Congratulations Packer fans everywhere. We made it through the tedious month of training camp and the preseason with held breath and clenched abs, but the real season is now here. The Packers will take on the Bears on Sunday afternoon, and while there is a talent discrepancy to be sure, the Bears are still a formidable foe, as is any rivalry.
As we have seen in years past, there is no real way to predict this game. I have been in pick-em leagues where I have picked a Packers team when heavily favored and they would lose, and I thought last year games would be more competitive. And both times I was extremely wrong. And that is why you will find no prediction from me yet. Maybe later this week.
But I do want to highlight what will be the biggest test for the Packers this week as they take on a single Monster of the Midway, Matt Forte. The Bears running back is a true superstar who many, including myself, have said has been wasted while playing on a mediocre team. A dual threat as a runner and a receiver, the 29-year old back put up huge numbers last season, rushing for 1,038 yards and catching 102 passes.
I have said for years that he is the best all-around running back in the NFL, and that is true this season until Le’Veon Bell proves me wrong, but that is where the test comes in for the Packers. We know that this offense will score, and score often. But to do that they need to be on the field, and the Bears are probably going to look to run Forte early and often against an under-manned, inexperienced defensive line.
The Packers D-Line woes have been well-documented this camp, as Datone Jones and Letroy Guion are both suspended for this game and Guion for 3 total, which leaves five bodies to man the trenches in Week 1. Those five, BJ Raji, Mike Daniels, Mike Pennel, Josh Boyd, and Bruce Gaston have to step up individually and as a unit for this team to succeed.
Looking at the game, the only way that the Bears win is if they dominate in time of possession, and they have that ability with a back like Forte and a mauler like Kyle Long at right tackle. But if Daniels can get penetration and Raji and Pennel (who is expected to start) can hold the line and disrupt all the running lanes, the Packers have a chance to roll like last season. But if they don’t hold and get pushed back, Forte could put up a big game, and this will be a nerve-wracking season opener.
But as an analyst and someone who has been watching closely in preseason, l am a big believer in the ability of Mike Pennel and believe that he will be an X-Factor along with Bruce Gaston. The ability on the nose that Pennel showed reminds me of a quicker version of Ryan Pickett, which could allow him to succeed strongly at end. An undeniable talent, there’s a reason that he stuck last year and that he grew significantly this year.
As for Gaston, he was a surprise to make the 53 after joining the team at the end of last season, but he showed some disruptive tendencies on the line in the preseason, which also bodes well for me. He can slice through the line and handled double teams well, which could close the holes for a runner like Forte.
All in all, the Bears will rely on the legs of Forte if they want to have any chance, so look for the defensive line to step up and control a great running back to help propel the Packers to victory.——————
Mike Wendlandt is originally from Iola, Wisconsin and graduated from Drake University in 2015 with a degree in History. With a significant journalism background both in writing and broadcasting, Mike can be heard as the play-by-play voice of Central Wisconsin High School sports on WDUX FM 92.7 and on Twitter @MikeWendlandt.
Mike Wendlandt is a writer covering the Green Bay Packers for PackersTalk.com.