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Packers-Bears: 5 things to watch

THE BASICS

The teams: The Green Bay Packers (0-1) vs. the Chicago Bears (1-0).

The time: 7:20 p.m. CDT Thursday.

The place: Lambeau Field, Green Bay.

The TV coverage:  NFLNetwork, with the network’s broadcast simulcast on WITI (Ch. 6 in Milwaukee) and WGBA (Ch. 26 in Green Bay).

The announcers: Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock in the booth with Alex Flanagan reporting from the sidelines.

The coaches: Green Bay's Mike McCarthy is 69-37 (including 5-3 in the postseason) in his seventh season as the Packers' coach and as an NFL head coach. The Bears’ Lovie Smith is 75-60 (including 3-3 in the postseason) in his ninth year as the Bears’ coach and as an NFL head coach.

The series:  The Bears lead the all-time regular-season series, 91-86-6, although the Packers have won six of the last seven meetings (including playoff games). The Packers swept the season series last year, winning 35-21 at Lambeau Field on Dec. 25 and winning at Chicago 27-17 on Sept. 25.

The rankings: The Packers’ 18th-ranked offense is No. 24 in rushing and No. 10 in passing. Their 18th-ranked defense is No. 27 against the run and No. 6 against the pass. The Bears’ fifth-ranked offense is No. 12 in rushing and No. 3 in passing. Their 15th-ranked defense is No. 6 against the run and No. 23 against the pass.

The line:  The Packers are favored by 5.5 points.

The injury report: 

BEARS
Questionable – TE Kyle Adams (shoulder), CB Charles Tillman (shin).
Probable – LB Brian Urlacher (coach's decision/knee).
 
PACKERS
Out – LB Terrell Manning (concussion),
Doubtful – CB Davon House (shoulder), WR Greg Jennings (groin), RB James Starks (toe).
Questionable – LB Jamari Lattimore (ankle), DE C.J. Wilson (groin).

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

Sibling rivalry:  Packers-Bears is among the greatest rivalries not just in the NFL but in all of sport. This marks the 185th meeting between the teams – including two playoff contests – and the game marks the seventh straight year that one of the teams’ two meetings is a prime-time affair. Books have been written on the historic battles – we recommend Mudbaths and Bloodbaths: The Inside Story of the Bears-Packers Rivalry by Gary D'Amato and Cliff Christl – and if you grew up in the 1980s, you remember how ugly things would get between Forrest Gregg’s Packers and Mike Ditka’s Bears.

“A lot of things have changed since the ‘80s,” McCarthy said with a laugh Wednesday.

You’re unlikely to see such chicanery on Thursday night. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has spoken of ex-Bear Tommie Harris saving him from a potentially catastrophic knee injury in the past, while Rodgers once picked up the dinner tab for a group of Bears players while out on the town in Chicago. While that might sound blasphemous to old-timers, it’s indicative of where the rivalry stands today: Competitive, intense, but respectful.

“I do appreciate the professionalism and I think both organizations as a whole appreciate it because they’re definitely a first-class organization and we conduct ourselves appropriately there,” McCarthy said. “It’s a hard-fought game on the field, (but) you don’t see too many disrespectful exchanges and I think that speaks volumes about both the teams from the organization all the way down and the way they’re coached.”

Spicing up Peppers:  As big of a challenge as Bears defensive end Julius Peppers presents under normal circumstances, the Bears have added a new twist: They’re moving Peppers up and down the defensive line, flip-flopping him on opposite ends while also moving him inside to defensive tackle.

“I know it’s something we expect to see this week with Julius playing in all four spots,” McCarthy said. “It kind of falls into the ‘unscouted look’ category, where potentially you may see some things that (you) have not in the past. At the same time, we have to trust our principles.”

Smith believes moving Peppers, who is now in his 11th NFL season, around not only creates challenges for opponents but also keeps it interesting for a veteran player who has been dominant most of his career.

“It just helps with so many things. If you’re the opponent coming in, if you keep a guy in one spot – if he’s a right end, the left tackle knows he can just concentrate on that body type that guy and just watch everything he does. But now all of the guys across the front … to me you have to be concerned if Julius Peppers is lining up over you,” Smith explained. “He’s as good of an athlete I think as there is in the NFL. Anything you ask him to do, he can. I’m convinced if we asked him to play free safety he would figure out a way to play it well.”

