The time for talk is nearly over, as the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers are preparing for their season opening showdown at Soldier Field on Thursday evening.
The Bears, who went 12-4 last season and reached the playoffs, were the team to knock the Packers out of postseason contention a year ago, and they’ll be looking to pick up where they left off when the teams meet in a season opener for the 34th time in the rivalry’s history.
As game time approaches, here are our five key players to watch during the contest.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
The Bears’ secondary has gotten torched by Aaron Rodgers on more occasions than fans would want to remember, but the team is hoping that their group, which features two All-Pros in Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller, can give the pass rushers time to get to Rodgers in the pocket.
The big key for the Bears will be Clinton-Dix, appearing in his first game after signing a free agent deal over the offseason. If the safety can team up with Jackson and limit Rodgers’ options over the top, then he’ll really give players like Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks a chance to disrupt the passing game.
Speaking of Mack, he didn’t appear in any preseason games, but looks locked and ready to begin his second season with the Bears.
The big question for Mack will be one of game-readiness. In last season’s opener he came out firing in the first half, but seemed to fade in the second half as a lack of game conditioning seemingly caught up with him.
Mack should be a lot better prepared this time with a full training camp under his belt, and Rodgers is going to have to keep an eye on the talented pass rusher throughout the night.
The Bears’ running back group is an interesting topic of conversation this season, and the biggest question revolves around the work load split between David Montgomery, getting ready to appear in his first NFL game, and Mike Davis, who signed a free agent contract with the Bears over the offseason.
The Bears brought Montgomery in because of his abilities in both the pass and run games, but will his pass blocking ability lead to Davis getting more opportunities in the backfield? We’ll finally start to get some answers to that question tonight, and Matt Nagy should have plenty of chances to deploy his two new weapons.
With Trey Burton’s status for the game uncertain, Shaheen could see plenty of snaps in the Bears’ passing game, and he could look to make a big impact in that role on Thursday night.
Shaheen is the perfect safety valve for Mitchell Trubisky, who will be looking to get off to a hot start after struggling a bit in the Bears’ first game against the Packers last season. Expect to see him get some serious looks early in the game, and if he can successfully beat the Packers’ linebackers in coverage, it could be a long, laborious night for the team’s back seven.
Look, there’s no other way to put this: if the Bears want to get further into the playoffs this year, and to possibly win a Super Bowl, then Trubisky is going to have to put together the best season of his NFL career.
In his two games against the Packers last season, Trubisky threw for 406 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but was sacked five times in the season series split. He did not throw for any interceptions, but he did fumble the ball three times, and he’ll need to take better care of the ball if the Bears want to secure a victory on Thursday.