This early in the season, it is difficult to label a game as must-win, but this game toes that line. Riding the momentum of a 41-31 stomp over the Indianapolis Colts, the Bears have an opportunity to not only start their season 2-0, but they can also jump to a two-game lead over their NFC North rivals.
To keep that from happening, the Packers must bring their best game in all areas of the field and get over their Week 1 sluggishness and inconsistencies.
Here is a breakdown of what the Packers need to do position-by-position to come away with a crucial win over the Bears.
Aaron Rodgers struggled against the San Francisco 49ers’ physical defense. He seemed out of sync with his receivers and often appeared to be uncomfortable in the pocket, particularly as the game wore on and the team abandoned the running game.
Rodgers did manage to come away from that game with 303 yards and a pair of touchdowns matched with an interception, but the bulk of his numbers came in the fourth quarter as the team largely abandoned the running game and turned to the air to stage a comeback.
Although the Bears boast a physical defense of their own, this is a challenge that should be much more familiar to Rodgers. He has been quite successful at picking apart Lovie Smith’s Cover 2 defense in the past, as demonstrated by his career 6-2 record against the Bears, and in the past, the Bears have struggled with pressuring him.
If the Aaron Rodgers that took the field late in the season opener emerges from the start, the Packers should have no problem putting points on the board. He must find a way to become comfortable in the pocket, and it is imperative that he shakes off the last of the offseason dust.
His success is perhaps the biggest key to this upcoming game.
The running game against the 49ers may as well have not existed; it was that ineffective. In the end, the Packers abandoned the ground game in favor of airing it out, which in turn put undue pressure on Rogers.
It’s a vicious cycle the Packers must break.
Cedric Benson will hopefully believe he has something to prove in this matchup against one of his former teams, and a chip on his shoulder might be the impetus he needs to break through for some big yardage.
The poor run game isn’t just on Benson’s shoulders though. Smarter play-calling and integrating more runs into the offensive scheme are necessary to get the ground game going. Keeping Benson on the field to do some blocking and represent the threat of a run play could also go a long way.
Using the under-appreciated Randall Cobb or the speedy Alex Green a little more could be a key to help open things up against a defense with a relatively average offensive line.
Whether or not Greg Jennings will play with an injured groin, the Packers receiving corps has some work to do. There were a number of miscues between Aaron Rodgers and his wideouts, which resulted in key incompletions.
Against the Bears, it will be interesting to see whether the reliable Donald Driver will see more time on the field or if Mike McCarthy will turn to the younger Jarrett Boykin.
Running clean routes will be important, but perhaps more imperative will be hanging on to the ball once it is thrown. Achieving yards after the catch, something at which Packers wide receivers excelled in 2011 but failed to accomplish well in Week 1 of this season, will be another big deciding factor in the team’s success.
The offensive line wasn’t exactly terrible in Week 1, but they weren’t outstanding either. Rodgers was clearly uncomfortable in the pocket, and the running game failed to benefit from good holes.
Brian Bulaga and Jeff Saturday were definitely the weakest links on Sunday, which is unacceptable from a pair of veterans. Against the Bears, these two will need to play much cleaner games to help get the offense functioning smoothly again. The whole unit will need to be better about making holes to help the running game.
The Packers defensive line still has a lot of kinks to work out, and with the short week, it’s not looking hopeful that they’ll manage to do much more than hold steady where they are. It doesn’t help that many of the key figures are battling nagging injuries that are keeping them from individually achieving peak performance.
The result is a porous defensive line that isn’t doing its job. It didn’t seem to matter what type of play the 49ers wanted to design; whether they wanted to run or pass, the Packers defensive line seemed sluggish, confused and easily pushed around.
We can hope for improved play, but expecting a unit that’s firing on all cylinders seems unrealistic.
Against the Bears, B.J. Raji will need to continue to be the best force he can be while grappling with a bad ankle, and Ryan Pickett will have to regain his composure and get himself re-situated in spite of his recent return from a calf injury.
The defensive line also needs backups Philip Merling and Jerel Worthy to play much better football if they are called upon either individually or as a tandem to replace the injured C.J. Wilson.
Thanks to first-round draft pick Nick Perry, Clay Matthews was able to return to his original spot at outside linebacker. He celebrated with three sacks, but his effort was not enough to make Alex Smith truly uncomfortable in the pocket.
Perry did a good job for his first NFL experience, but overall, he wasn’t successful at pressuring the quarterback. Getting Perry more comfortable handling the speed of the NFL might take a little bit more time, but consistent play should be good enough to let Matthews make Jay Cutler uncomfortable.
If Perry can find some explosiveness to contribute, he could be a big game-changer.
The Packers were exposed by a 49ers offense that had made some substantial offseason adjustments and was underrated by many going into the game.
The Bears offense has also been revitalized through offseason adjustments, an achievement that they trumpeted in their stomp over the Colts. The Packers secondary was notoriously weak last season, and a week into the 2012 season, it appears that they still haven’t found the answers to their woes.
Against a Bears offense featuring potent receiving threats Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jefferey, the secondary is going to have to sort out their struggles. This isn’t the same team that has brought relatively weak wide receivers into the mix in the past; this is an all-new Bears squad that is prepared to battle it out with the Green Bay secondary.
Good tackling and sticking with coverage will be key for the Packers secondary to succeed. More importantly, Jarrett Bush and Sam Shields will need to be more comfortable in their respective roles, and Charles Woodson will need to be a dominant playmaker on the field. Coming up with the season’s first turnover could be a key game-changer.
Special teams was an unexpected bright spot for the Packers on Sunday, with Randall Cobb returning a punt for a somewhat-questionable 75-yard touchdown. Tim Masthay was in a groove. Mason Crosby was reliable in securing touchbacks.
Against the Bears and the ever-dangerous Devin Hester, the Packers don’t necessarily need another special-teams touchdown, but they do need to clean up sloppy tackling that wasn’t always flagged properly in Week 1. They will also need to keep securing good yardage on returns as much as possible to avoid pinning their offense deep.