Chicago is coming off a NFC North Division title. Matt Nagy and crew will be focused on a repeat. Meanwhile, new Packers head coach Matt LaFleur has a ton to prove and Aaron Rodgers will look for a bounce-back season after Mike McCarthy was fired.
There’s a lot on the line and the whole NFL world will be watching when the Packers and Bears kick it off at Soldier Field on Thursday night.
Here are four keys to a Green Bay victory.
- Get the running game in rhythm early.
We know LaFleur wants to use the run to set up the passing game, so the most important thing he can do against Chicago is lean on Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams early and often. The Bears are going to be great on defense, but even a good defense is going to give up 2-3 yards at a time — over time — against a well-thought-out running attack.
Chicago may be expecting Green Bay to come out throwing, which would make a run-heavy game plan a change-up. Running on first and second down should also put Rodgers in third-and-short situations and open up the play-action and misdirection game, which will slow down Khalil Mack.
We’ve seen LaFleur show some basic run concepts during the preseason, and much of what he wants to do relies on picking up small chunks and then using the straightforward stuff to set up different looks for the more explosive plays.
Commit to the run early and often. This game won’t be won on the first drive, but if Green Bay commits to wearing down this talented Chicago defense, that will give it a chance to make bigger plays later on.
- Script some easy wins for Aaron Rodgers and the passing game.
It’s been a long offseason for Rodgers. He needs to come out strong to get some of the doubters off his back. Is he capable of playing at an MVP level in 2019? Proving that will be easier said than done against a Bears defense that should be among the best in the league, but LaFleur can set his quarterback up for success by calling good plays that get receivers open.
Rodgers has dazzled the NFL with his ability to make the impossible possible, by why not make it easy for him as he enters his 15th season?
We’ve seen LaFLeur scheme up open receivers over the middle on crossing routes and the tight ends should play a major role in the short passing game. Rodgers will throw his bombs – he always does – but the best thing this offense can do is move the chains a few times through the air on mid-level, easier throws to wide open receivers and tight ends.
A lot of that will rely on LaFleur’s scheme. The rest is up to No. 12.
- Get pressure on Mitch Trubisky early and often.
Is this the season Mitch Trubisky finally takes that next step? Word out of Chicago’s camp this preseason is that he’s been a bit inconsistent, but the Bears are going to need him to play at a high level to win the division again.
With that said, this will be the coming out party for Mike Pettine’s new-and-improved defense, so why not let it shine on the big stage?
The Packers got Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and drafted Rashan Gary to get after the quarterback. Those three could make life really hard for opposing quarterbacks, and Trubisky has thrown interceptions without being under pressure before.
- Win the special teams battle.
No matter the season and no matter their records, the Packers and Bears always play each other close. This is the NFL’s most heated rivalry for a reason: These teams know each other. Blowouts are few and far between in this series, which makes every play and every drive of the game important.
With that said, games are won and lost on special teams, and the Packers have an advantage.
Punter JK Scott was on fire during the preseason and he appears to be trending towards an All-Pro year. He’ll play a big role in making Chicago’s offense earn every yard. Meanwhile, the Bears have a dumpster fire for a kicking unit. The Packers have a very stable kicking presence in veteran Mason Crosby.
If this ends up a close game, it should swing the Packers’ way.