Packers Keys to the Game (vs. Bears)

Bill Huber

The Green Bay Packers will host the Chicago Bears at 7:20 p.m. on Sept. 18 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. NBC will televise the game.


Packers lead the series 103-95-6. They’ve won six in a row, 11 of the last 12, 15 of the last 17 and 21 of the last 24.


Green Bay – Matt LaFleur, 39-11, fourth season. Chicago — Matt Eberflus, 1-0, first season.

When the Packers have the ball

Eberflus was hired because of his strong track record as a defensive coordinator. That side of the ball had been trending the wrong way, going from first in points allowed in 2018 and fourth in 2019 to 22nd last year, when the Bears plunged to 6-11.

Chicago allowed only 10 points in the season-opening win vs. the 49ers, but who knows what that means considering the game was played in a swimming pool.

On the front, Robert Quinn and Al-Quadin Muhammad are the defensive ends. Quinn ranked second in the league last season with 18½ sacks and added four forced fumbles. All 49 of his snaps against San Francisco came at right end, meaning a matchup against the left tackle, either Yosh Nijman or veteran David Bakhtiari.

Muhammad had six sacks last season with Eberflus in Indianapolis. Angelo Jackson and Justin Jones are the defensive tackles, with former Packers player Mike Pennel among the backups.

Roquan Smith is one of the best linebackers in the NFL. He had nine tackles in his debut after a powerhouse season of 163 tackles, three sacks and 12 tackles for losses last year. He’s a sideline-to-sideline player. He is joined at linebacker by Nicholas Morrow, who had 78 tackles in 11 starts last season for the Raiders, and Matthew Adams, a backup with the Colts the past four seasons.

Third-year standout Jaylon Johnson and second-round pick Kyler Gordon are the cornerbacks, and former Pro Bowler Eddie Jackson and second-round pick Jaquan Brisker are the safeties. Kindle Vildor is the third corner in nickel situations.

Jackson, who had six picks in 2018, had his first since 2019 in the opener. The Bears think Brisker is going to be a star.

Three rookies play key roles, with Brisker and Gordon in the secondary and fifth-round defensive end Dominique Robinson (1½ sacks vs. San Francisco) coming off the bench.

“It was good by really all the rookies,” Ebreflus said Sept. 12. “You look at the way the rookies performed, from the punter to our nickel (Gordon) to Dominique to all the guys that played, Braxton, they all played well.

“And I think that’s really a tribute to (general manager) Ryan Poles and his staff bringing the guys in here that have the maturity to be able to handle an NFL game, the coaches getting them ready, and then the guys going out there and doing it. I was happy with all the rookies.”

When the Bears have the ball

Chicago’s new offense is coordinated by Luke Getsy, the former Packers quarterbacks coach. In Green Bay, Getsy had Aaron Rodgers. In Chicago, he’s got Justin Fields, last year’s first-round pick who had a dismal rookie season with seven touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 28th-ranked passer rating of 73.2.

Fields only completed eight passes in an epic downpour against the 49ers but two of those were for touchdowns.

“He’s been great with everything; footwork and timing, playing on time and the little details of playing quarterback,” Fields said of Getsy. “He knows what drills to work, what I need to work on. He’s been great. I love having him here.”

The Bears can run the ball. David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert aren’t exactly Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon but it’s a quality tandem. Montgomery has topped 1,000 total yards each of his first three seasons. Herbert added 433 rushing yards last year as a rookie and had a team-high 45 yards vs. the 49ers.

Much like Green Bay, Chicago has limited options on the perimeter. Darnell Mooney, Dante Pettis and former Packers player Equanimeous St. Brown are the primary receivers. Mooney caught 81 passes for 1,055 yards last season, and Pettis and St. Brown scored against the 49ers. Tight end Cole Kmet had 60 catches last season.

The offensive line is the overwhelming weak link. Braxton Smith, a fifth-round rookie, starts at left tackle. A pair of former second-round picks, Cody Whitehair and Teven Jenkins, are the guards, 2021 fifth-rounder Larry Borom is the right tackle and Sam Mustipher, an undrafted free agent in 2019, is the center.

Former Packers lineman Lucas Patrick split the playing time with Jenkins. There’s no reason why Green Bay’s front, which had a quiet game at Minnesota, shouldn’t set the tone and control the line of scrimmage.

Special teams

The Bears have a reliable kicker with veteran Cairo Santos, who made 93.8% of his field goals in 2020 and 86.7% last season. They replaced new Packers punter Pat O’Donnell with Trenton Gill, a seventh-round pick. He averaged 46.2 yards on six punts in the monsoon.

Trestan Ebner, a running back selected in the sixth round, averaged 24 yards per kickoff return in his NFL debut. He’s got 4.43 speed in the 40. Pettis, who’s never been a full-time returner, handles punt returns.

Green Bay’s special teams had a solid debut under new coordinator Rich Bisaccia. Amari Rodgers had a 12-yard punt return and O’Donnell’s four punts yielded only 7 return yards.