In many ways, the Green Bay Packers' season opener against the division-rival Chicago Bears played out according to script. The Packers, with their superior offense and overall talent, outscored Chicago 31-23. However, those that watched the game know that at least one of the key players involved wasn't one of Green Bay's superstars. Rather, a receiver signed a week earlier made a world of difference.
Like he never left
When the Packers, who rarely sign veteran free agents, made the move to sign James Jones last week, most expected the receiver to have a meaningful, albeit limited role in the offense. Those notions were thrown out the window before the end of the first half of Green Bay's season-opening win over the Bears. Jones caught four passes for 51 yards and two touchdowns, but his impact far exceeded his stat line. Rodgers looked for Jones early and often Sunday, finding him on a would-be touchdown negated by a holding penalty.
Despite the fast start, Jones probably won't lead the team in touchdowns come season's end. Still, the trust factor between him and his quarterback cannot be understated. Rodgers had a perfect 158.3 passer rating when targeting Jones and will likely continue to look his way in must-convert situations.
A fresh set of wheels for Rodgers
While Rodgers won his second league MVP award last season, a torn calf muscle sapped some of his playmaking ability during December and January. Rodgers still played at a high level during most of that stretch, including a gutsy performance in the season finale against the Detroit Lions, but his lack of mobility hurt the Packers during the NFC title game.
With a full offseason to heal, Rodgers looks totally rejuvenated:
Rodgers also had several key runs, including a 15-yard gallop that kept a drive alive. The quarterback also moved freely in the pocket to extend countless passing plays.
Green Bay's offense lost something significant when Jordy Nelson went down with a torn ACL. However, if this version of Rodgers plays 16 games plus the playoffs, the team has a chance to return to the Super Bowl.
Tackling remains prominent issue for defense
For all the good the Packers provided on offense, their defense allowed many small plays to turn into large gains with poor tackling. The prime offender may have been safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who accounted for as many as four of the team's 10 missed tackles. The tackling issues allowed the Bears to outperform the Packers in total yardage (402 to 322), though it wasn't reflected on the scoreboard.
Green Bay expects to get a boost when Morgan Burnett returns from a calf injury as well as Datone Jones and Letroy Guion from suspensions. However, the possible absence of Sam Barrington could set the defense back. Regardless, the Packers need a more consistent tackling effort from its defenders if they hope to top the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2.