CHICAGO — Life is funny sometimes. One moment the sky is falling, 14 weeks later and everything is falling into place. Yes that is a very specific length of time. It happens to be the exact length of time since the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers shared the field. Funny.
Bears fans surely remember that game; opening night at Lambeau Field. The Bears started the season with a bang, going up by 20 on their most hated rival. They even managed to knock out Aaron Rodgers…almost. Rodgers came back to throw three second half scores on the way to an improbable victory. One that apparently has stuck with more than just fans.
Kyle Fuller remembers. So does Akiem Hicks, who also took exception to remarks Rodgers made about going to “Chicago, a place we’ve won a number of times, beat them…”. Hicks responded in no uncertain terms the he is “excited for Aaron to come down here…”. Chicago is coming off a huge primetime win over the NFC leading Rams, who were held to 214 yards for 6 points on two field goals. It was an inspired performance to say the least; one the Bears will look to replicate this weekend. They will have to do so without impressive slot corner, Bryce Callahan, who was diagnosed with a broken foot.
Green Bay (5-7-1) is in unfamiliar territory. Having fired their head coach and his top assistant, most teams would play out the string. They would take this time to evaluate the young talent on the roster. Most teams, however, do not have Aaron Charles Rodgers at quarterback. He alone allows the Packers to develop their young defense – Clay Matthews and Tramon Williams are the only current starters over 27 – to learn on the job as the offense does the heavy lifting. Add the rejuvenated ground attack led by Aaron Jones and these Packers pose a bigger threat than their record would indicate.
The Packers will probably look to get the ball out of Rodgers’ hands quickly with short passes. Slants to Davante Adams are always a good idea, but they might be inclined to target the Bears fill-in slot corner, Sherrick McManus. That could mean lots of Randall Cobb and yards after the catch. It is a tactic that has worked against the Bears this season; the Packers among the teams to exploit it. They should also look to establish a ground game to keep the potentially-explosive Bears offense on the sidelines. That is easier said than done.
For Chicago, the game plan should be similar to last week. Smother the Packers offense. That means shutting down Jones out of the backfield; like they did Gurley. It means getting after Rodgers so he cannot just sit in the pocket, but it also means containment. Rodgers is a master at extending the play, a characteristic certainly not lost on the Bears. The front seven got to Jared Goff early and often Sunday night. This time around they will have a much taller task.
The hope is that a game and two full weeks of practice gets Bears quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky, back on track. He was awful against Los Angeles and was luck to get bailed out repeatedly by his defense. Trubisky has struggled with accuracy throughout the season, but he had been trending upward in that regard as he built chemistry with his pass catchers. He gets a feisty Green Bay secondary that is physical and fast, but also young and burnable. The Bears would do well to lean on Jordan Howard and the rediscovered run game; the less Rodgers has the ball the better.
Clearly there is no love lost between these two teams. The Packers have tormented the Bears and their fans for years. This meeting, however, is different. This time around it is the Bears perched at the top of the NFC North and gearing up for their first postseason appearance since 2010. On the other side of this role reversal, the Packers are fighting for their playoff lives and needing help to do it.
Could there be a better setup for the 198th meeting between these two historic franchises? The bully trying to maintain their dominance versus the young upstart with a lot to prove. The season started with heartbreak in Chicago and another campfire tale in Green Bay. This week it could end with a Chicago playoff berth and long trip back to Wisconsin for the Packers. Not exactly the stakes expected after opening night. Again, funny.