The three most exciting words in sports have ultimately been uttered.
Football. Is. Back.
A dream come true, the new-look Bears open up in primetime at Lambeau. One of the finest rivalries in sports, the Packers hold a razor-thin two-game advantage in the all-time record and the Bears seem to be running them down. After an incredibly aggressive offseason, the Bears have set themselves up as a potential playoff contender and finally a worthy opponent to the Packers. However, a good amount of what-ifs and question marks still remain for Chicago to pull this 1-0 start off. So today, let’s run through some of the factors that must tip in the Bears favor.
Khalil Mack/Leonard Floyd Must Deliver
Allowing Aaron Rodgers to settle in and feel comfortable in the pocket will be a death sentence, no matter how well the Bears offense can respond. Though quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s sophomore season should be heavily improved, no quarterback in the league can be expected to win a shootout against Rodgers. And while a good chunk of responsibility to limit him does lie on the secondary’s shoulders, the newly revamped pass rush has to be in his face all night if the Bears want any chance to win. A tried-and-true method, smothering a quarterback will completely cap an offense, no matter how dynamic.
Rodgers may be the league’s finest passer under pressure but no quarterback can throw on their back. He simply cannot be granted an escape route in the pocket and given openings to work his usual magic. Pure pressure won’t be enough against the two time MVP, the Bears must absolutely overwhelm him in the backfield. And this requires essentially the entire line and linebacker corps to perform at their highest level.
The newly-added Khalil Mack should have an unmeasurable impact on the pass rush and stalwart Akiem Hicks should be primed for a double-digit sack campaign so shutting Rodgers down rests dangerously on the shoulders of the thoroughly disappointing Leonard Floyd. A first-round selection in the 2016 draft, Floyd hasn’t had the dominant pass rush effect anticipated. With only 11.5 sacks in his two-year career, he hasn’t quite proven the first round pedigree. He has had lofty expectations of his talent finally flowering every season of his career but the addition of Mack will bring worlds of benefit for the Georgia product.
Mack’s impact comes in not only incredible pressure and sack numbers but in opening up opportunities for teammates. He forces opposing coordinators to key in on exclusively him since he will single-handedly crush an offense without the focus being on him. Now enter Floyd. This game has to be a breakout game for him and all the chips appear stacked in his favor. As a team, sacking Rodgers five plus times will nearly guarantee a Bears win. The introduction of Mack gives ride to this possibility but Floyd must steal the show to achieve this reality.
Wide Receivers Must Put On a Show
Against a squad boasting the most talented player in the league at quarterback, the Bears, unfortunately, can’t rely on the ground-and-pound approach like previous seasons. Though a key factor in offensive success, it hasn’t proven to be effective enough as a primary threat against the Packers in years past. Resident Pro Bowl runner Jordan Howard only mustered up 107 yards and one score on thirty-three attempts in two contests against the Packers last season and it resulted in thirty total points for the Bears.
To waste such ideal pickups for Trubisky’s arsenal would be exactly that. A waste. Adding the Pro Bowler Allen Robinson as a bonafide number one threat will finally give Trubisky a top receiver to play with. The speedster Taylor Gabriel dynamifies the deep threat potential and Memphis product Anthony Miller could have superstar potential. And after catching his first touchdown pass during the preseason, even Kevin White seems keen on getting in on the offensive action. The Bears wide receiver corps has never been this deep and this talented, even more so than the kinda failed-kinda blew up Alshon Jeffery-Brandon Marshall marriage, and it has to be utilized in its fullest.
Though besting Rodgers in a shootout would be a futile venture, expectations the pass rush keeps him at bay validate the possibility of the Bears offense ability to keep up with the Packers. If Trubisky and the passing game clicks, the Bears offense would be virtually without weakness, with a dependable run game to fall upon and an explosive pass game to shred defenses with. Mix in Tarik Cohen and the Bears offense could get out of hand really quickly.
Bears Must Punch Them in the Mouth
Most importantly, the Bears have to immediately assert their position as a franchise on the rise. Without a playoff appearance since 2010 and zero winning seasons since 2012, the Bears have been cursed with total lifelessness since the Lovie Smith glory days. And most notably, have an abysmal 3-14 record against the detested Packers in the entirety of the 2010s and not winning a game since 2015. Fourth place finishes in the NFC North have been reserved exclusively for the Bears since the 2013 season.
Chicago football does not have the matchless revere it once did like the 1940s or mid-80s. While a trendy dark horse, the Bears have yet to earn the legitimacy of a signature contender. Though Pace’s rebuild plan seems so close to fruition and the chance has arisen to make a primetime statement of their resurgence, the Bears need to come out guns blazing if they want to stun the Packers. A consistent playoff regular, Green Bay has kept the hapless Bears in the dirt since the turn of the decade.
With Green Bay’s understandable confidence, the Bears hitting the Packers in the mouth early would push them and the rest of the league onto their heels. Nobody sees the Bears coming and clawing their way to relevance begins with halting one of the premier franchises in the NFL. Dropping this game or going down by even two scores would dangerously stall the renaissance of Chicago football. However, defeating the loathed rivals on the road to kick off this season would be the burst onto the scene to ground a playoff level season.
The importance of this game can be mapped on a cinematic scale. For both sides, this game cannot be lost. After a storming offseason and moving two first-round picks for generational talent, the Bears have screamed all-in from the rooftops. Now the time to back that up is here. No more moves. No more trades. No more arguments. Just Bears versus Packers.
In Chicago football we trust.