The Green Bay Packers crushed (12-4) most NFL teams they faced in 2014. Notable perhaps – and it is only a soft “perhaps” – is the fact that all four of their defeats came on the road, as did their playoff loss.
Again perhaps notable, the Packers have lost their last three season openers, which (again, “perhaps”) suggests that the best time and place to catch Aaron Rodgers and his Packers is early and away from Lambeau Field.
The Bears will have both of those criteria in their favor Sunday. How much else they have is a matter of conjecture, or as head coach John Fox says, why they play the game.
But the best time for a team with all-new schemes and coaches is probably Week 1, where the new guys have film on what they’ll face but the opponent hasn’t really seen the new schemes with new (Bears) personnel.
It’s a little different looking at them. it’s not really the same personnel," Rodgers said. "If you go down the list, there’s not really the guys you’ve played against, with the recent departure of [Tim] Jennings, peanut [Charles Tillman] being gone, and obviously [Brian] Urlacher and [Lance] Briggs. We have [Julius] Peppers now. So there’s really not a whole lot of guys who played over the years. it’s a different staff — coach fox and coach [Vic] Fangio, very well-respected and good football coaches. It will be a different adjustment period, as there was some adjustment when Lovie [Smith] was gone and they brought in Mel [Tucker].
Actually what the Bears do have is defensive coordinator Fangio, who was in that job with the San Francisco when the 49ers put Week 1 losses on the Packers to start 2012 and 2013. What the Bears don’t have, however, are the player components that Fangio had in San Francisco and what the Seattle Seahawks had last year when smacking down the Packers in Seattle in Week 1.
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“Well, it’s a challenge,” Fangio said. “Obviously they’ve been pretty bad here for two straight years defensively. You know, we’ve made some changes, but that’s an on-going process. It’s not an overnight thing. You just have to keep building week-to-week. You know, not look at the season as whole, but look at it one game at a time, one series at a time, one play at a time and make your strides as you go.
“We’re a new group with a new system, so we’re limited that way. I may have coached against [Rodgers] in those games, but none of these [Bears] players did within this system. So we’re back to ground zero on that.”
“Ground zero” may be an upgrade from the Bears’ general starting point when facing the Packers. It is certainly better than the crater in which the Bears routinely found themselves after Green Bay debacles.
“Every single year is different,” said tight end Martellus Bennett. “Their team is different from what it was. Our team is different from what it was last year. Each matchup, you've got to take it with that year's matchup.
“It's not about who did what the year before or the year before because every single year everyone's getting better or guys are changing -- a different team every single year. So this is our first time going out with this team this year. Any game, this team is totally different. Even though we have some of the same people the team is totally different than what it was.”
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And the winner is...
Until the Bears establish that they in fact can stay on the field with the Packers, it is impossible to pick the Bears straight-up. Until Jay Cutler establishes that he can both not lose a game and also actually win a game against an elite team, he can’t. There’s a reason (lots of them, actually) why he is a career 1-10 vs. the Packers and has the second-lowest passer rating (67.1) against Green Bay of any team he has faced more than once.
How good the 2015 Bears defense is will be some weeks or months to play out. It cannot be worse than what the Bears put on the field against Green Bay (twice) last year. Only two players (Jared Allen, Shea McClellin) who started for the Bears’ defense the first time the two teams met in 2014 are starting this game, and neither of those is in the same position. That is arguably a positive.
All of which means only what it means on Sunday. The Bears are catching Rodgers early before the Packers have film on them, but film only gets you so far.
Packers 27, Bears 21