GREEN BAY—This is not the same Bears team the Packers beat on the final day of the 2013 season to claim a third consecutive NFC North title. An offseason dedicated to rebuilding the team's defense has given the Bears a distinctly different look, both in personnel and in performance.
A team that was 30th in the NFL last season in points allowed, is now No. 11. Mel Tucker is still the Bears' defensive coordinator, but several of his players are new.
Both ends (Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston) are new. They were acquired in free agency, along with backup end Willie Young, starting safety Ryan Mundy and starting cornerback Tim Jennings.
Seven of the Bears' 11 starters on defense are new to the team, including cornerback Kyle Fuller, a first-round pick that might be on his way to rookie of the year honors.
"I'm excited about the group. Other than Stephen Paea, everybody's new," Coach Marc Trestman said of his defensive line. "We've got substantially a new team from a year ago, particularly on the defensive side of the ball."
Last year's season-ending loss to the Packers was a bitter pill for the Bears to swallow. They've waited a long time for a rematch, and that rematch will occur this Sunday at Soldier Field.
"We would've loved to have won the game and moved on with our season, but we didn't. We had to reload for this year and get ready to go," quarterback Jay Cutler said.
Reload or retool? Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are back on offense, but most everything else about the Bears has changed, including the loss of Julius Peppers and Devin Hester in free agency.
"Good player. We know what he's about. He was here for a while. He still has a lot left in the tank. It's going to be a challenge to block him," Cutler said of Peppers.
The Bears are 2-1 and coming off consecutive road wins. The Packers are 1-2 and desperate for a win that would ease the sting of Sunday's loss in Detroit.
"I think we made our evaluations partially dependent on that, but certainly independent of that," Trestman said when asked if last year's loss to the Packers caused the Bears to turn hard to defense in the offseason. "We knew we had to go to work to do what we could to rebuild our defense with some quality players and talent, and we think we have. We're excited about the players that we have to work with now. We move forward."
Sunday will go a long way toward defining the offseason. Both teams spent a lot of effort on defense.
ADDITIONAL COVERAGE - SEPT. 24