There’s nothing quite like NFL Week 1, is there?
After months of roster additions, subtractions, and schematic changes, the NFL’s 32 Teams will finally take the field this weekend and show us who’s here to content, who’s here to pretend, and everything else in between.
But between you and me, 15 of the 16 NFL games scheduled for this weekend might as well not exist — the Chicago Bears host the Green Bay Packers this Sunday at 3:25PM in the first game since Aaron Rodgers’ departure and it’s the only game on my mind.
How are the Bears going to attack the Packers’ defense? What are the Packers looking to do on offense? Moreover, who’s going to win? Nick Whalen & I put together a hell of a game preview on today’s episode of Bear With Us, but I wanted to share some of my thoughts in print. Let’s get into it.
Before the Teams Take the Field…
Keep an eye out for the Packers’ official Friday injury report. Explosive Packers WR Christian Watson was listed as a practice non-participant on Wednesday (hamstring injury), and if either he or WR Romeo Doubs (DNP — hamstring injury) can’t play on Sunday Jordan Love will be left throwing to rookies in his first 2023 NFL start.
That may sound like an exaggeration, but it isn’t — with TE Tyler Davis already on IR, Love’s Sunday receiving weapons could consist of:
- Rookie TE Luke Musgrave
- Rookie TE Tucker Kraft
- Rooke WR Jayden Reed
- 2nd year (7th round pick) WR Samori Toure
- Rookie WR Dontayvion Wicks, who was limited on Wednesday’s practice with a hamstring injury
The Packers also need OT David Bakhtiari (knee) and EDGE Rashan Gary (knee) to play big roles on Sunday’s game despite injury limitations, which may be difficult for each veteran based on what their bodies can do and where each player is within their recovery timeline.
If I had to guess, I expect one of the Packers’ 2nd year WRs to make it to gameday (likely Doubs, as his hamstring injury occurred before Green Bay’s 3rd preseason game), but the absence of even one 2nd year WR puts tremendous pressure on the Packers’ rookies to carry the offensive load on Sunday. And, as we’ve learned, featuring rookies can be a scary prospect.
Packers injury report. Watson with a hamstring. pic.twitter.com/88FEeNurHT
— Andy Herman (@AndyHermanNFL) September 6, 2023
When the Bears have the ball…
Joe Barry, Green Bay’s defensive coordinator, will likely line his defensive line up in wide fronts & 5-down fronts in an attempt to bait Chicago into attacking the middle of the field on the ground. This is not only how Barry attacked Chicago in 2022, but it fits within the core of what Barry believes — in his eyes, there’s nothing less dangerous than runs up the middle. After all, what modern offense is willing to run the ball for 4 yards per carry and grind their way down the field?
Chicago’s offense, that’s who — the Bears spent the entire 2022 season crafting a designer run game that attacks the edges & interior of the defense evenly, and I imagine they’ll be willing to take the Packers up on every scrap of space Green Bay leaves up the middle. If the Packers widen out their front, don’t be surprised if the Bears counter with zone-read handoffs that use Justin Fields to hold a defender in place while Khalil Herbert & D’Onta Foreman chew up interior ground.
Joe Barry comes from a Quarters/Zone Coverage background and thus believes in keeping as many DBs on the field as possible at all times, so he likely won’t overreact to early success on the ground and will instead bet on his defensive line to make a play or draw a hold — but if Devonte Wyatt, Kenny Clark, Lucas Van Ness, Preston Smith, and Rashan Gary aren’t up to task, he may be forced to play 8 defenders in the run box (using single high safety looks) and thus give the Bears the chance to create chunk plays through the air via Play Action passing.
To summarize, this side of the ball comes down to whether Luke Getsy or Joe Barry blinks first — Barry will likely let the Bears run the ball Chicago take him up on the opportunity, but if the Bears can’t run the ball efficiently their offense will bog down around midfield.
One X-Factor exists that we haven’t discussed, though, and that’s the Bears’ revamped WR corps — Chicago was lucky to have one of Darnell Mooney or Chase Claypool available for the majority of 2022, but in 2023 they can not only utilize both WRs but add DJ Moore into the mix as well. Will Chicago really be willing to stay patient with the run game, thus ignoring their primary offensive additions? Schematically it may make sense to do so, but I’m sure the Bears will try to parlay some of their early run looks into RPOs or Play Action passes that get the WRs involved early.
Games against man-heavy teams (like Tampa next week or the Lions later in the year) will favor a WR-heavy approach, but I see this game as a rushing slugfest until Chicago can pull Barry into a look Chicago wants. Once they get it, they’ll strike through the air (or, at least, they’ll try).
One more note: The Bears do need to stay ahead of the chains for this game-plan to work. If they don’t, it will be up to Justin Fields & DJ Moore to make magic happen & bail Chicago out of long-down situations.
Thankfully, fields was statistically one of the best QBs on 3rd & 4th downs last year, so he might just have the magic Chicago needs on offense. We’ll have to wait and see.
When the Packers have the ball…
The Packers will deploy a game-plan remarkably similar to Chicago’s — “run the ball until you make me stop”.
It’s no surprise that the Bears’ designer run game has roots in Matt LaFleur’s Green Bay offense, and with a young QB making his first start in over a year the Packers will try to use a talented offensive line to open wide holes in the Bears’ defense that let Aaron Jones rip off chunks on the ground. Once they hit on a few big runs (and thus get Chicago’s linebackers to crash towards run gaps), they’ll utilize a fine-tuned Play Action passing attack to put the Bears’ linebackers in conflict & generate chunks through the air. Does that sound familiar?
Unfortunately, this plan will work — at the very least, Green Bay will churn out a few first downs! But not unlike what Joe Barry is planning, I imagine Alan Williams will sit behind a new Defensive Line that’s built to stop the run and eventually the Bears will push the Packers into a 2nd & long situation. From there, it’s game on for Chicago.
Jordan Love isn’t a bad quarterback in my opinion, but the absence of at least one of the Packers’ 2nd year wideouts will force rookies to make plays on key 3rd downs. They’ll make a few — Luke Musgrave has sparkled during camp & Jayden Reed is an electric slot weapon, but if the Bears defense can force 10+ 3rd downs (CHI forced 13 last year) I can’t help but wonder how deep the play-sheet will be for rookie pass-catchers in their first start.
In my opinion, there’s no defender with a larger potential impact than Tremaine Edmunds. In Buffalo he played patient to his run gaps and watched vigilantly for play action passes that attacked his position, but can he do the same behind a Chicago defensive line that doesn’t have the same talent Buffalo did? If he can, he may give Love trouble on what the Packers are hoping will be Love’s rhythm-creators, drive-starters, and bread-and-butter plays.
Kyler Gordon will be equally important when clogging up the middle of the field, and he has an opportunity to earn his stripes in a big way — matched up against 2nd round pick Jayden Reed, will Gordon deliver a few ‘Welcome to the NFL, Rookie’ moments of his own on Sunday? Or will he remain the unfortunate focal point of opposing offenses? Only time will tell.
The podcast expands on this, but I’m scarred from all the ways that Green Bay has beaten Chicago over the years and am not bold enough to predict the best-case scenario. I’ll believe that this game is a toss-up until the final whistle blows, and I stand by that.
But with injuries across the roster, this smells like a Bears win to me — I see a game that’s more likely to become a shootout than a defensive contest, so I’ll take:
Chicago over Green Bay, 27-23
Hopefully the Bears start this season off on the right foot. I’d hate to see the fanbase’s reaction if they don’t.
Your Turn: What do you forsee happening on Sunday?