Let’s set the scene Sunday Night: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers glances at the play clock, a typically expressionless face a bit haggard and covered in a thin layer of sweat. He sees the clock ticking down, 10…9…8… He’s waiting in a shotgun formation, trips receivers to the right, his favorite target Davante Adams isolated on the left, where Bears precocious star corner Kyle Fuller has been blanketing him the entire game.
To this point, Rodgers has tasted turf too many times, that’s why he has running back Jamaal Williams next to him: to buy him the extra time he needs on this last-ditch attempt on 4th down from the 20-yard line. The scoreboard reads Packers 13 Bears 17, but Rodgers has been here before. He knows how to take care of business in these situations.
So, how did we get there? How did the little brother Bears push Rodgers to his absolute limit? With a ferocious young defense, boosted by the addition of a superstar pass rusher and an offense with far too many playmakers to be blanked completely.
The signature on the 4 year, 42-million-dollar contract by DT Eddie Goldman effectively serves as an exclamation point for a front seven that is not only peppered with top of the line talent, but has no discernible weak point among the starters.
Up front, the aforementioned superstar Khalil Mack bookends an extremely talented 3-man defensive line including Goldman, Akiem Hicks coming off a career year, and former third round pick Jonathan Bullard. Rushing from the other end is Leonard Floyd, a man who was a top ten pick and has a seven-sack season on his resume. Behind that stout five is a pair of linebackers that might be unmatched in the entire league in terms of athleticism: Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith.
Expect this group to rough up the Packers relatively weak o-line (David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga are the only above-average starters). Goldman, Bullard and Hicks will look to clog the running lanes and make life uncomfortable for Rodgers if he tries to step up in the pocket. As a result, I expect Jamaal Williams to have a relatively quiet and frustrating week 1.
Rodgers, of course, has the ability to get outside the pocket and typically thrives once he’s there. He’s especially good at finding top receiver Davante Adams in those situations, as Adams is one of the more physical and savvy receivers in the league. He, and his Packers counterparts in Geronimo Allison and Randall Cobb have a tough draw in this Bears secondary which is also stacked with young up and coming talent: Kyle Fuller is the star, but Prince Amukamara is a rock-solid number two, while Bryce Callahan is highly efficient in the slot and should matchup well against the veteran Cobb.
One of the biggest advantages for the Bears figures to be their safeties against the Packers tight ends. Jimmy Graham was once a field stretching monster between the twenties, in addition to his considerable redzone prowess. No longer: Graham couldn’t consistently find the field in Seattle due to his major deficiencies in the running game. He’s also lost a step, and with it, his ability to separate down the field consistently and pick up yards after the catch. He’s always struggled against physical and athletic safeties and the Bears have a pair of them in Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos. If Graham affects this game, it most likely will have to be on back shoulders and slants from around the ten-yard line to go.
The Packers field an impressive front seven in their own right, headlined by the incredibly tough defensive tackle combo of Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark, so the Bears may also struggle to find yards up the middle with consistency. However, their linebackers may struggle with run fits, as a rookie, in Oren Burks is in line to start. As such, off tackle runs, and a more horizontal ground game figure to be a wise gameplan for a Bears squad that features two very strong and versatile options to attack what figures to be an improved Packers defense.
The Packers’ predominantly veteran presence in the secondary could make it very difficult for young quarterback Mitch Trubisky and coach Matt Nagy to get this highly promising offense off the ground consistently. Expect Trubisky to target tight end Trey Burton early and often to try to exploit safety Kentrell Brice, new to the starting lineup after Morgan Burnett left for the Steelers this offseason. Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller may also find openings against whoever lines up in the slot (Davon House or Jaire Alexander).
All of this adds up to a low scoring, defensive slug fest where heavy pass rush, punishing run defense, and strong secondary play dominate the day. Both teams will find their openings, and in the scenario I mentioned above, there’s a very small number of players I trust more than Rodgers to get it done. Win or lose, though, the Bears will be highly dangerous as long as they remain relatively healthy. They have a much stronger roster overall than the Packers and could push them for second place in this division by season’s end.
Prediction: Packers 20 Bears 17
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