Bears vs. Packers: Saturday Scoop

A last look at the matchup between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers in week one of the 2015 NFL regular season

Saturday Scoop is meant to be a last look at the upcoming Green Bay Packers game and a discussion about the latest stories and narratives surrounding the contest.  Ideally, it's a last chance for discussion about the game before game day is upon us.  I started the piece last season over at ALLGBP.com and it seemed to go over well so it lives on in 2015.

This game marks the 191st meeting between the Packers and Chicago Bears.  The first contest was back in 1921, 94 years ago.  Throughout most of the last century, the Bears and Packers have both enjoyed successes and dealt with down periods as well.  Through it all, the Bears now hold a slim two-game margin of victory over the Pack at 93-91-6.  With a season sweep, the Packers would finally even up the series record.  For those of you who, like myself, lived through the 1980's (and 1970's) and never thought the Packers had a chance of catching Chicago, the time has come.  Earlier today, our own Cory Jennerjohn wrote about this rivalry and debated whether the term "rivalry" even applies right now, with the onslaught of success the Packers have enjoyed over the last 20 years.  If you haven't read it, go check it out and weigh in with your comments.

For the first time since 1981, the Packers open a regular season on the road at Chicago.  For me each season and when the schedule comes out, one of the first few things that I look for are when the Packers play their road games against divisional opponents.  Regardless of how good or bad the Packers, Bears, Detroit Lions or Minnesota Vikings are, divisional games are always up for grabs and naturally, the road games are tougher than at home.  When I saw the opener against the Bears, I smiled.  Not because I think the game will be a cake walk for the Packers, but because I prefer to get these road games over with as soon as possible.  

Week one can be a bit unpredictable.  Teams come out a bit rusty from training camp and aren't quite in mid-season form yet.  Back in 2003, the New England Patriots were trounced by the Buffalo Bills on opening day and New England then went on to win the Super Bowl that same season.  That was a long time ago, but is an example of how little it matters which is the better team.  The Packers are favored by nearly a touchdown in this game so if my theory holds true, the Bears are hoping to catch the Packers before they get rolling and catch Green Bay off guard a bit.  With a new coaching staff in place, the Packers have to be hoping that they're getting the Bears while they're still working out some of the kinks in a newer system.

Regardless, the Packers should win this game.  I don't mean to sound overconfident, but in looking at these two teams, week one aside, the Packers simply bring in a better overall roster than the Bears have right now.  We all picked the Packers to win in our weekly prediction post and while that screams "jinx" from every corner of the universe, I don't think even the almighty jinx can overcome what is the Packers in this game.  With a win seeming to be very likely and with it being just the first game, there isn't a lot of narrative around this game being a "must win" or critical for the Packers overall success in 2015.  So what do we focus on?  There are a few areas that stand out to me that I'll be watching for tomorrow.

The first is wide receiver Randall Cobb.  Cobb is listed as probable for this game and the Packers and their fans all breathed a sigh of relief when it was determined that Cobb's shoulder injury was not deemed serious.  Still, it's a sprain and while Cobb may be on the field for this game, there's still reason to be cautiously optimistic.  In watching film on Cobb, he's a shifty receiver and moves around well in space.  He's able to get to balls that other players can't because of his speed and athletic ability.  That requires a lot of twisting, contorting, jumping and diving.  Cobb says he will be more conscious about how he falls or takes a hit.  That sounds good and we hope it's true, but as soon as I hear a player talk that way, I worry about the mental aspect of the game.  Football is such a reactionary sport.  The game happens fast and players' bodies are reacting in split seconds.  There's barely enough time for the signal to get from the brain to the body that says "lay out for this ball" let alone adding in "and make the catch and try to then turn yourself around so you land on your back instead of your shoulder. . .".  You get the idea.  Too much thinking on the football field often leads to more mistakes and miscues.  

I admire Cobb for playing and if the doctors say he's healthy enough and he feels good enough, he should be out there.  But sprains take time to heal.  Now that we're into the regular season and, with the exception of one bye week, there will be a game every week from now until at least New Year's.  In between, players will be practicing, lifting, preparing and then playing every week without lengthy rest.  This means Cobb's shoulder won't get any extended time off to heal.  That healing process is going to be prolonged as long as Cobb is playing every week and it may not heal fully until the season is over.  Although a different type of injury, former Packers cornerback Tramon Williams hurt his shoulder in the season opener in 2011 and had issues with it the rest of that season, despite care and treatment from the best doctors and trainers in the world.  The NFL brand of football just doesn't allow players with injuries to heal while they're still playing.  In my estimation, I won't feel more comfortable with Cobb and his shoulder until after the first month of the season.  I'm also not sure it was the best idea for him to go on record as saying that he's going to try to make changes to his game to avoid further damage.  Who's to say defensive players aren't aware of this and may opt to land on top of him during a tackle?  It would be a legal action and one that could end Cobb's season.

