To quote the Black Knight from Monty Python, “It’s only a flesh wound.”
The Green Bay Packers (and to an extent their fans) took one right in the chops during the season opener last Sunday at Lambeau, losing to the San Francisco 49ers 30-22. The Packers made a game of it late in the second half, but thanks once again to putrid play by the Packer defense and some assists from the replacement officials, the Packers start the season 0-1 for the first time since Mike McCarthy’s rookie year as head coach in 2006.
Thankfully, the time for licking wounds and taking heat from rival NFC North fans is very brief this week as the Packers face their archrival Chicago Bears Thursday night at Lambeau Field. The Bears are 1-0 after a 41-21 blowout win over the Indianapolis Colts at Soldier Field. They are currently tied with the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions at 1-0 atop the NFC North.
While no Week 2 game is truly a “do or die” proposition, starting 0-2 with two conference losses and one loss to a divisional foe is not a hole the Packers want to be in. With the Lions already dangerous and the Bears showing marked offensive improvement, the last thing the Packers want is to play a game of catch-up when their defense is already suspect.
Let’s take a look at the Bears
Scouting the Bears
Though he’s a subject of scorn and ridicule amongst Packer fans (as well as the other 30 teams in the league), Jay Cutler had a great season debut and the chemistry between him and Brandon Marshall picked right up where they left off when they were last together in Denver in 2008.
Cutler finished 21 of 35 yards for 333 yards and two touchdowns along with one interception. Marshall racked up 119 yards on nine catches and had one touchdown. Yes, the Colts secondary is poor, but the Packers don’t exactly have an elite defensive backfield either outside of an aging Charles Woodson.
Throw in a happy Matt Forte who signed a new contract in the offseason and the Bears suddenly have an offense to be reckoned with. If Cutler can avoid the boneheaded throws and bad decisions, he can be one of the best quarterbacks in the game. Do not underestimate Cutler’s abilities. He has the tools.
Defensively, it all starts up front with Julius Peppers. He’s a disruptive force that allows Brian Urlacher and the linebackers to get to the quarterback. Peppers had one fumble recovery and three tackles against Indianapolis last week. Josh Sitton and Bryan Bulaga are going to have their hands full, but if there are two right side offensive linemen that can shut Peppers down, it’s them.
Speaking of Urlacher, there was concern he would not be able to go in Week 1 because of orthoscopic knee surgery he had earlier in the year, but he was out there albeit on a “pitch count.” Urlacher, even at 34, has been the cog that makes the Bears defense go. Without Urlacher, the defense suddenly becomes a liability and that arguably still goes even with the acquisition of Peppers before last season.
The secondary is the weakest part of the Bears defense. Andrew Luck in his first NFL game threw for 309 yards, although he had three interceptions. It stands to reason Aaron Rodgers will fare much better against the Bears secondary.
We can’t forget about Devin Hester in the return game, either. The Packers overall have done a good job containing him, but the threat is still there.
Keys to a Packers Victory
1. Shake off the defeat
The Packers had the look of a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car after the final whistle blew last Sunday. Not many expected San Francisco to go into Lambeau Field and come out with a victory. They know as well as anyone that it’s the just the first of 16 games, but it’s never a good thing when an opponent lays a haymaker on you in the first round of a 16 round fight.
There should be no more prepared team in the NFL this week than the Green Bay Packers. Despite the players using the old (and poor) excuse of “We beat ourselves, they didn’t beat us,” McCarthy and his staff surely must realize they took one heck of a beating last week. McCarthy should have no trouble getting his team up and ready for this game.
If he does, then the team is in bigger trouble than everyone realizes.
2. Stop Brandon Marshall
The last time the Packers faced Brandon Marshall was in 2010 when he was with the Miami Dolphins. In the 23-20 Dolphins OT victory, Marshall swallowed up the Packers defense gaining 127 yards on 10 catches.
If the Packers allow Marshall to duplicate those numbers on Thursday, then the outcome could be eerily similar for the Packers. Tramon Williams will have his hands full and perhaps even Charles Woodson could see some matchups against Marshall. What Marshall has working for him is his height as well as his athletic ability.
If the Packers can hold him down, then they should have no trouble shutting down the rest of the Bears offense.
3. Get Finley Involved
Finley was credited for three drops against the 49ers, but with his size and versatility he can be one heck of a mismatch for a weak Bears secondary.
With Greg Jennings possibly out with a groin injury, the Bears defense will be keying in on Jordy Nelson and perhaps Randall Cobb thanks to his strong play against the 49ers, Finley could draw some favorable matchups.
If he can hang onto the ball, look for a big game from #88.
4. Don’t blame the refs
Yes, the replacement officials are awful. The Packers/49ers game was the worst called game of the 16 last week. You won’t find anyone who will argue that.
The poor officiating took its toll on both teams, though it seemed San Francisco seemingly got away with multiple false starts. However, many times after the 49ers made some kind of gain the Packers would start yelling at the officials.
That has to stop. Going over the top when arguing with the refs will only hurt your cause and start to earn the team a reputation of being a bunch of whiners. The Packers aren’t the Minnesota Vikings.
Unfortunately, the regular officials don’t appear to be coming back anytime soon. Until then, the Packers and the other 31 teams are just going to have to deal with the replacements. It stinks that an incompetent official is going to cost some teams some games this year, but it’s nothing the teams can control sadly so it’s best to just roll with it and worry only about things the teams can control.
That said, the regular officials need to come back. NOW. Make it happen, Commissioner Goodell.
Packers 38, Bears 35
Disclaimer: I was very tempted to pick the Bears as I have very little confidence in the Packer defense right now. I think Rodgers, however, is more than ready to take out some frustration on the arch nemesis Bears.
The Packers offense gets its mojo going but the defense is still horrendous. For once, a Packers-Bears game turns into an aerial shootout and it comes down to a Mason Crosby field goal as time expires.
It won’t be pretty, but the Packers enter a quasi-bye (they don’t play again until Sept 24 in Seattle) on a high note.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke