Last year, the Packers struggled to close games, and while it’s unfair to put the blame solely on quarterback Aaron Rodgers, his play certainly didn’t help the situation.
Rodgers has looked very impressive in the preseason and comes into this season healthy. He’s got a big arm and everyone has said he learned a lot from his team’s rough season last year.
His progress in the offseason has been overshadowed by other QB stories in the NFC North (Favre and Cutler), but do not be surprised if he puts up MVP-like numbers.
The Pack has decent weapons at every level of the offense. Ryan Grant is a slashing back who runs out into the flat well, meaning he eats up yardage from check-down passes. But he has yet to put an entire season together. He’s usually very productive every other week, so look for him to try to get off to a fast start early.
Greg Jennings is their go-to guy at the receiver position. Jennings averaged 16 yards per reception last season. He’s not a very big guy, so jamming him on the line should disrupt his timing and limit his catches.
Veteran wideout Donald Driver flanks Jennings. Entering his 11th season, he doesn’t have the zip in his step he used to, but he’s a smart player who’s seen the Bears enough to know the holes in their defense.
The Packers' defense is looking to bounce back from their down season last year and has the talent to do so. A strong secondary anchored by a couple of physical corners, who garner their share of interference and illegal contact penalties, will do everything they can to disrupt Jay Cutler's timing with his new receivers.
Their linebackers are an experienced group who have had to learn a new system this offseason. The reports out of training camp and preseason lead me to believe they’ve progressed to the new defense just fine.
Players to Watch
Garret Wolfe and/or Adrian Peterson: One of these guys will have to step up and share the work load with Matt Forte. Whoever it is should be good for eight carries and around 30 yards. According to the Bears' depth chart, it looks like Wolfe is getting the nod. If that’s the case, he should be great for screen passes and use his speed to run around tacklers.
Orlando Pace: This will be a big test to see if the veteran still has some gas in the tank. Pace should be getting a hearty dose of Aaron Kampman and zone blitzes from the Packers' new 3-4 defense. In the preseason, Pace struggled against speed, so here’s to hoping he can keep up with some of the Packers' younger lineman and backers.
Devin Hester: There isn’t a more physical secondary in the league and Hester will have to deal with being their number-one priority all game. Al Harris and Charles Woodson will undoubtedly be in the Bears' receivers' faces off the line every snap.
Key to the Game
Pass Protection: Picking up the pressure of the Packers new defensive scheme will dictate the pace of the entire game. The backfield will have to be extra aware of where the pressure is coming from to help Cutler make the throws he needs to. He’s displayed a natural ability to avoid pressure, but hopefully he won’t have to avoid too much this Sunday.
For the second year in a row, the Bears open on prime time. The NFL missed out on having this matchup take place overseas but I can’t think of a better way to kick off the season.