Bears

Bears In-Foe: Thanksgiving showdown with the Packers

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Bears In-Foe: Thanksgiving showdown with the Packers

Okay, so Bears fans have spent much of their time since Sunday's fourth quarter kicking and screaming over John Fox's 4th-and-goal aggressiveness. Ironic, in that the previous employer Fox was trying to beat was the same one that removed him for his perceived conservative approach, that the team didn't go down "kicking and screaming" in its last three season-ending playoff defeats in Denver.

Now, if there was a positive vibe set over the previous six games, the doubters could get louder, depending on performance and outcome Thanksgiving night versus the arch-rival that's owned them. Green Bay proved again Sunday in Minnesota that reports of the Packers' death are greatly exaggerated. The defending four-time division champions go through their bumps (such as a three-game losing streak), but there are enough winners (led by their quarterback) to go into enemy territory and turn down the noise and dreams of a new division champ wanna-be (see the 2013 season finale at Soldier Field).

Don't look now, but the Pack's recent dominance in the series have them a Thursday win of tying up the league's oldest rivalry. The Bears' all-time lead is down to 93-92-6 after dropping the last four, ten of the last 11 and 12 of 14.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

OFFENSE

There's been no question Jordy Nelson's absence from his preseason torn ACL has been a huge adjustment, not to mention a relief to opponents. That didn't stop the Pack from winning their first six before being virtually shut down by Denver's defense, and the Carolina version making enough plays the following week. The real head-scratcher came two Sundays ago at home to Detroit. Call it their wake-up call. Wagons circled.

While Brett Favre gets his uniform retired at halftime, there's no question here the better Packers quarterback will be looking to add to numbers the past three games that read 58-for-78 passing for 806 yards, 13 touchdowns, zero interceptions and a passer rating of 146.7. Even more ominous for the recently slow-starting Bears defense is they way Green Bay has started in those three (despite losing twice): 39 first quarter points, and for the season, they've outscored their foes 82-25 in the opening 15 minutes. They've obviously shown a tendency during their recent slump, to let teams back into the games, but not due to turnovers. Their plus-8 is fourth in the NFL. Their defense has forced at least one turnover per game.

But this section's still about offense, and another good sign for Rodgers and company was Eddie Lacy coming back to life in the win over the Vikings. He hit the 100-yard plateau for the first time in a season after being slowed by an ankle injury. Lacy was inactive versus the Lions the week before, after gaining just 78 yards on 33 carries the four previous games. He and James Starks are both averaging 3.9 yards a carry, but the latter filled in to give them 95- and 112-yard games while catching 26 passes.

Nelson's injury's forced Rodgers to work with a receivers-by-committee approach, evidenced by the only group with a trio that's collected at least five touchdowns each.  James Jones (30-592, 7 TDs) - who reintroduced himself off the waiver wire to Rodgers and the Bears in the season opener - is tied for third in the league with eleven grabs of 25-plus yards. Randall Cobb has six touchdowns on a club-high 47 catches. Tight End Richard Rodgers (36-263, five touchdowns) has become a weapon by necessity, while Davante Adams has started turning it up, with 20 of his 30 catches, and 208 of his 308 yards for the season coming the last three weeks.

[MORE: Bears waive Jimmy Clausen, promote David Fales

DEFENSE

Your first thought on this side of ball is number 52 with the flowing locks. Clay Matthews hasn't let a few aches and pains keep him out of the lineup and the third-leading sacker in franchise history is the face of a Dom Capers defense whose effectiveness gets overshadowed by the greatness of the quarterback. But they locked down on Adrian Peterson Sunday (13-45, TD).

Julius Peppers (remember?) wasn't washed up two years ago here, just disinterested and going through the motions. He's followed up an excellent revival up north a year ago with a team-high 6.5 sacks this season. Teddy Bridgewater heard birds after John Fox's first draft pick in Carolina delivered a second quarter blow. It was one of six sacks Capers' crew delivered after going the previous three games without one. That starting linebacker group also includes Simeon and Illinois State product Nathan Palmer (sixth round, 2013) as its second-leading tackler.  Rookie fourth-rounder Jake Ryan has become the regular at the other inside spot.

