Was Green Bay's dominating performance in the preseason a mirage or for real?
If Sunday night's 21-15 victory over the Chicago Bears was any indication, the answer is yes...and no.
Green Bay's new 3-4 defensive scheme under defensive coordinator Dom Capers proved a success as the Packers harassed Jay Cutler all night.
Cullen Jenkins was a beast up the middle for the Packers, who had little productivity from linebacker Nick Barnett and were without first-round draft choice B.J. Raji. No matter because Jenkins, Aaron Kampman, rookie linebacker Clay Matthews, and Brandon Chillar were able to set up camp in the Bears' backfield for most of the night.
Chillar and Jenkins each recorded sacks, and the pressure got to Cutler, who looked uncomfortable when flushed from the pocket. Green Bay picked off the Bears' offseason acquisition four times and could have had more had it not been for consecutive drops by cornerback Tramon Williams.
The third-year player from Louisiana Tech made up for his early drops by intercepting Cutler later in the game, but the first pick of Cutler came from safety Nick Collins late in the first.
Following a Green Bay field goal, Cutler led the Bears on a drive deep into Packers territory, but 320-pound defensive tackle Johnny Jolly made a diving, one-handed pick on a screen attempt to kill the drive.
Green Bay, backed up in its own territory, then allowed a sack of Aaron Rodgers in the end zone for a safety as Danieal Manning came on a corner blitz.
This was Green Bay's biggest problem, allowing pressure on Rodgers, who unlike Cutler maintained his composure and was not intercepted. But the Packers offense never showed the dominance they displayed in the preseason, scoring touchdowns on nine of 13 possessions.
Rodgers went down five times, and the Packers' running game was stifled as Adewale Ogunleye treated Packers tackle Allen Barbre as his whipping boy.
Ogunleye constantly beat Barbre and dropped Rodgers twice, as well as acted as a disruptive force on the Bears' front four. Ogunleye's pressure led to other openings for the Bears defenders.
Using Barbre to replace solid stalwart Mark Tauscher is just another example of the poor personnel decisions made by head coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson.
The poor offensive line play, as well as a pair of drops from Jordy Nelson and Donald Driver, allowed Chicago to remain in a game that Green Bay was completely dominating.
The Packers were only able to convert one of Cutler's three first-half picks into points, and that came when Williams returned an interception to the one. Ryan Grant, who finished with 61 yards on 16 carries, took it in from there.
Another issue that plagued the Packers was penalties, but there were also a couple of really bad calls, and non-calls, that contributed to Green Bay's woes.
An early late hit on Rodgers by Brian Urlacher, who left the game with a dislocated wrist and is done for the season, went unpunished. But that was tame in comparison to a bad holding call that negated a long Grant run and a phantom illegal contact penalty on third down that led to Chicago's go-ahead field goal late in the game.
Al Harris barely shucked Chicago receiver Devin Hester, and Cutler threw an incomplete pass to the opposite side of the field. The grazing contact took place right at the five-yard mark, but in one of the worst calls anyone will ever see from an NFL referee, the flag was thrown and the Bears drive was kept alive.
The Packers didn't fold. Instead Rodgers and McCarthy dialed up a perfect third-and-1 play. With a perfect play-action fake to Grant, Rodgers got the Chicago secondary to bite, leaving Greg Jennings wide open downfield for the 50-yard game-winning score.
Harris then had the last laugh as the Bears took over with a minute remaining and zero timeouts. The Pro Bowl corner stepped in front of a slant route and returned the interception to the 11, where all Green Bay had to do was trot out the offensive victory formation to seal the win.
The four takeaways were a good sign from the new defense, which did allow 352 yards of total offense. Most of those came on two long pass plays, including a 36-yard strike from Cutler to Hester in the third. The Packers contained tailback Matt Forte, who managed just 55 yards on 25 carries and did not catch a single pass.