Bears' Cutler, Packers' 3-4 Bring Fresh Looks To Rivalry


The opening game of any NFL season includes a number of what players and coaches like to call "unscouted looks," or variations a team has added during the offseason to its offense or defense that can't be studied very extensively on film ahead of time.

But Sunday night's season opener between the Packers and Bears features an even larger portion of the unknown, so to speak, for each team.

For the Packers, it's figuring out how different Chicago's traditional ball-control offense will function with a more athletic, daring passer at the controls in Jay Cutler.

Meanwhile for the Bears, it's facing the Packers' new 3-4 scheme under defensive coordinator Dom Capers, a coach with a long NFL resume who has never brought his wares to the NFC North.

"It goes both ways," linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "That's the good thing about football. It's not an exact science. You have to go out and make plays."

Cutler, acquired via trade from the Denver Broncos in the offseason, is expected to make more plays from the quarterback position than any Chicago signal caller in recent memory. The arrival of the Pro Bowl passer, who threw for more than 4,500 yards last season, has created a buzz in the city of Chicago and in the Bears' own locker room.

In recent years, the Bears have been known to run the ball relentlessly and throw mostly safe passes to their backs and tight ends, and that will certainly continue with talents like running back Matt Forté and tight ends Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark remaining key cogs in the offense.

But just how Cutler changes things up remains to be seen. He's not the "caretaker" that recent Chicago quarterbacks like Kyle Orton have been, but he's known more as a gunslinger, having been compared to Brett Favre when coming out of Vanderbilt in 2006.

"We're going to take our shots, there's no doubt about it," Cutler said. "We're going to run the ball, we're going to pound the ball. But when we're presented opportunities, we're going to let it fly, and we have some good guys outside to go get it for us."

Their best guy outside would appear to be Devin Hester, a burner who is still developing his all-around game at wide receiver. Cutler's cannon arm and Hester's blazing speed is a combination that has Chicago fans salivating, but how long it will take to click is tough to gauge.

There's no doubt, however, that Cutler brings physical tools the Bears haven't normally showcased at quarterback.

"I saw one play against the Giants (in the preseason), off of bad form, he threw the ball 65 yards in the air and overshot Hester," linebacker Aaron Kampman said. "He can make all the throws and he's a talented, talented player."

He also becomes more of a moving target for the Packers' pass rush, far more mobile than Orton or Rex Grossman have been in recent years.

"He adds a dynamic to their offense where he can throw a deep ball and kind of get it out there," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "He can make a lot of passes with better accuracy ... playing off of the boot. He's very mobile, a good mobile quarterback and able to throw it off the back foot, front foot, whatever it is.

"Am I afraid? Of course not. I think we can stop anything, as long as we go out there and execute. They're going to make their plays and we're going to make ours, and it's all about who makes more. We're confident we can make more."

That confidence stems from the Packers' transition to the 3-4 scheme, which so far has gone as smoothly, if not more rapidly, than many anticipated. The scheme is predicated on disguising the pressure on the quarterback, to try to fluster the offense and keep it on its heels.

It worked splendidly in the preseason - granted when opponents weren't necessarily game-planning specifically for the 3-4 - as the Packers generated 13 takeaways and 12 sacks on defense.

"I think we have a lot of things in our game plan where, ... I guess you'd say they don't know where we're coming from," Hawk said. "We could send eight guys or we could send one guy and drop everyone (into coverage).

"When you can be unpredictable, you can be a good defense and we have that in our package this year. We're going to bring that out whenever we can and confuse the offense. When they're not sitting there comfortable, it makes their job tough."

That job is even tougher when the only film of the Packers' 3-4 is from four preseason games during which the starting unit only played a total of roughly five quarters.

{sportsad300}"They're doing a lot of different stuff, they're making offenses prepare for a lot of different looks," Cutler said. "They're blitzing a lot from different angles and different gaps. It's definitely a challenge. You don't have a lot of film on them so it makes it even harder.

"It's hard to scout them. They have a whole new defense and a whole new scheme, so it's hard to nail them down. Personnel-wise we know what kind of guys they've got and what they like to do, but scheme-wise it's a little bit different."

The Bears surely have been studying the defenses Capers has had a hand in assembling recently in both Miami and New England, and that will give them more to go on. Like all teams, the Packers by no means emptied the playbook in the preseason games, so there's plenty to throw at the Bears sight-unseen.

"For us, we have to go out there and prove," Barnett said. "Preseason is preseason. It doesn't really count for a lot, except it boosts our confidence a little. The regular season is a whole different monster and we have to go out there and tame it. We're ready to go out there and play."

For a full four quarters, in a game that counts, against an old-arch rival, with a new sheriff (or quarterback) in town, and all of that.

"I'm really eager to see our defense, to see what we do regular-season wise," cornerback Charles Woodson said. "I think we've put some expectations out there for us this season, with the preseason that we had. Anything less than that will be disappointing for us and for the fans as well. We've set the bar high for ourselves, so we have a tall order ahead."

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