Packers-Bears: Getting Together With Old Friends
After all of the games are played Sunday afternoon, there will be one remaining—and it's the oldest rivalry in the NFL.
The storied teams split last year's series, with the Packers routing the Bears at home 37-3, while the Bears escaped with a 20-17 overtime win on a frigid December night at Soldier Field (I should know, I was there).
This year brings with it a lot of questions for both teams.
How will Green Bay adapt to its new 3-4 defensive scheme under new coordinator Dom Capers? How will Jay Cutler do in his new city with less-than-average receivers? Can Aaron Rodgers build on last year, when he threw for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns? Will Cutler's big arm mean more passing from the Bears offense? Will Ryan Grant return to his 2007 form, or was that just an anomaly?
The questions go on, and most will be answered, at least in the short term, Sunday night.
The Packers have been downright dominant in the preseason, with the first-team offense scoring touchdowns on nine of 13 possessions. Both teams went 3-1 in the preseason. The Packers were 3-0 before dropping the backup-filled finale to Tennessee.
The Packers seem to have a slight edge at quarterback, because Cutler is a relative unknown with receivers such as Earl Bennett, Devin Aromashodu, Rashied Davis and rookies Johnny Knox and Juaquin Iglesias. The sixth receiver is Devin Hester, who definitely trumps any return specialist the Packers have.
Where the Packers have a huge edge is at wideout. Rodgers has a plethora of weapons, including Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Jordy Nelson. Jennings just might be emerging as the best player from the 2006 draft.
Add Donald Lee and Jermichael Finley at tight end, and it makes the weapons pool even deeper for Rodgers. The Bears have their own talented tight end in third-year player Greg Olsen. But neither Desmond Clark, Michael Clark, nor Kellen Davis gives Chicago a 1-2 punch at tight end like Lee and Finley.
The running backs belong to Chicago, mainly because Matt Forte can flatout carry the rock. The second-year stud from Tulane ran for 1,238 yards last year to set a new franchise record for rookie tailbacks. Adrian Peterson is a nice change-of-pace back for Chicago.
Green Bay has plenty of runners, but none with the talent of Forte. Grant did eclipse 1,200 yards last year, but averaged less than four yards per carry. If he can get that number back up this year, the Packers will be all right. Spelling him in the backfield will be Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn.
Both teams have solid offensive lines, which they'll need against aggressive defenses. Despite finishing the year 6-10, the Packers led the NFL in defensive touchdowns last season. Where they struggled was in the pass rush, something the new 3-4 scheme is supposed to remedy. Cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Al Harris are two of the best in the business, and safety Nick Collins was a Pro Bowl selection in 2008.
Chicago has another aggressive unit led by linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. If they can control the middle, the Bears can exert their will on pretty much any team. Green Bay's backers are also good with Nick Barnett, A.J Hawk, Brandon Chillar, rookie Clay Matthews, and now Aaron Kampman added to the mix as an outside linebacker.
Kampman led the Packers with 9.5 sacks last season, his first year without registering double-digit sacks since 2005. If the Packers can get some pressure on Cutler, it could be curtains for the Bears.
It's hard to overlook that Green Bay led last year's game in Chicago 14-3 before imploding and handing the game back to Chicago. The Packers were clearly the more talented team last season, and look to be again this year.
Green Bay wins its home opener by beating up on the Bears, 31-13.
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