There are a lot of iconic rivalries in sports in the past and today. Lebron James vs the Warriors, New York Yankees vs Boston Red Socks, Toon Squad vs the Monstars, but when I think of football I think of the Chicago Bears vs the Green Bay Packers. For the 100th anniversary of the NFL chose to have this intense rivalry open up the season on Thursday, September 5th for the first game of the 2019-2020 season.
The Bears and Packers have faced each other in week one three times in the last 10 years. All of the games have been decided by one score. In 2009 the Packers defeated the Bears 21-15, in 2015 Packers beat the Bears 31-23, and just last season the Packers defeated the Bears 24-23. Unfortunately for the Bears, last season’s week one match-up will not be remembered for their smothering defense, Khalil Mack’s dominant game, or even Matt Nagy’s coaching, but rather Aaron Rodgers coming back from what looked like a serious injury and leading a 4th quarter comeback. Some people were disappointed to see this as the opening game, but this game has all the makings to be a nail biter. Here is what to watch for heading into their week one battle:
Aaron Rodgers in a New Offense:
The Packers’ offense has been uncharacteristically inefficient the last few seasons. The offense was often predictable and lacked the big play ability it was known for in the past. For this reason the Packers fired Mike McCarthy midseason and hired new, first time head coach, Matt LaFleur. Matt LaFleur has been under innovated head coaches in the past working with Kyle Shannahon in Atlanta and Sean McVay in Los Angeles. The hope is that he can take advantage of the final years of peak Aaron Rodgers and turn this offense around. Aaron has been excited about the schemes being implemented, but so far this preseason we haven’t seen the first team offense altogether. Week one might be the first time we can see what the new offense will look like.
The Run Game:
One thing Matt LaFleur likes to do is run the ball. In Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Tennessee, Matt Lafleur utilized his running backs throughout the game. He did not just use them to run the ball, but also in screens and to set up play action passes. Look for Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams to play a big role in week one as they try to get the running game set for the rest of the season.
Do the Packers’ Receivers Step up:
The Packers had one of the top receivers in the NFL last season in Davante Adams. He finally broke 1,000 yards for the first time in his career and had 13 touchdowns. Unfortunately, the other receivers on the team did next to nothing. The Packers relied heavily on Davante Adams last season targeting him 169 times which was second in the NFL. Many expected the Packers to target a receiver in free agency or in the draft, but they decided to trust their young receiving corp to improve this coming season. With Geronimo Allison healthy, Marquez Valdes-Scantling gaining Rodgers’ trust, and some standout receivers in camp (Darius Shepherd, healthy Trevor Davis, and Jake Kumerow), the Packers might have one of the deepest wide receiving corps in the NFL. One receiver in particular to watch is MVS. He worked out with Randy Moss this offseason and has improved his practice habits. Rodgers said, “he’s a leader when it comes to practicing the right way. I think he’s done a great job.” He was receiver 2 for the week two preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens so he looks to make an impact this year.
Packers’ New and Improved Defense:
The defensive side of the ball for the Packers was a lot like their offense, underwhelming. The could not pressure the quarterback consistently, and because of that they did not create many turnovers. The Packers were aware of this and added multiple players who can make an impact on day one with the team. The defensive line was strengthened the most with the additions of Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Rashan Gary, and Kingsley Keke. The Packers are hoping this new group can pressure the quarterback which will allow their new additions in the secondary, Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos, to create some turnovers. With Mike Pettine creating different formations, player packages, and having new weapons to play with, the defense could go from one of the worst to one of the top defenses in the league. A match up against a team coached by Matt Nagy will be a good first test. Keep your eye on Za’Darius Smith who has been turning heads all training camp and looks to improve on his double digit sack season last year.