The blueprint?:  Rodgers got the question a lot this week: Why does the Bears defense seem to have your number?

“They asked me the same thing in the conference call with the Chicago media,” Rodgers said during his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com. “It’s a real good defense; any real good defense should play well. Regardless of who they are playing at quarterback, they have every quarterback’s number they play.  I just think it’s kind of a silly question. We have had some pretty good success last year against them. We have won four in a row against them. We have had some pretty good success against them. I don’t know where that notion comes from.”

Here are the stats from Rodgers’ eight regular-season games against Chicago: A 6-2 record, 182 completions in 261 attempts, 1,976 yards, 15 touchdowns, five interceptions, 102.9 rating. While the Bears certainly shut him down in the 2010 NFC Championship Game, he was 2-0 last season against them, when he completed 49 of 67 passes for 580 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception for a 132.5 rating.

Even so, even McCarthy was buying the theory this week.

“It’s a combination of things,” McCarthy replied to Chicago-area reporters during his conference call. “I think the Bears run that particular scheme better than anybody. Just look at their staff, Lovie and Rod (Marinelli) and all the way down, it’s an excellent defensive staff and veteran players that clearly understand the scheme and I think they’re doing a great job week in and week out. Just have an opportunity to study their team the whole off-season and then watch the Indianapolis game. We always find it a challenge against this (team).”

Claymaker returns:  It’s only one game, but after the least productive statistical season of his three-year NFL career last year, Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews registered 2.5 sacks in Sunday’s opener against San Francisco. He got some help of the help GM Ted Thompson was hoping to provide when rookie left outside linebacker Nick Perry drove his man back into quarterback Alex Smith to set up Matthews, but Matthews also capitalized on the 49ers often single-blocking him with left tackle Joe Staley.

What do the Bears plan on doing against thim?

“We’re going to try to block him. We’re going to do that. We’re not going to specifically scheme for him if that’s what you’re asking,” Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice said this week. “Our guys have to buck up to the challenge. He’s an elite pass rusher with a tremendous second move, great intensity, so we have to be ready to step up and meet that intensity, and that’s really about it.”

Matthews dismissed the notion that his performance against Staley would lead to more double- and triple-teaming, since he saw all kinds of that treatment last year.

“The overall principle of pass rush is that those who have one-on-ones need to win their matchups, because we believe our guys on defense should be able to take advantage of that. We were able to do that a few times this last week,” Matthews said. “Hopefully with the schemes which we have, moving around and the different possibilities we have and adding talent will help us out.

“It’s always nice to get off to a good start. Statistically, it’s great. But ultimately we came out with a loss, so we can’t really be too happy or ecstatic about that. As I continue to preach with my time here, anything I can do to help this team – if that’s having zero sacks and making plays in other aspects of the game, I’m going to continue to do that. Hopefully, it’s a few more this Thursday.”

Playmaking is his forte:  It took much longer than he would have liked, but Bears running back Matt Forte finally got the long-term deal he wanted, signing a four-year, $30 million deal in July. He responded with a typical Forte game in the opener against the Colts, rushing for 80 yards, catching passes for another 40 yards and scoring a touchdown. While the Bears also added Michael Bush to their running backs corps, Forte is their multi-talented go-to guy.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve had a lot of respect for Forte. I’ve always felt he’s been the real threat of their offense – not only as a runner but as a receiver,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Wednesday. “I’ve seen him catch screens and go the distance with screens, he’s good in pass protection, he’s a good all-around back. Now, Bush gives them a big back to put in there. They had those two guys in the game together a little bit against the Colts.”

THE PREDICTION

There is no such thing as a must-win in Week 2, no matter how worried the passionate fan base may be. That said, the Packers clearly don’t want to dig themselves an 0-2 hole, with two NFC losses and one NFC North loss, no matter how confident they are that they will improve as the year goes on. The Packers have won four in a row over the Bears at Lambeau Field, and the guess here is they extend the streak – although it won’t be easy. Packers 31, Bears 24. (Season record: 0-1)

– Jason Wilde

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