Packers Bears Preview

199th meeting in 100th season

So the great rivalry launch to the National Football League's centennial season is at hand.

The Green Bay Packers meet the Chicago Bears Thursday night at 7:20 PM in venerable Soldier Field.   It's the 197th regular season contest between two of the founding members of the NFL, counting a pair of playoff meetings, the Packer-Bear series will reach 200 games in the 100th season in December.

It seems everything old is new again for the kickoff to the 2019 season.

For the first time since 2006, there will be a new Head Coach on the Green Bay sideline in 39 year old Matt LaFleur.    The Chicago defense, statistically the league's best a year ago, is now under the direction for former Indianapolis Head Coach Chuck Pagano after Vic Fangio left to take over the Denver Broncos.  The teams basically swapped starting safeties as Adrian Amos was lured away from the Windy City by Green Bay General Manager Brian Gutekunst.   He's the same GM who traded away Ha Ha Clinton-Dix a month into the 2018 season to Washington.  Clinton-Dix spurned a return to the Redskins by signing a free agent deal with the Bears.

Can Chicago build off it's NFC North Division winning season a year ago under second year boss Matt Nagy?   Will LaFleur reinvigorate a Packer franchise that has missed the playoffs the past two years?   

There are side stories galore as the journey begins.   Let's match up the sides.

When The Packers Have The Ball

The LaFleur offense is based on movement, route trees and play action off running plays and formations.    He has one of the league's smartest signal callers operating it.   The Packers have a veteran offensive line, a hungry lead back in Aaron Jones, a top level outside target in Davante Adams and a motivated former Pro Bowl tight end in Jimmy Graham.    

The Packers will try to get Chicago's fierce defense to chase the motion and misdirection exposing favorable match-ups for Rodgers.  For that to happen, the offensive front will have to neutralize the disruption caused by Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman, the top two trench figures on the Bears side.    Three very good linebackers can chase plays down, Leonard Floyd, Roguan Smith and Danny Trevethan.   They also have a game wrecking weapon in Khalil Mack.  His arrival just before last season's opener against the Packers in Green Bay injected the entire city of Chicago with energy and the Bears defense went from good to dominant.    

The bunch and combination routes downfield will need to create winnable one on one matchups with Adams and the other receivers against a secondary that features two more pro bowl players in Kyle Fuller on the corner and safety Eddie Jackson.     I have a feeling LaFleur will try exploit the weaker links at the back end in Prince Amukamara and Clinton-Dix.

If downfield play is limited, Jones will become even a more valuable check down or screen target.

Rodgers will not be phased by the Solider Field crowd.  Since 2009, he's 8-2 as the starter.    Then again, he's just getting started in this new system.

When The Bears Have The Ball

The Packers, with a full year under their belt in Mike Pettine's defensive system, aided by an influx of bigger, faster athletes to run it,  will pour those resources toward two players, quarterback Mitch Trubisky and running back Tarik Cohen.

Nagy's system relies heavily on run-pass options.   The idea is to create space for Trubisky that takes advantage of his athleticisim.   He's not nearly as effective throwing from in the pocket.    When he does move, Cohen often moves in countering directions and his acceleration is top notch.     The front line must play disciplined football in neutralizing Chicago's front on run downs, and squeeze Trubisky into that pocket when it's time to pass.

The linebackers must have good vision when it comes to Cohen's threats.   Pettine says Cohen, unlike other small,  quick backs who catch balls around the line of scrimmage,  he runs a lot of routes down the field.  If it's a linebacker in coverage, look out.

We haven't seen Pettine unleash his pass rush and blitz packages yet and there's so much versatility with the Smith's and top pick Rashan Gary, it's bound to give Chicago's offensive line problems.     

Green Bay corners should match up well with Chicago recievers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel.

Special Teams

The cover units will be challenged by Cohen and kickoff return Cordarelle Patterson, the former Viking who is among the league's best.   A big edge to Green Bay in the kicking game, it's been a mess in Chicago since they released Robbie Gould a few years back.   Mason Crosby knows the winds in the windy city and J.K. Scott had a very strong pre-season.

The Call

The last Packers coach to win his first game was Ray Rhodes in 1999, and he lasted only one season.  Before that, it was Forrest Gregg in 1984.   Lindy Infante, Mike Holmgren, Mike Sherman and Mike McCarthy all stumbled in their debuts.  There's something sneaky about LaFleur that has me thinking an opening night surprise is possible.   But his first win will have to wait.    I like the Bears in another knock down, drag out Black and Blue matchup, 19-17.

Mark Daniels

I’ve got Green and Gold in my blood having grown up in Titletown and it’s been a treat watching and covering sports from the Packers to the preps for you in Green Bay for Midwest Communications.
As a kid, I chased Packer players for autographs, I’m still chasing ‘em now for quotes on the big play or big game. I’ve had the opportunity to cover Super Bowls, the World Series, Stanley Cup Finals, NBA playoffs and major championship golf over the years but I get just as much enjoyment following the college scene at UWGB or St. Norbert, the Green Bay Gamblers and high school sports.
Our prep coverage was honored as the best of 2007 reinforcing our commitment to give these hard working boys and girls their due.
My work has also been recognized by the Associated Press and Wisconsin Broadcasters Association with several achievement awards.
Outside of the studio, off the field or away from the gym, I’ve had the pleasure of helping dozens of organizations over the years. I’ve served as race announcer and master of ceremonies at the Bellin Run almost from it’s beginning, spoken to various service clubs and hosted charity golf events or team banquets.
My wife Kari and I have raised two active children which has kept us involved in both school and club athletics for nearly 15 years. Chances are you’ll see me on a golf course when the weather’s nice. My roots are deep and that’s why I’m so enthusiastic about this area’s sporting scene, and as I often say, “Watching kids play games helps keep me young!”
Thanks for listening and see you at the game.