Packers’ Offensive Line:
If you have not caught on to this theme yet, the Packers struggled last season. Do not get me wrong they had some bright spots, but they also had A LOT of areas they needed to improve on. One of those areas was the offensive line. As mentioned in previous articles, the Packers had 10 different linemen take snaps for them last season. Only one player, Corey Linsley, played every snap for them. The Packers signed the dreadlock monster himself Billy Turner (feel free to use that nickname) to solidify their right side of the line. Turner was a solid lineman for the Broncos and has come to the Packers and really impressed Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has said “He’s a big tough dude. Fit in really well. Good athlete. He can move in our system because we’re running off the ball. He’s going to be a big part of what we’re doing up front, because Matt wants to run the ball.” The Packers also finally have depth in 2nd round draft pick Elgton Jenkins and first year player Cole Madison. They will have a tough test week one against an elite Chicago Bears defensive line led by Khalil Mack. Speaking of Khalil Mack. . .
Khalil Mack had one of the most dominant games against the Packers last season. He recorded one interception, one defensive touchdown, one sack, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. He literally covered all of the major defensive stat lines. Mack is someone that has to be watched closely every play because he can single handedly change the course of a game. He is clearly worth the contract he signed just last season after being traded from the Raiders, but is he going to decline with the departure of Vic Fangio? Only time will tell, but he is a dominant player that will provide elite impact for a defense regardless of the coordinator.
Bears Defense Without Vic Fangio:
The Bears had the best defense in the NFL last season. They held opponents to a league best 17.7 points per game, were top three in yards allowed per game with 299.7, and had six defensive touchdowns last season. The Bears are bringing back most of their starters from last season, but lost Adrian Amos to the Packers in free agency, but they replaced him with former Packer and Redskin Haha Clinton-Dix. Looking at their roster you would think that the Bears will continue their success from last season, but they are missing a key person, Vic Fangio. Vic Fangio is one of the best defensive minds in the NFL, and he left the Bears this offseason for his first head coaching gig for the Denver Broncos. With his departure the Bears could easily see a decline in production this coming season. The players play a big role for the success of a team, but as seen with Sean McVay, Todd Phillips, and Pete Carroll, offensive and defensive systems will determine the success of a team. The Bears; defense is a must watch week one to see if they will continue where they left off last season or decline with the departure of the defensive genius Vic Fangio.
Trubisky’s Evolution Under Matt Nagy:
Matt Nagy took over as head coach of the Chicago Bears last season after serving as the offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs. He is known as an offensive minded coach learned under Andy Reid. Last season Mitchell Trubisky improved tremendously under Nagy’s coaching. He started just two more games than in 2017 but went from 12 to 24 touchdowns, 2,193 yards to 3.223 yards, and a quarterback rating of 77.5 to 95.4. Before you comment, yes some of his improvement comes from having experience in the NFL, but Matt Nagy also needs credit. Just like Sean McVay for Jared Goff, Nagy slows down the game for Trubisky and tries to make the game simpler for him. After having two full offseasons and one season under Nagy fans should look to see if Trubisky can make another jump showing he deserved to be taken over quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes or at least in the same category.
The Packers vs the Bears will always be an exciting game. Both games last season were decided by one score. Looking at the teams this year, not much has changed for the Chicago Bears. They lost Jordan Howard, but drafted David Montgomery to balance out their running game. They lost Adrian Amos, but added Clinton-Dix. The Bears overall kept most of the players from last season which led them to win the NFC North and a birth in the playoffs. However, as mentioned earlier, they lost their captain of the defense, Vic Fangio. That is a huge loss for their defense that could take some time to adjust to. The Packers on the other hand have completely revamped both their defense and offense. The defense added impact players in free agency and the draft, and the offense is a completely different system. The Packers looked to get back to their offensive dominants and contend for the Super Bowl again. Just like the Bears’ defense without Vic Fangio, the Packers will need to adjust to an a new offensive system, but with Aaron Rodgers leading them, they will be just fine. I predict another close game, but the Packers take the win on opening night.
Packers 27 – Bears 21