Early Bird Breakdown Week 1 – Bears @ Packers
Hello and welcome back to Early Bird Breakdown and the NFL season! It’s the first week of the regular season and the Packers open up at Lambeau on Sunday Night Football playing host to their arch-rival Chicago Bears. Both teams had a good deal of changes this off season, who will come out on top?
Packers’ Offense vs Bears’ Defense:
The Packers offense will obviously dramatically improve from last season with the return of Aaron Rodgers from his broken collarbone. In addition to Rodgers though the new front office led by first-year GM Brian Gutekunst went out and added the most physically gifted tight end Rodgers will ever have played with (even more so than Jermichael Finley) in Jimmy Graham. Graham was a star when he was in New Orleans but was traded to Seattle and horribly misused there. They did not play call to his strengths, something that the return of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin will likely do. Do not be shocked if this season Davante Adams does not lead the team in touchdowns. Graham will be the go-to redzone option because of how athletic and tall he is he can win every jump ball in the endzone for a touchdown.
On the other side of the ball, the Bears last season had a nice season on defense, finishing tenth in total defense. Then they massively improved their defense this off season first with the eighth overall pick in linebacker Roquan Smith and then the blockbuster trade for OLB/DE Khalil Mack. Mack very well might be the best defensive player in all of football, with only Aaron Donald contending with him now due to JJ Watt’s injuries hampering his play. He was the first player ever to be an All-Pro player at two different positions in the same season.
Fortunately for the Packers this game, Mack is still learning the system and his snaps will be more limited. Smith had previously missed training camp and missed the preseason with hamstring tightness, so both will not see the field for the entirety of the game. The Bears defense without them was quite good, when those two are ready to go this will be one of the five best defenses in football and not an easy group to score on.
Packers’ Defense vs Bears’ Offense:
The Bears were not the only ones to improve their defense though. The Packers added Muhammad Wilkerson, who not too long ago was one of the best defensive lineman in all of football before going through an awful stretch on the Jets. He took a one year, “prove it,” contract which means he will be motivated to return to form and if he is 80% of the player he once was, he will be a borderline Pro-Bowler crashing the pocket opposite of Pro-Bowler Mike Daniels.
Wilkerson was the icing on the cake however, as Green Bay’s two biggest defensive weaknesses were fixed by Gutekunst as well: Dom Capers and the secondary. Packers fans can rejoice now that Capers is gone, and not only is he gone but has been replaced by one of the best defensive minds in football, Mike Pettine. Pettine has never had a defense finish outside of the top ten. He will simplify the scheme to help the Packers players make plays and will bring a consistent pressure to not isolate his corners as often.
As for the secondary, the Packers drafted two quality cornerbacks with their first two selections in Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson. They also brought back fan-favorite Tramon Williams to instill some veteran leadership in the young players while they get used to the NFL. Kevin King, who was hurt the last seven games last season, appears to have made a full recovery from off season shoulder surgery. Expect significant improvement in pass coverage, combined with improvement in the pass rush to cause more errant throws to aid the corners as well.
It should be noted though the Packers did lose starting inside linebacker Jake Ryan for the season with a torn ACL. Rookie Oren Burks will take the secondary starting spot next to Blake Martinez and we could see some early struggles from the rookie.
For the Bears, they also drastically upgraded the weapons (and coaching) around second year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. First, they went out and got Matt Nagy from Kansas City who has been an excellent offensive coordinator there to be his head coach and work with him to improve his game. Then, they went out and signed a pair of wide receivers, Allen Robinson II and Taylor Gabriel. Last season Robinson II was hurt most of the season but the year prior for Jacksonville, despite not having quality quarterback play, was able to get 1400 yards and 14 touchdowns. Gabriel was Atlanta’s third wide receiver last season and is still an improvement over everyone else the Bears had on the roster. With a quality offensive line, a good head coach, and real weapons to throw to now is the time for Trubisky to prove whether or not he was worth the high pick the Bears invested on him. If he works out like the Bears hope, they should be better than the Lions and looking like a true rival to the Packers and Vikings in the coming years. If he does not pan out, a long rebuild is in front of the Bears due to the aggressiveness the front office did in building this team.
Lambeau will be a pleasant 61 degrees at kickoff with little to winds. Should be close to perfect weather.
Unless Trubisky completely falls apart, this game will be better than some Packer fans may expect. Offensively, Chicago should put up a fight as the secondary still will be going through some growing pains. Tramon Williams was a cheap free agent because he has not been the same since left. Kevin King reportedly is fine, but this will be the first true test on his shoulder. The backup corners are both rookies, and Allen Robinson II is no easy coverage. Defensively, the Bears already had a good defense, now it is markedly better. However, the two players who may by the end of the season be Chicago’s best defensive players are both going to be in limited roles. Combine that with Trubisky still learning and on the road, I cannot see the Bears consistently stopping the Packers offense or scoring on the Packers defense. Green Bay will pressure Trubisky well with Daniels and Wilkerson from the inside with Clay Matthews and Nick Perry getting easier lanes on the outside. While I can see the Bears forcing the Packers to punt, they do not have the play makers in the secondary to force Rodgers to commit turnovers. Trubisky on the other hand likely will turn the ball over at least once. Packers pull away late, leading to Packers win 31-20.As always, go Pack go! Stu Weis -Journalism graduate 2012, Carroll University