It is game week and the 2015 season begins with the longest standing rivalry in the League. The Chicago Bears hope to knock off a Nelson-less Packers team in Chicago while the Packers wish to get the away win so that they can develop young players and get James Jones re-acclimated without dropping a divisional rivalry that they have to play on the road. The stakes for this game are much higher than one would expect as a loss here could open the door to a divisional deficit as either the Vikings or the Lions seem capable of taking two from the Bears. If the Vikings pull that off, and the Packers struggle out of the gate, the last game of the season could once again have tough playoff implications. But here are three reasons the Bears will not be able to rival the Pack in this game.
On paper, the Chicago Bears are the perfect divisional opponent for the Packers to face. The Lions, though without Ndamukong Suh, are coming off a playoff year. The Vikings have Adrian Peterson back and a rising young quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater. The Bears, on the other hand, have Jay Cutler still at the helm after criticism swirled over his interception count last year. There is a new coaching staff and a new defense to deal with and the Bears have the offensive juggernaut of the Packers coming to town.
1. Installation of the 3-4 defense
When Dom Capers brought the 3-4 defense to Green Bay, it was not a seamless transition. The fallout included Aaron Kampman and it wasn’t until the drafting of BJ Raji that the Packers had a true 3-4 nose tackle. The Bears can’t expect to avoid such transitional issues either. Jared Allen has looked pedestrian and the defense overall looks like just the ticket for Aaron Rodgers and James Jones to face to get back in sync.
The Bears defense is no longer the strength of this team and taking on the Packers at the start of the season could be the source of more than the average growing pains.
The Packers, of course, have already had way too many injuries but they are a deeper team and more developed as a 3-4 defense. The Bears expect Alshon Jefferey to play but he has been out since August 11 with a calf injury. Kevin White has a stress fracture and may be out for the year. Add to that Eddie Royal and Marquess Wilson both questionable and the only healthy offensive weapon for Jay Cutler seems to be Matt Forte.
The Bears injuries could do as much for the Packers young defensive backs even if Royal and Jeffery get on the field. A minor injury is all it takes to make a great player average or just barely above average. The Packers rookie cornerbacks could reap the benefits of playing against Jeffery with a soft calf and Royal with a bad hip.
3. Jay Cutler
Stop for a moment and consider this…Jay Cutler has outlasted both Lovie Smith and Marc Trestman. Cutler has had his moments but for the most part has been as much of a liability as an asset. How he has had staying power is something Packers fans regularly scratch their heads about and simultaneously applaud. Jay threw tons of touchdowns last year…and tons of interceptions. As he gets older and less and less mobile (he was never known for his mobility anyway) his tendency to force the ball can only grow. Add to that a Packers defense that is going to be going after him and receivers that will not be at full speed and this game could get out of hand quickly.
The Packers can’t afford to overlook the Bears even though they are a team that has been on the decline for many years and has just started the rebuilding process. But at the same time, I think the Bears are in trouble to the tune of a double-digit loss. The one caveat is whether or not the Packers can stop Matt Forte (as I have said from the beginning). But if the Packers can handle Forte, the young defensive backfield will get a chance to develop in a real live game and take a step toward being prepared for the Seahawks by getting a big season-opener win against Chicago.