After getting pummeled at home by the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1, the Packers face an entirely different kind of test in Week 2.
The 49ers possess one of the finest overall defenses and one of the most disciplined and balanced offenses of any team in the league. The Bears, on the other hand, feature an explosive offense led by Jay Cutler that can match Aaron Rodgers and his crew touchdown for touchdown.
Neither team showed an ability to stop their opponents' passing games in Week 1, and I fully expect to see Cutler and Rodgers engage in a good, old fashioned shootout at the O.K. Corral (or Lambeau Field, whichever you prefer).
Let's take a look at what the Packers must do on Thursday night to avoid starting out the season 0-2.
Shut Down the Bears' Running Game
The 49ers dominated the time-of-possession battle against the Pack last week, largely due to their ability to run the ball effectively all game long. For the game, the 49ers ended up with six extra minutes of possession—an effective strategy for limiting what Rodgers and his offense could accomplish.
It was the same strategy utilized by the Kansas City Chiefs—the only team to beat the Packers during the regular season in 2011. The Chiefs possessed the ball more than 12 minutes more than the Packers in that contest.
The Bears have as good a one-two punch at the running back position as any team in the NFL with Matt Forte and Michael Bush. The duo combined for 122 yards on 28 carries with three touchdowns against the Indianapolis Colts last week—good for 4.36 yards per carry and a whole lot of time off the clock.
Shutting down these two running backs is absolutely crucial for the Packers in this game for two main reasons:
- It will force the Bears offense into more third-and-long situations, giving the Packers' pass-rushers more opportunities to get to Cutler and force him into mistakes.
- If the Packers don't shut down the running game, the Bears will be able to run a balanced offense, opening up their potent passing game even more.
Protect Aaron Rodgers
The 49ers were able to get pressure on Rodgers in Week 1—something that's not a new trend for the Packers' offensive line. Rodgers was sacked three times, hit five times, ran the ball five times (not by design) and according to Pro Football Focus, he threw the ball away three times.
The Bears have one of the NFL's top pass-rushers and overall defensive ends in Julius Peppers. Additionally, Stephen Paea and Henry Melton (two sacks and three quarterback hits in Week 1) are tough to handle in the middle and Israel Idonije (13 sacks in the past two years) is a capable pass-rusher.
The left side of the line for the Packers, consisting of T.J. Lang and Marshall Newhouse, will be tested as much this week as it was in Week 1. If Peppers and his mates are allowed to wreak havoc in the same way Aldon Smith and the 49ers did last week, it's going to be another frustrating game for Rodgers and his offense.
Better Secondary Play
No disrespect to Alex Smith and the 49ers, but the secondary of the Packers was terrible in Week 1, allowing him to complete 77 percent of his passes, including two touchdowns—one of which was due to blown coverage in the deep middle.
Michael Crabtree was able to get open all game long against the likes of Tramon Williams and Jarrett Bush, and Smith found open receivers all over the field the entire game—Bush being particularly egregious. If this unit doesn't step up against Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and the Bears' wide receivers, Cutler will make what Smith did last week look like child's play.
Charles Woodson can't cover everyone, and if this unit doesn't play with more discipline and teamwork, the Packers will lose.
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