by Evan Bruner
The rivalry between the Bears and Packers is one of the most storied in all of sports. However, it’s become a bit of a one-sided affair in recent years. The Bears haven’t defeated the Packers since 2018 and haven’t won at Lambeau since 2015. It appears the NFL world is predicting a similar outcome this Sunday, as the Packers currently sit as 10-point favorites.
While Green Bay is widely viewed as one of the best teams in the NFC, if not all of football, the team’s week one loss to the Vikings did raise some concerns. For one, the worries surrounding the team’s wide receiver room, which dominated the preseason, seemed justified. Of Aaron Rodgers’ four most targeted players, only one was a wide receiver. On the other side of the ball, Green Bay’s defense was unable to contain Justin Jefferson, who finished with nine catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns.
It’s easy to disregard the Packers’ week one meltdown as nothing more than a fluke, but there’s no reason the Bears can’t use Green Bay’s weaknesses to their advantage like Minnesota did. As great as Rodgers is, he needs help from his receivers. The problem is that the receiving core currently features a blend of unproven youngsters and journeymen. The Bears’ secondary played very well last week against San Francisco, and a similar performance on Sunday night would put immense pressure on Rodgers.
It’s been well documented that the Bears don’t have a Justin Jefferson-caliber wide receiver. But the truth is Jefferson’s explosive performance last week had far more to do with Green Bay’s ineptitude than him. The Packers’ 3-4 scheme requires their linebackers to play a good amount of zone coverage. Unlike man coverage, which allows the defense to dictate who guards who, zone coverage matchups are determined by what concept the offense runs. Once Minnesota got a feel for how Green Bay was going to play the pass, they were able to call plays that put their receivers, primarily Jefferson, in the same zone as a linebacker, which led to several explosive pass plays.
This idea can still be executed, albeit to a lesser extent, with any group of wide receivers. If the Packers put their bigger linebackers into zone coverage consistently, the Bears should look to attack that area. The one aspect where Chicago’s receivers really excel is in the speed department. Getting a player like Darnell Mooney in space with a bigger player has a chance to result in a big play.
Though the Vikings coaching staff and offense deserve credit for torching Green Bay in the air, a lot of the Packers’ struggles were self-inflicted. Zone coverage requires more feel than man. Players need to know when to pass off their player to a teammate in a different zone. This calls for a great deal of communication and chemistry. For whatever reason, Green Bay couldn’t do that. This led to several busted coverages, which resulted in big plays.
Many have adopted the logic that the Packers were so bad in week one that it would be unthinkable for them to play like that two weeks in a row. With that said, the Packers had so many issues on both sides of the ball against the Vikings that it will be hard to fix them all in only a week’s time. The Bears have a chance to flip the script on what has become a very predictable rivalry. While the double-digit spread should stop fans from being too optimistic, a primetime upset is certainly in the cards.