1. Start strong and finish strong on offense: While the Bears have a great deal of respect for Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, there’s a noteworthy trend here on which Mitch Trubisky and this offense need to capitalize Thursday night. This is a Packers defense that started slow last year and finished strong:
1st half: 4.99 yards per play, 3 interceptions, 16 sacks, 28 touchdowns, 8 field goals
2nd half/OT: 4.06 yards per play, 4 interceptions, 28 sacks, 17 touchdowns, 15 field goals
This trend played out to an extreme extent in 2018's opener in which the Bears scored 17 points in the first half and only six in the second half. The Bears were able to finish strong in Week 15 last year, scoring 10 fourth quarter points to secure a seven-point NFC North-clinching win.
Pettine’s defense has more talent on it this year than it did last year, heightening the Bears’ need to start strong on offense — because it may be difficult for the Bears to erase a deficit larger than one score in the second half.
2. Hit home on blitzes: The expectation here is Chuck Pagano will scheme more pressure into the Bears’ defense than Vic Fangio did as the team’s “evil genius” (as dubbed by Khalil Mack) coordinator from 2015-2018. The 2018 Bears averaged about nine blitzes per game, while 2011 Baltimore Ravens — the last team for which Pagano called defensive plays — averaged 14 blitzes per game, per Pro Football Focus.
Aaron Rodgers, meanwhile, had a 102.8 passer rating when blitzed in 2018, though that was in the team’s old offense. But the worry here for the Bears is quarterbacks in the Shanahan/Kubiak/McVay offense — a version of which Matt LaFleur will bring to Green Bay — are generally successful against the blitz. A smattering of passer rating results when blitzed, per PFF:
Matt Ryan (2015/2016, with Kyle Shahanan as OC and LaFleur as QB coach): 90.0, 122.0
Jared Goff (2017, Sean McVay as head coach, LaFleur as offensive coordinator: 106.8
Jared Goff (2018, McVay as head coach): 91.7
Marcus Mariota (2018, LaFleur as offensive coordinator): 94.9
So if the Bears indeed blitz more, they’ll need to do more than merely generate pressure and affect the pocket when they do. They’ll need to bring Rodgers to the ground as much as they can.
3. Don’t leave it up to a kick: The Bears enter the 2019 season with trust in Eddy Pineiro, but coach Matt Nagy’s hope is the 23-year-old rookie will make a few kicks to get some positive momentum rolling early in the season. He’s never attempted a field goal longer than 40 yards in a game at Soldier Field, nor has he ever attempted a field goal in a regular season NFL game.
This is a guy who made big kicks while playing his college ball at Florida — he pointed to one he made late in a game against LSU that helped send the Gators to the SEC Championship — but the best thing for Pineiro, and the Bears, would be not having to call on him to make a game-winning field goal in his first regular season game.
That’s been a central goal of this team ever since their playoff run abruptly ended with the double-doink eight months ago.
“We were too good of a team to lose the way that we did,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said at the start of training camp. “Our mission now is to do away with that. To do away with the possibility that we would have to be in a game where we going into the last few seconds having to rely on anything but what we had put together throughout the course of the game.”
Prediction: Bears 23, Packers 17. This score very well could trend higher, but right now, it’s leaning on the talent on both the Bears’ and Packers’ defenses. The Bears are the more across-the-board talented team…except at quarterback. Rodgers can never, ever be counted out. But that being said: The vibe around this Bears team is too good, and the talent is there, to emerge Thursday night with a Week 1 win for the first time since 2013.