When the Chicago Bears take the field on Sunday afternoon against the Green Bay Packers, they will not only play arguably their biggest rival, but they will also debut new offensive and defensive systems under a completely revamped coaching staff.
To help prepare for the big game, we have highlighted five interesting matchups for fans to keep an eye on as the Bears look to start John Fox’s regime off with a bang at Soldier Field.
Aaron Rodgers vs. Jay Cutler
The battle of the quarterbacks has been a lopsided one in the past, with Cutler failing at every conceivable turn to overcome his NFC North rival. The 2011 NFC Championship game is a sterling example of that failure, as was the 2013 regular season finale that saw the Bears fail to secure a playoff berth in a home playoff loss to the Packers.
This time around, the battle will be more intriguing as both teams deal with offensive injuries and personnel changes. Rodgers will be without his primary target as Jordy Nelson is out for the season with an ACL tear, and Cutler will have to throw to Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal, both of whom have missed time with injuries during the preseason.
Eddie Lacy vs. Matt Forte
The battle of the running backs will also be an entertaining one, as Lacy figures to play a more prominent role with Nelson’s absence and Forte will be looked at more often in the run game under Adam Gase’s system in Chicago.
What will really be intriguing on the Bears’ side of things is just how much more balance there will be between the run and the passing game for Forte. He had more than 100 receptions last season, but with Gase looking to improve the offense’s balance and take some of the decisionmaking out of Cutler’s hands, Forte could be a bigger weapon in the run game than he was under Marc Trestman.
Randall Cobb vs. Alshon Jeffery
The battle of the wide receivers finishes off an excellent batch of offensive matchups, and both players will come into the season looking to prove something after suffering preseason injuries. A shoulder ailment has cost Cobb some serious playing time and conditioning, and when you factor in the injury to Nelson, he will be facing a lot of pressure when he steps onto the field against the Bears.
As for Jeffery, he finally returned to practice after missing a month of time with a calf issue, and as he looks to replace Brandon Marshall as the team’s primary wide receiver, he will have plenty of prove on his own when it comes to stepping into such a big role.
Julius Peppers vs. Jared Allen
In the battle of 4-3 defensive ends turned 3-4 outside linebackers, we should see some fireworks on the defensive side of the ball. Peppers had a tremendous 2014 season, and with Clay Matthews wreaking havoc on the other side of the field, he could be poised for a repeat of that success.
As for Allen, we’re not really sure what the Bears will get from him when he lines up opposite Pernell McPhee in Vic Fangio’s new look defense, but he’s been saying all of the right things and has actually looked comfortable in a role that allows him to take advantage of his on-field intelligence and speed.
David Bakhtiari vs. Ego Ferguson
The Packers’ offensive line has had difficulties at times in protecting Rodgers, especially on his blind side, and Ferguson will be looking to make a statement as he plays defensive end for the first time in Fangio’s defense.
He has looked good throughout training camp, but the regular season is a whole different animal, and he could be hindered by the fact that the Bears will be without regular nose tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, who is suspended for the first three weeks of the regular season.