The next area of focus for me is the defensive backfield.  Safety Morgan Burnett is listed as questionable with a calf injury.  That would likely mean Micah Hyde in his spot next to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.  Hyde was not very good in coverage during the preseason.  In this game, the Bears will likely try to get running back Matt Forte going early on.  Run support and playing at the line is a strength of Hyde's and was also an area that Burnett was utilized a lot last season.  With Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery still dealing with a leg injury, the Bears don't have a major threat in the passing game or at tight end that would require Hyde to be primary in coverage much.  This matchup could be a bullet dodged by the Packers if Burnett is out.

At cornerback, it's simply a matter of seeing if Casey Hayward can play outside corner and keep his job.  Rookies Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins are both gunning for a higher spot on the depth chart and both showed some stellar ability during preseason games.  Granted, both had their struggles as well, but they will both see time on the field with the defense this season.  I doubt Hayward loses his job in a single game, but this is the first game of the rest of his career.  Between his health issues and inconsistent play, Hayward's future with the Packers is a bit hazy right now.  It's good to know that there are very young and talented options there if needed.

The last area that I'll be watching is inside linebacker.  Sam Barrington is listed as questionable with an ankle injury.  This means there's a 50% chance Barrington won't suit up against the Bears.  In the base 3-4, he would have likely lined up next to Clay Matthews inside.  If Barrington can't do, that means it's either Nate Palmer or rookie Jake Ryan on the inside.  The Packers play plenty of nickel, which pulls a linebacker off the field, but one of those two young backers needs to be ready to go.  This was an area of weakness last season and hence the move of Matthews inside.  Ryan is certainly ready to play and gain some more experience, but playing games for real is a different type of experience and we just don't know how effective Ryan can be yet.  The middle of the Packers defense is an area that opposing offensive coordinators have been feasting for years.  This season doesn't appear to be any different and so the Packers have to be hoping that these young guys on the inside can overachieve.

With victory likely, the biggest hope for tomorrow is that the Packers have everyone healthy after the game.  Week two brings the Seattle Seahawks to Lambeau Field and the Packers will need all hands on deck for that game.  More importantly, the Packers hope to be going into the second game with a 1-0 record for the first time since 2011. 

 

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Jason is a freelance writer on staff since 2012 and also co-hosts Cheesehead TV Live, Pulse of the Pack and Pack A Day podcasts.  You can follow him on Twitter here

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

September 13, 2015 at 12:55 am

Chicago probably will try to get TE Martellus Bennett going. He torched us last year with 9 receptions (on just 11 targets) for 134 yards, a 14.9 yard average. We held him to just 2 receptions in the 2nd game but they went for 45 yards (45 yards isn't stupendous, but it works out to 720 yards for a full season - a figure that I would jump for joy if any of our TEs match). Chicago will try to get Forte going too, in both the rushing and receiving areas.

I'd expect Chicago to focus on Wilson in the slot against whoever starts there. They will look there even if Hyde starts at slot as a favorable match-up, but if he has to move to SS, either a rookie will start there or Hayward will move to the slot with a rookie at outside CB. If Alston Jeffrey is good to go, they'll look at him against whoever plays outside CB, particularly if it is a rookie there.

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jh9's picture

September 13, 2015 at 06:16 am

You made some good points here, Jason. Regarding Cobb, even if he doesn't catch a ball today he still could be very valuable acting as a decoy. He will probably get either the #1 or #2 cover guy for the Bears allowing Adams or Jones a better match-up.

If the Packers can jump out to an early lead and force the Bears to play catch up, I think then it's only a matter of time before Cutler throws us the ball and we put this game in the win column.

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Archie's picture

September 13, 2015 at 10:32 am

".....The middle of the Packers defense is an area that opposing offensive coordinators have been feasting for years...."

Why is that? TT for not understanding the value of speed at that position? Or Winston Moss for being a terrible position coach? Or MM for hiring WM and keeping him around? Or all of the above? It certainly is the intersection of point of many of our defensive liabilities.

AROD should achieve decisive victory today unless GB defense/ST really stinks up the place. If Pack loses this game, it would signal major problems in river city for GB i.e., either MM can't win a first game and/or the SEA debacle was more real than Packer fans care to admit and/or the loss of Jordy is too much to overcome or all of the above.

As I have been saying: GB 20 Bears 10.

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