By Jeff Joniak–
(CBS) The John Fox era begins on Sunday with the Bears hosting the Packers at Soldier Field. Here are my keys to the game.
Offense: Run to win
A year ago entering Week 4 against the Packers, the Bears prepared for what was the NFL’s 30th-ranked run defense, allowing 156 yards per game. Despite a loss to the Packers, the Bears ran for 235 yards. This Sunday, new offensive coordinator Adam Gase will want to keep Aaron Rodgers off the field. Controlling the momentum of the game, the tempo, the scoreboard and the clock are key.
The Bears will want to run the football and avoid long fields. Chicago only scored 74 points outside the red zone last season, which ranked 29th. Protecting Jay Cutler from Julius Peppers and Clay Mathews will be critical. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers will focus on testing the Bears tackles.
Defense: Play fast and physical
Rodgers thrives on tempo. Against a defense playing its first game as a 3-4 or a 5-2, challenging that inexperience will likely be something new Packers play-caller Tom Clements will do. In turn, the Bears will have to play fast and physical to help slow down Rodgers. Containing him in the pocket is critical. Stopping the Eddy Lacy-led running attack is essential. Rodgers is a play-action danger.
The Packers led the NFC North with 58 touchdowns last season. Defensive backs must play to the whistle and avoid mistakes, two areas where Rodgers challenges a defense. Make a mental error against Rodgers, and it usually means a touchdown. Blitzing Rodgers is risky — he was No. 1 in quarterback rating against the blitz at 130.4 rating with 15 touchdowns and one interception last season.
Special teams: Don’t lose field position
Green Bay does a fantastic job preying on mistakes made by its opponents. When it comes to special teams, the Bears must play disciplined football, which they didn’t do last season. Penalties erode field position. The Bears played well in the preseason on special teams and have some young and hungry players dotting the unit. The Packers’ special teams issues a year ago prompted a whole new dedication and philosophy for this season. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy gave up his play-calling duties in order to help coordinate special teams with Ron Zook, and veterans will be prominent on the unit.
Intangibles: Element of surprise
The Bears host the Packers for the first time in the season opener since 1981, but it’s the third time in five years that Soldier Field has played host to Green Bay in September. Traditionally, the Packers have been slow starters under McCarthy, with exceptions coming in 2007 and 2011. Overall, they are 19-12 in September under the veteran coach. McCarthy said playing the Bears in Week 1 with a new coaching staff is “distinctly different.” I do agree that it’s a whole different challenge, and the Bears hold one of the most important intangibles of the game: the element of surprise.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.