By Nick Shook
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As division rivals, the two teams meet twice a year, but the Packers took their TNF meeting 26-10 last season over a punchless Bears team that lost Brian Hoyer to a broken left arm. Aaron Rodgerscompleted 39 of 56 passes in the win.
This season, the quarterback position looks totally different in Chicago. Learn about that and more of what we’ll be watching for on Thursday evening when these two teams meet at Lambeau Field:
1. Hoyer is in San Francisco, then-starter Jay Cutler is in Miami and the new hope is on the bench in Chicago — for now. Mike Glennon will again trot out for the Bears, and would actually be the toast of the town in Chicago right about now if one of his targets could have caught the ball on the goal line late in their Week 1 contest against defending NFC champion Atlanta. Instead, the Bears fell in trememdously tragic fashion, lost again in a Week 2 blowout at Tampa Bay, and then stunned the football world in Week 3, toppling a Steelers team stuck in its lower gears. One catch makes Glennon 2-1 as a Bears starter, but almost doesn’t count in football, so we’ll turn to his numbers: 72-of-107 passing (67.3 completion percentage), 615 yards, 3-3 TD-to-INT ratio, passer rating of 79.8. None of that jumps off the page, but it also doesn’t sink Chicago before it can leave the marina.
Credit is also due to Glennon for playing well enough to keep the Bears in contention in two of three weeks, considering the constant pressure he’s under while playing with anointed savior Mitch Trubisky always looking over his shoulder. This will be Glennon’s biggest test yet, though, against a rival in primetime on the road.
2. Luckily for Glennon, the Bears have blasted out of the gate on the ground, and it’s a major reason why they’re playing better than most folks expected heading into 2017. Jordan Howard (199 yards, 4.4 per carry) and Tarik Cohen (157 yards, 6.5 per carry) are both in the top 17 backs in the NFL and have taken turns leading the team’s attack with each week, creating a classic two-headed monster at the position.
3. An old-school rivalry will feature a stark contrast in offensive strengths. While Chicago has found its most success on the ground, thanks in part to an offensive line that’s at times opening truck-wide holes for Howard and Cohen, Green Bay rises and falls on the arm of Rodgers, who was excellent in the final quarter and overtime against Cincinnati when the Packers had their backs against the wall. He’s also armed with a bevy of targets in Ty Montgomery (who surprisingly leads the team in rushing andreceiving (receptions, not yards), Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison, Martellus Bennettand Lance Kendricks. Allison also played a huge part in Week 3’s win, catching a long pass that set up Mason Crosby‘s game-winning field goal.
Green Bay brings an offense to the field that can become frustratingly clogged — fans at Lambeau were booing the offense during the middle of the game last week — but when adjusted, can turn into a machine. Last week, it was head coach Mike McCarthy shortening the passing game to get Rodgers into a rhythm before going vertical late. It showed in their drive to tie the game at the end of the fourth, and again on the free play that put the Packers in position to kick the game-winner. How Green Bay adjusts to Chicago’s secondary will be interesting to see, because the Bears did a bang-up job against another offense filled with talent last week. That brings us to our next point…
4. Defense. It’s simple enough to say, “hey, watch out for how the defenses play,” but in this game, it’s tough to predict, making it that much more meaningful. Statistically, the two are just on the outside of the league’s upper third in categories they’ll need most this week. Green Bay is 12th in the NFL against the run (113.7 yards allowed per game), while Chicago is 13th in the NFL against the pass (238 yards allowed per game). Randall Cobb(chest) will likely play this week, meaning the Bears aren’t getting any breaks. Nick Perry returned to practice for Green Bay with a massive club on his surgically repaired hand (seriously, it’s huge), adding an important piece to the Packers‘ front seven.
With a rushing attack as its best option, Chicago will have to limit turnovers, control time of possession and also do its best to limit Rodgers. The TOP battle is about even for Chicago (30:04 vs. 30:26), while Green Bay holds a 33:19 to 27:53 edge. With a front seven that’s only sacked opponents seven times in three games, the onus will fall on Chicago’s secondary, and the linebacker who’s tabbed to spend the most time covering Montgomery out of the backfield.
5. It’s only Week 4, but this game can go a long way toward determining the paths of two teams. After an ugly, injury-filled loss to Atlanta, Green Bay bounced back to earn a heart-stopping win over Cincinnati last week. Another victory this week helps the Packers keep pace with the Vikings and Lionsin what is setting up to be a surprisingly competitive division. Chicago, on the other hand, would benefit massively from an upset win over the rival Packers at Lambeau. A triumph would provide a giant boost in momentum and move the Bears to 2-2, which looks (and feels) miles better than 1-3 after four weeks.
Admittedly, we don’t know all that much about a majority of the league’s 32 teams after just three weeks. Just ask how many folks missed on their picks last week (looking at you, masses who took the Raiders over Redskins). A look at the upcoming schedules for each team make this an even more pivotal game, because things aren’t getting easier for either squad. Chicago faces divisional opponent Minnesota next week before battling Baltimore (which went Mr. Hyde on us after playing Dr. Jekyll in Weeks 1-2) and Carolina. Green Bay has Dallas, Minnesota and New Orleans in the following three weeks. None of those games set up as cakewalks. Plenty can change, but even this early, there’s a sense of urgency from at least one sideline (hint: it’s Chicago’s).