Up front, the Bears missed Letroy Guion (suspension) in the opener, B.J. Raji continues clogging, Datone Jones flashed with two of Sunday's half-dozen sacks, and Mike Daniels is tied for sixth among defensive tackles with 16 sacks since 2013.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Kyle Fuller will be compared as 2014 first-round draftees, with the Bears selecting Fuller several spots ahead of the Alabama safety. But after an uneven rookie year (and amidst a sideline confrontation in Carolina with Peppers), Clinton-Dix leads thee defense with 82 tackles (20 and an interception in the past two). Micah Hyde originally took the other safety job from Morgan Burnett, but has been sidelined of late by injury. But the real interesting development in the secondary involved this year's top-of-the-draft investments by Ted Thompson after letting Tramon Williams and Davon House depart in free agency. Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins have earned increased playing time, despite the fact only Richard Sherman has more interceptions since 2010 than Sam Shields. Randall, Rollins, Shields and Clinton-Dix all have two interceptions apiece.

[ALSO: Competitive practices taking a toll on Bears?

SPECIAL TEAMS

Mason Crosby became the first kicker in history to go 5-for-5 in a single game on field goal attempts all beyond 40 yards in Sunday's big win. Ty Montgomery returned kickoffs of 46 and 41 yards in the opener, but while the third-round rookie out of Stanford has battles health issues, Ron Zook may have discovered someone new: second-year speedster Jeff Janis had a 70-yard return versus the Vikes. While the coverage units have shown improvement since the third return touchdown allowed this season, they'll need to be aware of that fresh face Thursday night.

Pro Football Focus: Bears could be surprise playoff team in 2018

Pro Football Focus: Bears could be surprise playoff team in 2018

There's a lot of optimism about the Chicago Bears in 2018  because of the incredible offseason had by GM Ryan Pace. It started in free agency with several big-name additions on offense and continued in the NFL Draft with the selection of Roquan Smith, arguably the top all-around defender in the class.

Pace now finds himself in unfamiliar territory. He's entering a season with actual expectations. While those expectations vary, one thing is consistent: Improvement is expected.

According to Pro Football Focus, Chicago should end up challenging for a playoff spot.

No less than five additions on offense this offseason could make key impacts for the Bears, including wide receiver Allen Robinson who was one of the NFL’s best in 2015 before a down year in 2016 and essentially missing all of 2017 through injury. He’s joined at the position by Taylor Gabriel, who had three touchdowns on throws 20 yards or further downfield in 2016 and rookie Anthony Miller, who was tied for fourth among wide receivers in this draft class with 19 missed tackles forced on receptions. Add in tight end Trey Burton, who had three touchdowns from just 16 targets when lined up in the slot and rookie offensive lineman James Daniels from Iowa and it’s easy to see why this offense led by Mitchell Trubisky has the potential to trend upwards big time in 2018.

The Bears were one of five teams PFF listed as a surprise wildcard candidate. The road to the post-season will be challenging, however. Not only do all of the new pieces have to gel, but they have to do it while playing in one of the toughest divisions in football.

The NFC North could have three teams -- not including the Bears --  playing in January. The Vikings may be the most talented club in the NFC and the Packers will always be a contender with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. The Lions have some vulnerability, but they've had more success than Chicago in recent seasons.

Still, Pace deserves credit for winning the offseason.

How the new kickoff rule may impact the Bears

How the new kickoff rule may impact the Bears

NFL owners voted for sweeping changes to the kickoff play Tuesday, a decision that presents a new challenge for Bears special teams coach Chris Tabor.

Player safety was the focus of the rule change. Collisions will be reduced and the play will look more like a punt than the traditional kickoff fans have become used to. Here's a breakdown of what's coming in 2018:

With less contact and physicality in the play, Tabor's game planning will be tested. Kickoffs won't require as many power players like the ones traditionally seen in the wedge block. Skill players like receivers, running backs and tight ends could be viewed as more valuable special teams pieces, as was suggested by NFL Network's Bucky Brooks.

Tarik Cohen could become even more lethal under the new rules. If kick returners end up with more space to navigate, Cohen will improve on the 583 return yards he managed as a rookie. He'll conjure memories of the recently retired Devin Hester.

The ability to contribute on special teams is critically important for players on the roster bubble. It'll be interesting to see if the Bears apply the approach suggested by Brooks. If they do, undrafted players like Matt Fleming and John Franklin III suddenly have more value and a better chance to make the team. 

For a complete breakdown of the new kickoff rule, click here.