Football is right around the corner. I can hardly believe it. And the first team on the docket is the Chicago Bears. I believe this gentleman right here adequately captures my excitement:
Play the fight song, Doof. PLAY IT!
Before I just make this an article about Mad Max (I’ll do it without too much prodding), let’s all sit down and roll through some key matchups we’ll see in this game.
Packers Inside linebackers vs. Matt Forte
I was working under the assumption that Matt Forte always has a field day against the Packers. Selective memory, I guess. As it turns out, the Packers are in the middle of the pack (15 out of 30) in terms of average rushing yards a game (67.4). They fare slightly worse against Forte in the passing game, coming in at 10th in allowing 40.7 receiving yards per game. Given the glaring weakness the Packers have had at the ILB position over the years, this is not the least bit surprising.
But A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones are (mercifully) gone, replaced with some combination of Clay Matthews, Sam Barrington, Nate Palmer and Jake Ryan. It’s a new day in the middle of the field for Green Bay, and Forte is their first big test. None of these guys are what you would consider great coverage linebackers, so someone is going to have to step up and prove they can take away the middle of the field (or, at the very least, make it harder to pass into than it has been) and throws to the flat. Look for a lot of early throws to Forte. If the Packers don’t show they have some guys who can stop it, they’ll throw it all day.
Packers wide receivers vs. Bears secondary
I like to think of the Bears defense as paper people. Last season, they ranked 28th in the league in pass coverage, per PFF (-55.2). They ranked 16th in the league in pass rush (13.5). So they’re not terrible at getting to the quarterback, but their secondary is so bad that the QB has a pretty good chance of getting the ball out of his hand before the rush is able to hit home. And, as it so happens, Aaron Rodgers had the third best QB rating last season when he released the ball within 2.5 seconds of the snap (109.6). Of course, he had the league’s best QB rating when releasing the ball 2.5 seconds or more after the snap (115.7), so maybe the pass rush doesn’t matter so much I guess.
With Jordy Nelson gone for the season and Randall Cobb being less than 100%, I’m going to be paying close attention to the other receivers in this game. Bringing James Jones back should help, but he hasn’t been in Green Bay for a couple years, and I can’t assume that his chemistry with Rodgers will immediately return. So it’s on the young guys to step up. Jeff Janis looked like a better route-runner in this preseason than he did in the last one, and I’m ridiculously excited about what Ty Montgomery will bring to the table. We all know that Rodgers loves the back shoulder throw, and that’s more about chemistry and repetition than anything. Will Davante Adams become Rodgers go-to guy for those? I love the talent on this receiving corps and am excited to see how well it translates into actual games.
Jay Cutler vs. Packers Rookie Cornerbacks
At first glance, it would appear as though Jay Cutler did not have a good season. He was benched for Jimmy Clausen (!!!!) late in the season, only to regain his starting job after Clausen had his body broken by Ziggy Ansah.
The funny thing is that Cutler had a pretty good year by his standards. He set a career high in completion percentage (66%), threw for his second-highest yard total (3,812) and his highest TD total (28). He threw a lot of interceptions (18), but his interception percentage (3.2) was actually lower than his career average (3.4), and his QB rating (88.6) was higher than his career QB rating (85.2). That gave him the honor of being Pro Football Focus’ 32nd ranked QB (out of the 39 QBs who took at least 25% of their teams snaps).
Jay Cutler may not be a very good quarterback, but he is more than capable of having a good game, and this Packers secondary is stacked with rookies. It’s well known that rookie cornerbacks tend to struggle more than rookies in pretty much any other position. If Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins and/or Ladarius Gunter see a lot of playing time in this game, expect the Bears to look to exploit them. You can bet Adam Gase will make this a point of emphasis.
This Packers defense could be very good, but a lot of it hinges on these rookie defensive backs stepping up. I’m very curious to see how they turn up in Week 1. If they perform well, I’ll take it as a good sign, but not necessarily proof they’ll be great all year, as the Bears’ receiving corps is already depleted. However, if they struggle, you’ll find me sobbing on a street corner somewhere.
Immortan Joe vs. Cruella de Vil
Tim Masthay vs. Tim Masthay’s head
Since he has been in the league, Masthay has never been a top-tier punter, but he has always ranked positive by Pro Football Focus’ measures. At the very least, he has been league average, which is much better than the Jeremy Kapinos/Derrick Frost years. Still, last year was a very bad year for him, ranking 30 (out of 32 punters who played at least 8 games) by PFF’s grading system. He was 29th in average punt distance (43.2) and 28th in net yards (37.9). By comparison, the best punter in net yardage last season was Johnny Hekker (42.9). Granted, 5 yards don’t seem like a huge difference, but that’s on a per punt basis. If the Packers punt 4 times in a game, Masthay is giving up 20 more yards of field position than Hekker. That’s a massive swing.
He didn’t look great in the preseason either; ranking 39th out of 45 punters who played at least two games. I know the preseason is an extremely small sample size but his average punt was a meager 40.6 yards; a number which ranked him dead last. On the plus side, he didn’t give up any return yards, but that’s because his punts either went out of bounds, were kicked short of the return man or were fair caught. (For the record, his net yardage was 39.5 due to one punt that was a touchback).
I’m rooting for Masthay, not just because he’s a University of Kentucky alumnus, but also because he seems like a genuinely good guy. I believe he can turn it around but he’s going to have to do it fast. I think a lot of this is mental. Just get out of your own head and get back to what you do best: launching the ball.
B.J. Raji vs. The Bears offensive line
With the exception of Kyle Long, the Bears do not have a good offensive line (unless new hire Dave Magazu travels with a warlock). I had high hopes for Raji last season, but a torn bicep killed the season for him before it even started. I’m looking for him to deliver on those high hopes this season, and for this game to signal his resurgence. I imagine he’ll play no more than 65% of snaps in this game, but I’m looking for him to cause a major disturbance in the backfield. Bring da ruckus, big fella.
Put on your jerseys and throw some brats on the grill. Football season is here.