The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers know each other well after years of heated battles, so to set the table for their game Sunday, we talked to Chris Callaway and Amanda Geffre of the "Behind Enemy Lines" podcast.
Grizzly Detail: The big question on everyone’s mind over the last few weeks has been about how the Packers will adjust to life without Jordy Nelson. Still having Randall Cobb always helps, and that Aaron Rodgers guy is obviously decent, but who needs to step up for the Packers, and how hard will it be to replace Nelson’s production?
Chris Callaway: Obviously, it’s not awesome when you lose an All-Pro caliber wide receiver, but to your point, that Aaron Rodgers guy is obviously decent. He’s the type of quarterback that can make receivers better than they actually are. You can chalk it up to the fact that they got older, but I don’t think it’s a surprise that Greg Jennings didn’t have the same success after leaving No. 12, and James Jones clamored at the chance to get back into green and gold.
There are young guys (Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis) that certainly need to step up, but I think what needs to happen is that the tight end needs to be brought more into the fold in the Packers’ offense. Richard Rodgers and Andrew Quarless combined for just 49 catches last year, whereas Jordy Nelson had 98 on his own. Nelson’s catches will be spread out among the wideouts, but the tight ends, especially Richard Rodgers, are poised for a much bigger role this year.
Amanda Geffre: Don’t forget about Davante Adams. Coming into his second season, I expect we’ll see more from him along with Richard Rodgers. Even before Nelson’s injury, we saw Adams’ workload increase during the pre-season match up again the New England Patriots. Adams was targeted seven times during drives with the first team offense.
Since defenses have discovered the Nelson-Rodgers phenomenon, there has been a push to diversify where the ball is played, which not only includes adding more options through the air but also with the run game. The Plan A was to find more receivers/tight ends to take some pressure off Nelson and keep the defense on their toes. We are now reverting to Plan B where those receivers/tight ends have no choice but to conquer the challenge.
Grizzly Detail: We’ll stick to the offense for this question as well, and I have to ask about Eddie Lacy. He’ll be entering his third season in the league this year, and he’s only missed one game so far. Do you see him taking on a bigger role in Nelson’s absence, and do you think that with his hard-running style he’s an injury risk?
Chris Callaway: Is he an injury risk? I’d say no much more than any other running back in the league. He was only ninth in the league in carries last year (246), which is a good spot for him to be in. If he can be used for 15-20 smart carries every game, peppering in James Starks when needed, makes for a more balanced offense. All he really needs to do is bring one more defender into the box, and that’s when Aaron Rodgers can start picking apart a secondary. So no, actually, I don’t think he’ll see a bigger role in the offense. I think the coaching staff is very cognizant of not overworking Lacy, and it won’t be his responsibility to replace Nelson.
Amanda Geffre: Fortunately, with a QB like Rodgers, we don’t really have to worry about our run game taking the team to the next level. (Let’s be honest, up until Eddie Lacy came along, Packers fans almost forgot what a run game was.) Lacy’s rookie season showed us where the limits were and how far we could push the run game. Last year, Starks added an extra punch to the run game when necessary, which allowed Lacy to take a step back. Chris and I agree - that’s probably not going to change.
Grizzly Detail: The Packers made a couple of interesting draft picks this year, and I really like the Jake Ryan and Ty Montgomery picks. Do you see them making an impact this season, and which player from the rookie class do you see as a potential breakout candidate?
Chris Callaway: Jake Ryan and Ty Montgomery both certainly have a lot of potential, but the Packers really need at least one of their first two picks to be solid. Green Bay certainly has some question marks in the secondary, and they tried to address that in drafting Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. Sam Shields is the only established cornerback the Packers have, and it looks like Casey Hayward hasn’t made the progress that the front office would have hoped for. Both Randall and Rollins have shown flashes, and I hope one of them is the breakout rookie for Green Bay this season.
Grizzly Detail: Of course, I have to ask about former Bears players, so I’d like to know your take on Julius Peppers. He looked like a new man last season when he got shifted to linebacker, but do you see that continuing into this year?
Amanda Geffre: I sure hope so. Post-Super Bowl XLV, the Packers’ defense struggled with consistency. Clay Matthews was there, BJ Raji was there (minus last season), but it seemed like they couldn’t find that balance they needed to get the job done. (Basically any time they played Colin Kaepernick.) Adding Julius Peppers into the mix created new sense of balance on and off the line. My hope is that this season it’s even stronger. However, I believe the secondary is going to need to step it up to see the full impact and power that Peppers can have on this defense.
Chris Callaway: It seemed like last year, the Packers were just happy to have a guy like Peppers, but this year, I think they’re going to be smarter about how they use him (seems to be a common theme here). After spending 12 years as a defensive end, it was going to take a bit of time to learn the nuances of playing outside linebacker, even for a physical freak like Julius Peppers. He’ll be 36 this year, and while he doesn’t show many signs of slowing down, I think he’s the type of player that will learn to pick spots even better, which hopefully translates to the same level of success.
Grizzly Detail: Finally, there’s been plenty of talk this week about the way each team’s coach has been discussing this matchup. Mike McCarthy said that the Packers are going to kick Chicago’s (expletive deleted), and John Fox said that the Packers “should be confident.” My question to you both is this: are you confident that a butt-kicking is about to commence?
Amanda Geffre: When Bears fans in Dubuque, Iowa, are willing to place money on the Cubs winning the World Series over the Bears beating the Packers, I guess I would say I feel pretty confident. Jay Cutler is still the quarterback right?
Chris Callaway: I think Jay Cutler will be better this season. I think Alshon Jeffrey is poised for another good year, and Matt Forte certainly isn’t dead yet. The Bears defense, however, is a different story.The Packers are a full touchdown favorite, and I think they win by double digits.