Packers Keys to the Game - Sept. 5

Bill Huber

The Green Bay Packers visit the Chicago Bears at 7:20 p.m. Thursday at Solder Field in Chicago. The game will be shown on NBC.


Green Bay — Matt LaFleur, first season (coaching first regular season game Thursday). Chicago — Matt Nagy, second season (12-4). Nagy is 1-1 against the Packers.


Including a 1-1 split of the playoffs, the Packers lead 97-95-6. This is Game No. 199.


There will be a lot of star power on the field when these units collide.

For Green Bay, it’s quarterback Aaron Rodgers, running back Aaron Jones and receiver Davante Adams. Rodgers is the two-time MVP and owner of the best passer rating in NFL history. He is a resounding 17-4 all-time against the Bears. Due to a Week 1 suspension and Week 16 knee injury, Jones got just four carries against the Bears last season. Adams is second in the NFL in touchdown receptions the past three seasons. That’s as good a trio as there is in the NFL.

On the other side of the coin, it’s a star-studded Bears defense that finished No. 1 in points allowed last season.

“They have great personnel, great players, a lot of depth, big names and guys without a big name who are really good players,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, it starts up front being able to protect and try and control the line of scrimmage and slow those guys down. It’s a great defense. There’s not any holes in it.”

The defensive line is led by Akiem Hicks, who made his first Pro Bowl last season with 7.5 sacks. Nose tackle Eddie Goldman anchors a run defense that was No. 1 in the league last year. The brute force of those two will test Green Bay’s new zone blocking scheme and new right guard Billy Turner.

The linebackers are elite, with game-wrecking Khalil Mack at outside linebacker and rocket-fast Roquan Smith at inside linebacker. Acquired just before last year’s opener at Green Bay, Mack had 12.5 sacks and six forced fumbles to earn All-Pro honors.

“I was lucky enough when I first started around here to see guys like Reggie White, guys who just kind of dominated, and certainly Khalil is one of those players,” Packers GM Brian Gutekunst said. “He’s obviously on a Hall of Fame track. He’s hard to deal with.”

Mack is flanked by Leonard Floyd, a jack-of-all-trades player with 15.5 sacks in three seasons. Smith, last year’s first-round pick, had 121 tackles and five sacks. His sidekick is hard-hitting Danny Trevathan.

In the secondary, Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara are the corners and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Eddie Jackson are the safeties. Fuller led the NFL with seven interceptions last season and Jackson has been a big-play machine with eight interceptions and five defensive touchdowns in two seasons.

There are three new faces of note. First and foremost, it’s Chuck Pagano replacing Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator; Fangio is the new coach in Denver. In the secondary, Buster Skrine has replaced underrated Bryce Callahan (Broncos) in the slot and Clinton-Dix has taken over for Adrian Amos at safety.


In Green Bay, the news throughout training camp was the lack of preseason action for Rodgers. It’s no different in Chicago. Third-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky took three snaps in the preseason — all handoffs. Under Nagy, Trubisky went from a 59.4 percent completion rate and 77.5 passer rating as a rookie in 2017 to a 66.6 percent completion rate and 95.4 rating last season.

“For Mitch to be going against our defense every single day in practice, that was phenomenal work for him,” Nagy said.

Trubisky will be supported by a deep backfield. Diminutive Tarik Cohen is listed as the starter but he’ll share the load with veteran Mike Davis, who was signed away from Seattle in free agency to replace Jordan Howard, and David Montgomery, a hard-to-tackle rookie from Iowa State. Last season, Cohen averaged 4.5 yards per carry while catching a team-high 71 passes. When Cohen’s on the field, the Packers figure to counter by inserting safety Raven Greene at linebacker.

The receivers are Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller. At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Robinson can bully cornerbacks. Getting cornerback Kevin King back — he was out a month with a hamstring injury — would help to combat that size. Gabriel has game-breaking speed but is used frequently in the quick game. Miller is a smooth route-runner who led the team with seven touchdown catches as a rookie. Tight end Trey Burton, who caught 54 passes last season, is not expected to play due to injury. If he’s out, he’ll be replaced by Adam Shaheen, who has 20 catches in two seasons.

The offensive line is superior in the middle with center James Daniels flanked by Kyle Long and Cody Whitehair. Whitehair, who didn’t allow a sack last season while at center, flip-flopped positions with Daniels in the offseason. They could develop into the top interior trio in the league and will provide a huge opening test for Green Bay’s stout defensive line, which is led by Kenny Clark. The Bears handed Whitehair a five-year contract extension earlier in the week that’s worth $52.5 million.

Left tackle Charles Leno and right tackle Bobby Massie, on the other hand, are mediocre. The Packers handed big bucks to Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith in free agency and used a first-round pick on Rashan Gary; they must win those matchups.


Chicago’s units are strong with one glaring exception: kicker. Eddy Pineiro won the job after making 8-of-9 field goals in the preseason. However, he badly missed an extra point in the final preseason game. Pineiro has not kicked in a regular-season game but made 29 of his last 30 field-goal attempts while at Florida.

Otherwise, the Bears have game-changing weapons with Cordarrelle Patterson on kickoff returns and Cohen on punt returns. In six seasons, Patterson has averaged 30 yards per kickoff return with six touchdowns. In two seasons, Cohen has averaged 11 yards per punt return with one touchdown.

Mason Crosby won the kicking job for the Packers for a 13th consecutive season. Of the 29 kickers with a total of 30 field-goal attempts over the past two seasons, Crosby is 25th with 80.4 percent accuracy. After a so-so rookie season, punter JK Scott had a sensational preseason with a 48.5-yard average. Trevor Davis, who ranked third in punt-return average in 2017, is back to handle return duties after missing almost all of last season with hamstring injuries.