CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 25: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers throws a pass under pressure from Julius Peppers #90 of the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on September 25, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Packers defeated the Bears 27-17. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
When's the last time you can remember the second game of the season even approaching must-win status? Obviously, there's no such thing as a must-win game in Week 2, but after all three NFC North teams won in Week 1 while the Green Bay Packers struggled in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers at home, they're going to find themselves in a fairly deep hole if they fail to beat the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field on Thursday night.
The current Bears team appears to be a heck of a lot better than last season's Bears team, but it's hard to tell exactly how good they are. A win is a win, and they deserved their win against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, but a win over what was the worst team in the NFL last year, led by a rookie quarterback, doesn't tell us much about the Bears in the context of their ability to compete for a division title.
Everyone's expecting more out of Jay Cutler this season with two new receivers at his disposal and a healthy Gabe Carimi, but he had a rather hilarious pick-six in the first quarter of the Colts game. It's probably not an accident that the Bears looked bad in their first two possessions, then drove down the field when Dwight Freeney got injured. Even without Freeney opposite him, Robert Mathis picked up a couple of sacks.
However, a lot of the positive things that the Bears did can probably be easily repeated on Thursday. Matt Forte averaged five yards per carry and had three receptions for 40 yards. We don't have a lot of evidence to suggest that the Packers can stop him from doing the same in Week 2. Alshon Jeffery had 80 yards receiving and a touchdown, and he's not going to be facing significantly better DBs on Thursday. Even though he's just a rookie, he could cause some problems for the Packers.
It's also pretty tough to tell what kind of a team the Packers are going to be. It wouldn't be stunning to see their offense not perform up to last year's astronomical standard, and it's not like tackling problems or mediocre DB play are anything new for the team.
Then again, they lost by just one score to one of the best teams in football while putting in a performance that was worse than all but one of the ones they put in last season. I said before the 49ers game that the game would be a preview of the NFC Championship game, and that the team who won was probably the favorite to make the Super Bowl. As of right now, I'm standing by that, and I think the 49ers might be the best team in the NFL. A one-score loss to the best team in the NFL is hardly embarrassing, or an indicator of being a poor team.
Here are a few things to watch for early in the game that might tell you whether or not the Bears' success or the Packers' failings last week were fluky at all.
Is Nick Perry being asked to cover slot receivers? - This is a thing that should never happen and I will throw things at my television if I see it again. If it happens more than once in the first quarter, I will be forced to assume that Dom Capers did not learn his lesson (and might never learn this lesson).
Is D.J. Smith missing tackles? - Let's hope that was just first start jitters. Smith looked solid when asked to fill in last year, but Week 1 was a bit of a nightmare for him.
Is Jay Cutler getting time to throw? - I'm not really sure how anyone who graduated from Vanderbilt can appear to lack intelligence on such a regular basis, but Jay Cutler pulls it off. Unfortunately, if he gets all day to throw, even he is going to avoid dumb interceptions. The Packers win this game by forcing turnovers. They'll force turnovers if Cutler doesn't have time to throw.
Can the Packers run the ball at all? - Just a little bit? Please? Like, 3.5 yards per carry? Maybe?
Game Date/Time: Thursday, 7:20 p.m. local, 8:20 p.m. ET
Venue: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI
TV: NFL Network (National), WGBA Ch. 26 (Green Bay), WITI Ch. 6 (Milwaukee), WPWR Ch. 50 (Chicago)
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