Hub Arkush: Here’s the key to Bears-Packers on Sunday night
LAKE FOREST — Unless you were literally born yesterday, you know it doesn’t get any better than Bears-Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday night to kick off the season.
Yes, it is the NFL’s oldest and very best rivalry, and when you weigh all the history it is possibly the best in all of sports.
But the great thing about them meeting in the Sunday-night opener is we know so little right now about this year’s editions of these two clubs, so let’s see if we can identify the keys to the outcome of their 197th meeting.
Both the Packers and the Bears invested heavily in their defenses this offseason while standing pat on two shaky offensive lines. The Pack actually has one of the better sets of bookends in the league with OLT David Bakhtiari and ORT Bryan Bulaga, although Bulaga’s health is always an open question and Bakhtiari missed four games last season, but they are extremely average inside, particularly at guard with Lane Taylor and Justin McCray.
The Bears have one of the best guards in football in Kyle Long but are extremely average outside with OLT Charles Leno and ORT Bobby Massie, and are outright suspect at center with Cody Whitehair and left guard with Eric Kush.
The Bears were a better pass-rushing team even before acquiring Khalil Mack and are certain to slide Akiem Hicks inside often so that he and Eddie Goldman are over Taylor, McCray and C Corey Linsley.
We can expect to see Mack and Leonard Floyd on both sides of the field testing the matchups with Bakhtiari and Bulaga, and whichever tackle gets Mack, the Packers will try and provide help, making Floyd the potential difference maker.
We should also expect to see Vic Fangio do at least a little more inside blitzing with Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith and Nick Kwiatkoski than we’re used to, as both Floyd and Mack are capable of dropping into coverage.
That will create a tremendous mismatch in pressure up the middle for the Bears.
For the Packers, Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark are capable of beating any of the Bears tackles or guards but both are inconsistent.
One of the big changes for the Pack is the addition of Muhammad Wilkerson, the best five-technique in 2014-15 but mostly M.I.A. the past two seasons. If he wants to dominate he can.
But the other issue for the Pack is that Clay Matthews hasn’t been Clay Matthews for quite a while now, and believe it or not he is already 32 years old, and Nick Perry is as inconsistent as Daniels and Clark.
Inside at linebacker, Blake Martinez is a big factor vs. the run but not so much as a blitzer.
Pressure will be the biggest difference maker in this game, and the Bears appear to have the advantage, but Aaron Rodgers is the NFL’s best at handling it, and quite frankly, we have no idea exactly who Mitch Trubisky is yet.
Perhaps it’s a draw, then, which brings us to a couple of retooled pass catching groups.
Among Rodgers’ targets is Davante Adams, a true No. 1. But how much does Jimmy Graham have left, and can Geronimo Allison come anywhere near replacing Jordy Nelson’s numbers? Randall Cobb remains dangerous out of the slot, even if his production has waned for a few seasons now.
The Bears’ secondary was a vastly improved young veteran group last season and may boast some star power now in Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson.
The Bears are betting on the health of Allen Robinson and Kevin White, and the very high ceilings of Trey Burton, Anthony Miller and Taylor Gabriel.
Green Bay, on the other hand, is counting on the untested but exceptional talent of top draft picks Kevin King, Josh Jones, Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, and their young stud at safety, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
The Bears appear to have a clear advantage in the running game.
So what this will likely come down to — or back to — is Rodgers and Trubisky.
If things go as planned, I can tell you already I will probably be picking the Bears on Dec. 16th at Soldier Field.
But with what we know right now about Sunday, I don’t know how you go against Rodgers.