Week One is finally here.
OTAs, minicamp, training camp, and the preseason are long gone. It’s time for the Bears to prepare to play the Packers on Sunday Night Football in Green Bay, and that means specific game plans and scouting reports designed to counteract what the opponent does best.
This requires watching plenty of film and doing ample research on an opponent. I have done both and here is the result. These are my thoughts on the Green Bay Packers’ defense:
Joining him on the defensive line are ends Muhammad Wilkerson and Mike Daniels, both of whom can be forces but in two different ways. Wilkerson signed with Green Bay after a rollercoaster ride tenure with the Jets ended in disgrace. He signed a monster contract after proving to be one of the top five 3-4 ends in football at his best but his production, attitude, and apparently love for the game fell off a cliff. When motivated, however, Wilkerson is dangerous. He is a thinner end who’s all about the finesse when it comes to rushing the passer – his go-to is a deadly swim.
Daniels is the opposite, relying on brute strength and power moves to do his job. His peak isn’t as high as Wilkerson but he’s much more consistent and instead of having locker room issues is arguably the best leader on the team. Frankly, he looks like a human bowling ball on tape and for all the good reasons.
The linebackers are so-so but at least you know what you’re getting. Clay Matthews and Nick Perry set the edge, and both are very solid players but won’t wow anybody with pass rush acumen. At this point in his career, Matthews isn’t the freak and perennial pro bowler that he used to be but he and Perry are still good for 7-8 sacks a season with stout run defense.
At one inside backer spot, Green Bay has Blake Martinez, who is a tackling machine in the middle of their defense, tying for the league lead with 144. He’s obviously a sure-handed tackler who very rarely misses but he’s not the uber-athlete that may linebackers are in today’s NFL. Martinez possesses exceptional instincts that show frequently in both the run and pass game but he could have some trouble against some of the Bears’ offensive personnel (more on that later).
He’ll certainly have to carry his load and more because this is the position where the Packers are ravaged by injuries the most. Jake Ryan was slated to start but his season was over before it started. Oren Burks, a third-round rookie, will miss Week One as well. The Packers will trot out Antonio Morrison against Chicago, a trade acquisition in preseason from Indianapolis. His profile indicates that the Packers went out and got a low-budget Martinez (good tackler, subpar athlete), which is something that the Bears can definitely take advantage of. Matthews does have experience at inside linebacker as well so this could be an in-house way of plugging this hole.
Their secondary may be the most talented unit but it is severely lacking experience, save for longtime Packer (in his second stint) Tramon Williams. He will start, presumably alongside second-year man out of Washington Kevin King, but rookies Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson will join them with ample playing time. All the young corners fit a similar mold – ball hawks with good natural gifts but a tendency to be caught being overly aggressive. Jackson has the best ball skills, King is the most physical, and Alexander is the fastest. Together they could form a dominant trio down the line but it may take some time.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will patrol the back end, as is par for the course against Green Bay. He does a little bit of everything and does all of it well. At the other safety spot, we don’t really know what we’re going to see.
The early favorite to start seems to be Kentrell Brice, an undrafted free agent from 2016 who stuck on the roster out of training camp last year and turned into a very good special teamer with a solid chance to start. Josh Jones is the wild card here, a highly drafted (2nd round) player out of NC State. He struggled mightily in coverage last season but watch for the Packers to include him in blitz packages, even if he doesn’t get the starting gig.
It’s very hard to tell what exactly the Packers will run on Sunday night, as their defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine, is new to the Packers. He has not coached since 2015 and has not held a DC position since 2013, and there is obviously no tape of him working with this personnel group (preseason doesn’t count).
The base front will likely be a 3-4 but Pettine is nothing if not somebody who loves to mix up his fronts. Four down linemen is a regular occurrence with his scheme, as is a nickel set, stacked linebackers, two outside backers on one side, and everything in between. Often he will line up his team with three down linemen and as the quarterback starts its cadence, the down linemen will shift to one side while the backside outside linebacker proceeds to put his hand in the dirt.
With that said, we can start to predict what he might do with his group. Wilkerson is an ideal candidate to line up at the end spot in his 4-3 sub-package, with Perry on the other end and Matthews standing up. The nickel will be used extensively as well since the Packers have four very talented corners.
Watch for Alexander and Jones to blitz in passing situations. Those two combined (nickel, Martinez-Matthews at LB, Wilkerson-Clark-Daniels-Perry on the DL), in my opinion, would be their most effective subpackage.
In most of his stops, Pettine has preferred physical cornerbacks who can press, which Green Bay does have.
The main theme here is that the Bears should be ready for any look, any blitz, any stunts, anything. On national TV, Pettine will be sure to get creative.
This is an easy one. While the Bears clearly don’t believe that James Daniels is ready, and that’s fine, Kush has not exactly looked great in preseason play either. Daniels should be lined up in a three-technique (on the outside shoulder of the guard) rather frequently and this could be a problem for Mitch Trubisky and Jordan Howard.
King can be defeated on deep balls especially when he tries to jump routes, and that’s where Robinson comes in. If the Bears break out a “Sluggo” concept (slant/go) or a hook and go route, Robinson will take advantage of King‘s aggressiveness and make some big plays.
But the matchup that the Bears can use to their advantage more frequently is the edge in speed and athleticism that Tarik Cohen has over the Packers’ linebackers. On tosses, wheel routes against man coverage, and angle/semi-circle routes over the middle, I have no faith in Martinez or Morrison to keep up with Cohen.
Watch Green Bay’s game against Carolina last season and notice how they used Christian McCaffrey, especially on the first couple possessions. Nagy should absolutely be watching that tape and he should be prepared to use Cohen in the exact same way.
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