Bear Necessities: Bears face Packers in pivotal season opening matchup
The Bears/Packers rivalry has evolved into a one-sided affair since Aaron Rodgers took over the starting job in Green Bay. The Bears are only 5-25 against their rival to the north during that span. As if that were not embarrassing enough, they lost nearly half of those games (12, to be exact) by double digits. Rodgers was a glorified hitman, displaying a level of dominance that has rarely been seen in league history. However, they moved on from their long-time signal-caller in the offseason, opening the door for 2020 first-round selection Jordan Love to finally take over the job.
Their Week One clash is no run-of-the-mill season opener. The Bears have a chance to strike the first blow of the Jordan Love era, and they better not miss. A win would give them a leg up in the division race and knock their rivals down a peg after years of dominance. Meanwhile, a loss would have the opposite effect, giving Green Bay a dose of confidence ahead of two winnable matchups against the Falcons and Saints. The Bears need to accomplish a few things (several, Bear Necessities, if you will) to come out on top of the contest.
Establish the ground game.
The Bears led the league with 3,014 yards on the ground last season, good for fifth-most all-time. While the passing game will hopefully take a leap forward with the added talent around Justin Fields this season, they would be wise to stick with the only formula that allowed them to have offensive success last year. It may take some time for the passing game to reach its ceiling, and staying ahead of the sticks will be important to keep the chains moving. Having positive run plays on early downs should help them accomplish that task.
An effective ground attack also would open up the play-action and quick passing game. The loss of David Montgomery in the offseason might hurt Chicago's running game, but the Bears still have more than enough talent in the backfield to ease the transition into more of a committee approach. Khalil Herbert led the league with 5.7 yards-per-carry in 2022, and he is joined by newcomers D'Onta Foreman, who put up nearly 1000 yards after Carolina traded away Christian McCaffrey last season, and do-it-all-back Roschon Johnson, whom the team added in the fourth round.
Force the Packers into passing situations.
The Bears would also benefit from controlling the line of scrimmage on the defensive side of the ball. Jordan Love has only one career start, so Chicago will want him to shoulder as much of the load as possible. Stopping Green Bay's rushing attack in its tracks will put them in a spot where they will have to lean more on the passing game, which would be a recipe for disaster with both of their top pass-catchers (Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs) currently dealing with hamstring injuries. They could be in a position where they are depending on Jayden Reed, Malik Heath, and Dontayvion Wicks to start at receiver on gameday.
Unfortunately, stopping the Packers' rushing attack will be much easier said than done. Green Bay boasts one of the league's top running back duos in Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, who ran all over Chicago last year, helping the team finish with 203 yards and 175 yards on the ground in their two matchups. While they made a concerted effort to improve their defensive front this offseason, their defensive line is still full of question marks and talent deficiencies.
Get pressure on Jordan Love.
Speaking of talent deficiencies, the Bears finished last season with a league-worst 20 sacks. They failed to get pressure on opposing passers all season long, which led to a slew of other problems for their defense. Simply put, defensive success begins with a team's ability to put QBs in a precarious position, and Chicago could not do that on a down-to-down basis last year. As I previously stated, they added some bodies to the defensive front this offseason, including proven veterans in Yannick Ngakoue and Demarcus Walker. However, it remains to be seen if they did enough in that area to fix their issues.
Their ability to make Love uncomfortable in the pocket will be vital to their chances of coming out on top in the matchup. They might have to get creative by throwing exotic blitzes at him to pull that off, but they should be able to take advantage of his inexperience if they pull it off. The left side of the Packers line might be rock-solid with David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins holding down the fort, but the right side, which features two low-tier starters in Zach Tom and Jon Runyan, can be exploited.
The Bears closed the (rather lengthy) gap on their division rivals last offseason, and they appear to be quickly building a contender while Green Bay idles in neutral (if they're not going in reverse). In the end, this matchup, like so many others, will come down to the quarterback position. There is reason to believe the Bears have the edge at QB, which is even more vital when two teams are relatively evenly matched on paper. Jordan Love remains a complete unknown, while Justin Fields looks primed to take a third-year leap.
There is no way around it. The pressure is on. The Bears need to come out on top in the season opener. If they accomplish the tasks mentioned above, they should be able to do just that. It will be a nail-biter, but I think they added enough talent in the offseason to pull off the all-important Week One win.
Bears win 27-20