in a domestic dispute last November.

    Some more pressure from the Pack's top two rookies, Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy, would also be a big help.

    The Packers need to get in Cutler's face early and keep him from getting comfortable in the pocket. If they rattle him, their chances of winning the game go up dramatically.

3. Jermichael Finley vs. the Bears' Safeties

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    Packers tight end Jermichael Finley had great success against the Bears, catching 10 balls for 105 yards and four touchdowns in two games against Chicago last season.

    Finley creates mismatches against opposing defensive backs with his size and against linebackers with his speed.

    Green Bay may be without Greg Jennings, their top wide receiver, which will make Finley's performance even more important.

    The University of Texas alum got off to a good start last Sunday, making seven catches for 47 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers.

    Finley is looking to cut down on his drops, which were an issue last season. He had one key drop on a third-down play last Sunday that would have kept the chains moving in the fourth quarter while the Packers were trying to get back into the game.

    In addition to Finley, the Pack will need Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Donald Driver to step up if Jennings is unable to play.

    Luckily, the Chicago secondary is the Bears' weakest link on defense which the deep Green Bay receiving corps will look to exploit. The Bears may be without CB Charles Tillman, their best cover corner, who injured his leg last week against the Colts. Even if Tillman plays, he may not be close to 100 percent and the Packers will look to create mismatches.

2. The Packers' Offensive Line Must Contain Julius Peppers and Bears' Pass Rush

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    While Aaron Rodgers has the ability to avoid trouble better than Jay Cutler does, it remains important for the Packers to give their quarterback enough time to throw the ball downfield.

    Last week against the 49ers, Rodgers was under consistent pressure and averaged less than seven yards per attempt, more than two yards less than he averaged in his MVP season a year ago.

    If the Pack is going to exploit the Bears' weak secondary, they need time to allow their receivers to get open and run longer pass patterns.

    That means Marshall Newhouse has to at least contain Bears' DE Julius Peppers and Jeff Saturday and the Packers' starting guards need to help contain DT Henry Melton who had two sacks against the Colts last week.

1. Tramon Williams Must Limit Brandon Marshall

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    In 2010 when the Packers won the Super Bowl, CB Tramon Williams looked like he was developing into one of the league's better cover corners.

    Last season, Williams suffered nerve damage in his shoulder and struggled all season both in coverage and taking the proper angles to make tackles.

    The Packers need Williams to return to his 2010 form or at least close to it. The results against the 49ers were mixed at best.

    Williams will face the Bears newest weapon, WR Brandon Marshall who has a significant size advantage over Williams.

    If the Pack can keep Marshall from making big plays down the field and force Cutler to try to score on long, eight-to-10 play, 80-yard drives, they increase the likelihood that Cutler will make a mistake and turn the ball over.

    If Cutler hits Marshall and/or rookie Alshon Jeffery deep consistently, it could be a long night for the Packers' secondary.

Prediction

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    It won't be easy, but the Packers will find a way to win this game. When it gets down to crunch time, Aaron Rodgers is a better quarterback than Jay Cutler.

     

    Final Score: Packers 34, Bears 31

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