A Chicago Bears team armed with a blueprint for beating the Packers comes to Lambeau Field Thursday night for a critical, early-season NFC North showdown.
The Packers are 0-1 following a 30-22 loss to a 49ers team that dictated the tempo of the game with a punishing running attack and a swarming defense. Almost certainly, the Bears will employ that same game plan against the Packers.
"I thought (the 49ers) did a good job of rushing them and containing them. We're going to try to do the same thing, but we're not going to use what they did because we play a different front than they do," Bears defensive end Julius Peppers said. "As far as the concept of rushing them hard and relentlessly, and keeping him in the pocket and getting pressure to him, we want to replicate those things."
It's more than a showdown between division rivals, it's a showdown between historic rivals, two teams accustomed to playing big games against each other, such as the NFC title game the Packers won in Chicago two seasons ago, and such as the game the two teams will play this Thursday. This is a game that will likely go a long way toward deciding the NFC North title.
"It's a new year and you don't know who the teams will be at the top of the chart when all is said and done. It's early. That's why you play these games. I know they're a good football team, and we want to see how good we are," Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith said.
The Packers have dominated this rivalry in recent years. That fact was clearly on Smith's mind when he spoke with Packers media on Tuesday.
"Most guys that play for the Chicago Bears know about the history between our two programs. I know our guys know that. We know they're our rival. They're in our division. We haven't had a lot of success lately. The Packers have won six out of the last seven. For it to be a rivalry, that can't happen," Smith said.
The Packers beat the Bears twice last season, by 10 and 14 points respectively, but this is a different Bears team than the one the Packers beat on Christmas night last year. Quarterback Jay Cutler didn't play in that game, and the Bears didn't have the offensive firepower they'll bring to Green Bay this year.
The Bears acquired wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in the offseason. It helped the Bears score 41 points in their opening-day win over the Colts.
"We want to be balanced. I think most teams will tell you that. We have excellent tailbacks in Matt Forte and Michael Bush. We're committed to the run. We want to be just as good with our passing game," Smith said.
Marshall caught nine passes for 119 yards and a touchdown, and Jeffery caught three passes for 80 yards and a touchdown in Week 1. The tall and talented receivers give the Bears a decidedly different look on offense.
"We have weapons. If we all play the way we're capable of playing, we can have a pretty potent passing attack. We've been able to see what they're capable of doing, and that's make plays," Smith said of Marshall and Jeffery.
"Jay Cutler has been outstanding. It all starts with the quarterback. Fans are going to see two great quarterbacks competing against each other this week."
Packers fans are also going to see another team come into Lambeau Field with a formidable rushing attack. Against the Colts, Forte rushed for 80 yards, a 5.0 yards-per-carry average and a touchdown, and Bush carried 12 times for 42 yards and two touchdowns. They are both big, powerful runners.
The Bears will be facing a Packers team committed to a more balanced attack than the one that saw Cedric Benson gain just 18 yards rushing against the 49ers. The Bears will also be facing Aaron Rodgers and a passing attack that has dominated the rivalry, and Smith knows that it's to the pass that the Packers remain most dedicated.
"The Packers know what they want to do. They're going to out-execute the opponent. We feel the same way about what we're doing. We have a system we believe in fully," Smith said. Listen to the conference calls - Packers vs. Bears